Mormon coinage is explained by Brigham Young: "...in an early day of our settlement here, when coin was scarce and Cal[ifornia] gold dust tolerably plenty but unhandy in that shape, for convenience sake dies for... dollar gold pieces were made, and the gold dust in the market was coined."
Brigham Young Letter Signed "Brigham Young", two
pages, 8" x 9.75", "G.S.L. City", July 7, 1862, to a "Mr.
J. William Anderson". Explaining the reasons for minting gold
coins, Young writes: "I have to inform you that in an early day
of our settlement here, when coin was scarce and Cal. gold dust
tolerably plenty but unhandy in that shape, for convenience sake
dies for twenty, ten, five, and two and a half dollar gold pieces
were made, and the gold dust in the market was coined. Small
amounts have been coined since the aforesaid date, at times when
gold dust has accumulated here sufficient to make it pay to do so,
but such amounts are scarcely worth mentioning since the Government
began coining in California. There are two dies for the five dollar
piece, the one made recently being quite different from the old
one. / Should you wish any specimens of the coins made here, they
will be remitted, if to be found in the market, upon receipt of
your selection accompanied by the corresponding amount either in
gold or Government currency, by mail at your risk, unless you
prefer waiting an opportunity for their being forwarded by hands of
some trusty person going from here to your region of country. /
Respectfully / Brigham Young". Stain on verso creates shadow
along left side, but legibility is clear. Light edge wear and the
usual folds. Brigham Young signature is bold and dark.
Beginning in the late 1820s, an extended period of growth and prosperity began in the United States. Although based largely on land speculation, this expansion was intensified by a series of gold strikes that brought new wealth to parts of northern Georgia and the Carolinas, California, Oregon, and finally Colorado. All of these areas shared a common problem: it was hazardous and costly to transport gold dust to Philadelphia for assay and coining. This led to local economies based largely on barter or the use of "pinches" of gold dust, a notoriously inaccurate method for simple commercial transactions. As in the nation at large, there was a shortage of circulating coinage before the gold strikes, which became acute with the sudden influx of thousands of miners. These wealthy regions were ignored by the federal government, whose prerogative it was to strike coinage and establish mints. While the U.S. Constitution expressly prohibited the states from issuing their own money, there was no law against individuals doing so. Private individuals and companies quickly stepped in to fill the void left by the federal government, producing coins and ingots referred to by numismatists as pioneer or territorial issues.
While no gold was discovered in Utah, Mormon prospectors brought large quantities of California gold back to the Salt Lake City area. Brigham Young conceived the idea of a distinctive Mormon coinage, and four denominations of two-and-one-half, five, ten, and twenty-dollar coins were struck in 1849-50. While the ten dollar pieces featured the legend PURE GOLD, the other denominations (which were struck later) displayed the initials G.S.L.C.P.G. These stood for "Great Salt Lake City Pure Gold," an obvious misnomer as all the gold came from California. A second issue was produced in 1860 from bullion brought from strikes in Colorado. Mormon coins were the first of the Western territorials to be publicly vilified as lightweight and of low fineness. An assay performed on a group of more than $500 face value in Mormon coins in 1851 found the average ten-dollar piece contained only $8.52 in gold. When these figures became public knowledge, the coins were discounted 20-25% by bankers and merchants. Widespread melting followed, and as a result Mormon gold pieces are very rare today.
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