New World Coins

Part of the Gold exhibition.

Four ancient gold coins.
A Spanish two-escudo coin was referred to as a "doubloon."
© AMNH / Craig Chesek

The first gold coins minted in the New World were struck in either Cartagena or Bogota in 1622. Other colonies were quick to follow minting gold coins to take advantage of the regions vast natural resources in gold. Spanish gold coins from this time were measured in escudos; a two-escudo coin was referred to as a "doubloon." Gold coins were issued in eight-escudo, four-escudo, two-escudo and one-escudo amounts.

Liberty, Not Leaders: Early America

Between 1776 and 1778, both the states and the federal government produced coins. President George Washington rejected as tyrannical the idea of coins bearing his portrait. Instead, United States coins showed a personification of Liberty, and the word still appears on all new coins. After 1788, only the federal government had the right to issue coins. The United States Mint began operating in 1792.

The Second Century: Minding the Money

Benjamin Franklin once designed a coin bearing a slogan that urged Americans to "mind your business;" he meant "keep your attention on your work." Through the 1900s, Americans did just that, and the need for more currency led to the opening of six more mints across the country, following the route of major gold strikes from the southeast to the far west.

The Lost Payroll of Fort Capron

In 1965, two young boys diving for lobster near the mouth of the Indian River in Florida discovered a carpet of gold coins on the river bottom. Authorities determined that these gold coins were part of the "Fort Capron Treasure," a military payroll lost in 1857. The payroll had been intended for the monthly wages of United States troops in Florida during the Third Seminole War. A small craft was transporting the payroll to a ship when breaking waves capsized it, dumping gold coins worth $23,115 on the river bottom.

A Legendary Rarity

In 1933, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt removed the United States from the gold standard, 455,500 uncirculated double eagles were melted into bars. Two coins were donated to the Smithsonian Institution before the rest were destroyed, but some coins were believed stolen from the mint. The Treasury Department located and destroyed nine coins; a tenth was recovered in 1996 and auctioned at Sotheby's in 2001 for more than $7 million, making it the most valuable coin in history. Since then, more coins have been discovered.

Modern Gold Coins

Even after the dismantling of the gold standard, gold's intrinsic value is recognized worldwide. Many people invest in gold as a kind of insurance to protect their wealth against unexpected currency devaluations. One way to own gold today is to buy bullion coins, which are coins the United States government guarantees for their weight, content, and purity.

By Any Other Name

Different places in the world produce a wide variety of gold bars and bullion, from the finger-shaped ingots of Brazil to the boat-shaped tael bars of Hong Kong and Taiwan.