Beaver Coins, also known in pioneer days as Beaver Money, were gold coins briefly minted by the Provisional Government of Oregon in 1849. The coins were available in 5 and 10 dollar denominations. Their name comes from the prominent beaver depicted on the obverse of the coins. Today these coins are quite rare and valuable.
The influx of settlers into the Oregon Country produced a shortage of circulating currency. The population at the time resorted to using gold specks or minting their own gold coins for use in trading. Many settlers began lobbying the territory's new government to correct this situation.
The Provisional Legislature at Champoeg then gave the approval for the Oregon Exchange Company to mint currency. Although the Oregon Exchange Company was mostly a private organization, the provisional legislature set the coin's values, authorized a mint, and appointed the officers to the mint. The mint was located in Oregon City, Oregon.
After Oregon's official U.S. territory status, the Oregon Exchange Company became an entirely private enterprise continuing its operations until Governor Joseph Lane ruled the operation unconstitutional.
The opening of the United States Mint branch in San Francisco, California would also play a part in the demise of the "Beaver Coins". The new mint branch made a large supply of gold and silver U.S. currency both available and nearby.
The "Beaver Coins" were meant to be equal to gold U.S. currency of the same value. However, it was found that these coins contained ten percent more gold than their intended counterparts.
Legality of the coins
While the U.S. Constitution expressly forbids component polities of the U.S. to produce coinage, it was argued by the Provisional Government of the Oregon Territory that "necessity knows no laws". It could also be argued that during the Anglo-American joint occupation of Oregon, the territory was not officially part of either government, and any established government could act as it wished. This runs contrary to the agenda of the provisional government which actively sought to be brought into the United States.
However, after Oregon was officially organized as a U.S. Territory the coins were clearly unconstitutional. Joseph Lane, the first U.S. territorial governor, remedied this upon his examination of all the provisional government's laws, striking only the law calling for the minting of coinage.
The formal U.S. Government's reaction to the coins was to buy them up at a premium rate in exchange for U.S. currency. The coins were called up by the San Francisco Mint and taken out of circulation.
- "Rare minted-in-Oregon 'beaver coin' sells for $125,000". KATU. January 24, 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-05.
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