By James Gray
Christoph Bechtler was born in 1782 at Pforzheim, a city in the German state of Baden. At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to a gold and silver metallurgist and gunsmith.
In 1829, Bechtler emigrated to the United States and landed in New York on October 12th, accompanied by his sons, August and Karl, and his nephew, Christoph Jr. Within two weeks they moved to Philadelphia, applied for citizenship, and soon thereafter opened a jewelry and clock repair business.
Sometime in March or April, 1830 the Bechtlers moved to Rutherford County, North Carolina and purchased a tract of land 3 1/2 miles north of Rutherfordton, the county seat. It is not known why the Bechtlers came to a remote region of North Carolina, but it is suspected that they had heard of the recent gold strikes in the area. In July, 1830, Bechtler announced in the “North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser”, a regional newspaper, that he had opened a jewelry and watch clock repair business in Rutherfordton. In 1831, the local miners and merchants petitioned Congress to establish a branch mint in the gold producing region, but the petition was ignored. Shortly thereafter, several miners approached Bechtler and convinced him to assay their gold and convert it into coins.
On July 2, 1831 and for several months thereafter, Bechtler advertised in the “North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser” that he was ready to convert raw gold into coins at his home. Bechtler made his own dies, planchets, presses and other equipment and was assisted in the operation by August and Christoph, Jr. Late in 1831, the Bechtlers produced the first gold dollars struck in the United States.
On August 1, 1834, the standard for gold coins was lowered and the Secretary of the Treasury recommended to the Mint Director that coins of the new tenor bear the authorization date. That was not done on Federal coins, but Bechtler placed the date, August 1, 1834, on four varieties of $5 pieces to avoid difficulty with Treasury officials.
The Bechtlers produced three denominations; $1, $2.50, and $5, and the coins were struck in three finenesses; 20 carats, 21 carats, and 22 carats. The coins were of honest weight and any variation in fineness was due solely to the limited technology at the time.
After the opening of the Charlotte and Dahlonega Mints in 1838, the Bechtler’s production began to decline. In 1840, Bechtler filed a report with the United States Treasury Department showing that he had coined $2,241, 840 from 1831 to February, 1840.
Late in 1840 Christoph gave the mint to his son August who continued the coinage. Christoph died in 1842 and August moved the coining operation to a house in downtown Rutherfordton that still stands today. There he produced large quantities of A. Bechtler $1 pieces, which are by far the most available of the Bechtler coins. This coin is also the most common of all the pioneer and territorial gold pieces produced in the United States.
August died in 1846 and Christoph, Jr. took over the business. The only coins he produced were the A. Bechtler $1 pieces, which were of questionable weight and fineness and struck from rusted dies. It is not known precisely when the mint closed, but the best information indicates 1850.
The Bechtlers were the most successful, prolific and long lasting of all the pioneer and territorial minters. The coins were well accepted across the Southeast and some Confederate contracts specified payment in Bechtler gold. The coins are often seen with irregular/flawed planchets or incomplete strikes while rotated dies are common throughout the series.
The Bechtlers produced 29 different varieties of gold pieces, but no collector has ever completed the entire set. The finest Bechtler collection of all time was assembled by North Carolina dealer and collector, George O. Walton, who was the owner of the recently discovered fifth 1913 Liberty nickel. Walton was killed in an automobile accident in 1963 and some months later his collection was sold by Stacks at their October, 1963 Sale. The collection contained 252 Bechtlers, including 98 A. Bechtler $1 coins. The primary set contained 25 of the 29 varieties, but such a collection would be almost impossible to duplicate today. A 15 piece complete Bechtler type set can be assembled by a serious collector, while a 5 piece denomination set is within the reach of most collectors.