Word of Benjamin Parks’ discovery of gold in North Georgia spread like wildfire, and by 1830 our nation’s first major gold rush was on. Miners flocked to the mines near Gainesville, Georgia. New towns like Auraria and Dahlonega seemingly popped up overnight.
Few miners found gold in vast quantities, but many found enough to inspire them to stay and dig for more, selling their gold dust, chips and flakes to merchants for supplies. The difficulty in determining the purity and quantity of gold led to much disenchantment among miners who were never really certain they were receiving a fair trade. The remoteness of Georgia made it time consuming and expensive for miners to ship their gold to the Philadelphia Mint and pre-minted coins were in short supply. Some estimates indicate that there was less than one federally minted coin per person in the United States. In the late summer of 1830, Templeton Reid, a Milledgeville blacksmith, moved to Gainesville and setup the nation’s first private mint under the Constitution.
Templeton Reid was a man who appeared very good with his hands. He was a skilled mechanic and watchmaker, blacksmith, gunsmith, silversmith and jeweler. In 1824 he was advertising “rifles of a very superior order priced from one to five hundred dollars and barrels fifty dollars.”
On July 24th, 1830, an article ran in the Southern Recorder announcing that Reid was coining $2.50, $5.00, and $10.00 gold pieces stamped with “Georgia Gold 1830” on one side and “Templeton Reid, Assayer” and the denomination on the other.
Just 23 days later, an anonymous author who referred to himself as “No Assayer” attacked Reid’s credibility. In an letter to the editor, published on August 16, 1830 “No Assayer” claimed to have had a Reid $10.00 coin assayed at the Philadelphia Mint, who reported a value of only $9.38. Whether or not this is accurate is the subject of debate. At the time, 23 days would be a very fast turn around to ship a coin to the mint, have it assayed, and the results returned prior to press time. Additionally, no mint records of a Reid coin being assayed in that year are known to exist, although tests performed by the mint several years later did reach a similar conclusion, although there was some variation.
Reid responded in full force, defending his product, and his profit margins. The confusing explanation did not convince the public. In a later response, “No Assayer” continued to attack Reid’s profits by saying that “this business is better than gold digging.” He attacked Reid’s professional ability and challenged that individuals should not have the private right to coin. Finally, “No Assayer” claimed that some banks were not accepting the Reid coins at face value. The claim that banks were not honoring Reid coins scared the public who could not themselves determine the purity of the gold.
In the end, it appears Templeton Reid also lacked the equipment and chemical sophistication to properly assay gold to the exact fineness for coinage. In 1842, the Philadelphia Mint tested his coins and found that they contained more gold than the face value indicated. They were .942 fine, the highest quality of any other non-government coin. Some rumors exist that the coins were even counterfeited, but in any case, most likely ended up being melted.
Reports circulated that speculated Reid would make over $15,000 a year, although with the short production time and the startup costs, it is doubtful that Reid ever turned a profit. Reid quietly moved on to making cotton gins. He is reported to have spent some months in California where a $10 and $25 piece were tested, however commercial production never ensued.
It is now believed that only 1400-1600 coins were ever produced and that most were melted at the mint in 1831. The $25 California specimen was stolen from the Philadelphia Mint in 1858. Today, Templeton Reid coins are very rare and highly sought after, with some specimens being sold for more than $25,000. The largest sale of Templeton Reid coins was three-coin finest-known set from the Dukes Creek Collection which recently sold for $1.2 million.