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Piece of history sold

Beaver0214.jpgRick Gately calls it ?a gorgeous coin, the nicest I?ve ever seen.? Being from Oregon, he might a bit biased.

Recently, the owner of LaGrande Gold & Silver in LaGrande, Ore., helped arrange the sale of a rare 1849 Oregon Beaver $5 to an anonymous collector from the region Gately calls home. The coin, graded AU-53 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., went for $125,000.

So ended a long search for Gately and one of his customers.

?A George Eggiman from Rouge River, Ore., wanted to sell me the coin and I knew I had a customer who had been looking for it for the better part of a decade,? said Gately, who took possession of the coin in December 2005.
The sale was completed Jan. 10.

To Gately, the piece holds special meaning, considering its connection to Oregon history.

?Eastern Oregon is rich with this type of coinage,? said Gately. ?I grew up in Oregon City, where this coin was minted.?

A dealer in precious metals as well as rare coins, Gately has been interested in buying and selling Territorial gold pieces like this one for years.

It was minted in 1849, a decade before Oregon became a state. According to an article in the Oregonian newspaper, the territorial legislature at the time ordered the creation of a mint to make the coins. The hope was that it would end the bartering system that had existed in the territory for 30 years.

Less than a month after the order, a new territorial governor, Gen. Joseph Lane, was appointed by President Polk. After he arrived in Oregon City, Lane put an end to plans for the mint, saying only the federal government had the power to mint coins.

However, a group of eight ?men of affairs? formed the Oregon Exchange Company and built their own private mint in Oregon City. The illegal mint stamped out a total of 6,000 $5 Oregon Beaver coins.

They featured a beaver and a single initial of each of the men who started the mint on the obverse, with the words ?Oregon Exchange Company? and ?Native Gold? on the reverse. Two errors can be seen on the coin. The dies had ?O.T.? for Oregon Territory transposed to ?T.O.? for Territory of Oregon, and the ?G? initial for John Gill Campbell was a ?C.?

Most of the $5 gold pieces were later melted down. The raw gold, worth more than the $5 denomination, was then sold.

In the Oregonian article, coin expert and author Donald H. Kagin, said he has seen 25 $5 Oregon Beaver gold pieces and estimates that only 30 to 50 are still around.

As for Gately, the sale was a milestone for his business. ?I?ve never had a coin sell close to $125,000,? he said. ?I?ve had ones that have sold for $30,000 to $40,000, but never that much.?

About 25 years ago, Gately sold a Mormon gold piece for $6,000. ?At the time, it seemed like a ton of money,? he said.

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