In the early 20th century, when gold coins were still in regular circulation, it was a much different world in making change. Though perhaps not widespread, there was always the chance your gold coin had been “shaved” of some its gold content by the unscrupulous.
This was apparently the case in 1906, when a story datelined to Seattle, in the Oct. 27 issue of the Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Mont., related:
“Hundreds of five and ten dollar gold pieces are being ‘shaved’ by some unknown man in this city [Seattle]. So well is the work done that it has escaped the detection by some of the most experienced bank cashiers. The criminal is evidently shaving the coin by placing them in a lathe and carefully trimming of the edges without, however, destroying the milling. Outside of making the edges of the coins a trifle thinner than the body, the work of the criminals could escape detection by the most expert paying or receiving tellers in local banks. Captain Bell, of the secret service division, estimates that about fifty cents is being taken from $5 gold pieces and a dollar from $10 coins.”
Gold was also not the most favored for transactions, shaved or otherwise. The Jan. 3, 1908 issue of the St. Albans Register, St. Albans, Vt. reported: “‘Of the different kinds of American money now in circulation the gold coins of all denominations are the most disliked in my business,’” said a prominent New York banker.
“‘Take a greenback, a silver or a gold certificate or a national bank note to your bank and it is received and placed to your credit without a moment’s delay. Not so with gold. A few days ago a gentleman brought to our bank upward of $3,000 in gold of different denominations and was much provoked because we would not receive it and give him credit with the amount the face of the coin represented. This we could not do because the law requires that gold shall be redeemed only at its actual value. Coins carried in the pocket for any length of time naturally lose something by abrasion—probably but a fractional part of cent on a ten dollar piece, but it is a loss nevertheless—and therefore bankers cannot give credit for gold deposits until the coin shall have been weighed. In the case mentioned my friend took his gold to the subtreasury and was compelled to wait there nearly an hour before he could get notes for it.
“‘Every coin had to be passed through the scales, and after the weighing process had been completed three of the coins—two five dollar pieces and a ten dollar piece—were returned to him as short in weight.” The banker added, that: “In many instances there may not be more than several cents’ shortage on $50 worth of coins. Business men, however, naturally object to the inconvenience and get rid of their gold as fast as possible.’”
This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• Is that coin in your hand the real deal or a clever fake? Discover the difference with U.S. Coins Close Up, a one-of-a-kind visual guide to every U.S. coin type.
• If you enjoy reading about what inspires coin designs, you'll want to check out Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths about U.S. Coins.