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Past the 1970s on way to Memphis

If you remember the wild and crazy gold and silver markets of the time, to compare the present with the 1970s doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch.

If you remember the wild and crazy gold and silver markets of the time, to compare the present with the 1970s doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch.


However, I had a couple of other 1970s moments as I journeyed down to Memphis to attend the International Paper Money Show that was founded in the 1970s (1977) by the Memphis Coin Club and is now owned and operated by Lyn Knight.

As I was killing a little time June 7 between flights at Chicago, O’Hare, I stopped by a bookstore. One book on display in the front caught my eye. I was a bit startled as my brain wouldn’t accept the fact that what I was looking at was a book I had read 40 years ago. It is called “Time and Again” by Jack Finney. There is an element of time travel in it which is what particularly intrigued me then.

I picked it up. Sure enough, it was the same book, but it has been reissued. This experience alone probably wouldn’t have meant much to me had not a conversation with Claud Murphy followed after I had arrived at the Memphis show.

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Murphy had just finished a biography of James Fisk, who was a partner of tycoon Jay Gould of Erie Railroad fame. Most importantly to coin collectors, the pair also attempted to corner the gold market in 1869. It failed, but the failure did not harm Gould’s fortunes for long, though many market players were ruined by the sudden ups and downs in the price of gold.

I had read a similar book in the 1970s. The more Claud spoke, the more likely it seemed that he had read the same book I had. He said it was an older book. Without seeing that old cover, I will never know for sure.

What I do know is today’s gold investors would profit from giving this story a little attention. In 1869 the U.S. dollar had experienced a decline in value relative to gold because of the paper money issued by the Union government during the Civil War. The paper dollar was recovering, but its future was still in doubt. Gold was traded in the Gold Room of the New York stock exchange. Prices were quoted in paper dollars for $100 in gold coins.

Thus a quote of 160, would be $160 for $100 face value of U.S. gold coins.

Gold was needed to meet certain financial obligations and the New York quotations helped fit the paper system and the specie system together.

When Gould stepped in, he attempted to overwhelm the workings of supply and demand by simply buying up every bit of gold he could. He squeezed the short sellers and they were crying, “Uncle,” when Uncle Sam released sufficient bullion to overwhelm Gould’s buying onslaught. But being the good speculator that he was, he was tipped off ahead of time and was able to avoid ruin.

Inflation, speculators, high gold prices, government releases, sudden price plunges – it’s all there. These topics are just as current as yesterday’s market closes. They were apt topics in the 1970s as well.

The only thing that really changes is how you as an individual relates to this and what you choose to do about it.

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