Gold has been in human possession since early B.C. times and has always held high value, although it was not actually used as a form of currency until late B.C years. Remnants of ancient civilizations have brought forth evidence of gold used as decorative ornaments and jewelry. Gold was also largely used for religious rituals. Ancient civilizations wore gold as a symbol of their loyalty and as offerings to their gods. Gold jewelry and emblems have also been found buried in the tombs of the noble and well-known, representing their power.
Because of its value, gold evolved quickly into a useful trading source. Around 1500 B.C., gold was recognized as an international standard of trade when Egypt acquired a large wealth of gold and began trading it with other nations. A thousand years later, in 560 B.C., the first coins were minted in Lydia, beginning the use of gold as currency for many nations.
Following these events came the beginning of the never-ending feverish and cutthroat gold rushes. Alexander the Great, the Byzantine Empire, Charlemagne, Marco Polo, and King Ferdinand led crusades and journeys with the express purpose of obtaining more gold. Meanwhile, Venice introduced the gold Ducat and Great Britain the Florin and by 1377 Britain had based its monetary system on gold and silver.
With gold fever permeating many a soul, explorers set out to discover gold in every known part of the world, and in 1787, Ephraim Brasher struck the first gold found on United States soil. Shortly after, the United States began basing its own monetary standard on silver and gold under The Coinage Act.
The search for gold continued all along the east coast of the United States, where large amounts of gold were discovered in North Carolina and by 1812, North Carolina was providing all of the gold coined by the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
As a major step in developing today’s monetary system, Britain tied the British pound to gold, allowing gold the ability to transfer into paper money. Gold coinage, like the British Sovereign, continued use, but this was a big step in gold history, as the movement transitioned to the United States where the U.S. dollar was also tied to the gold standard.
The mining of gold continued to expand, hastening the settlement in the western United States when John Marshall found gold while building a sawmill for John Sutter near Sacramento, California in 1848, spurring the Great California Gold Rush. Thousands of settlers moved west to make their fortune.
To learn what happens next in the great pursuit of the gold trade, look for our upcoming second installment, The History of Trading Gold: The California Gold Rush - Now.