Gosset Gold Coin Affair

The above picture is the overlapping obverse and reverse of a British Columbia twenty dollar gold pattern coin of 1862.  What may not be generally known about this, and it's companion ten dollar piece, is that these two colonial coins were the first gold coins struck for what is now Canada.  The first Newfoundland two dollar gold piece was issued in 1865.  The first "Canadian struck" gold sovereign was issued in 1908.

The gold rush of 1858 created problems such as the exchange of gold dust for coins.  The rapid growth of the B.C. population in the next few years made the currency problem even more severe.  There was an extreme shortage of coined money and the miners had great difficulty exchanging their gold for coins.  While urgent requests were made to Great Britain to supply the colony with quantities of hard currency, only a comparative trickle of silver coins arrived.  The colonial government attempted the issue of government notes, which first appeared in January 1862, and while this may have brought some temporary relief, they were all eventually redeemed by the government.


Mint and Assay Office, New Westminster, 1860

Governor Douglas was forced by the extent of the currency crisis to consider issuing colonial coins.  He sought permission from Her Majesty's Government in November 1861 to set up a coining plant in connection with the Assay Office that had previously been established in New Westminster in 1860.  The colonial assayer, Francis George Claudet, was sent to San Francisco to purchase the necessary machinery.  The dies for the ten and twenty dollar pieces were ordered from Mr. Wagner of Vanderslices Silver Manufactory.  These were engraved by Albert Küner of San Francisco.  Silver die test specimens were struck in San Francisco and were sent along with the dies.  Küner's wax impressions were destroyed in the San Francisco fire of 1906.  Despite some change of mind on the part of Governor Douglas, the Treasurer of B.C., William Driscoll Gosset, went ahead with his plans and set up the coining plant with the newly arrived equipment in June 1862.

A few sample ten dollar coins were struck and some were sent to Douglas with the intention of sending them to the International Exhibition being held in London that year.  At first Douglas said no, he had not given final permission for the mint to be set up and was no longer in favour of this operation.  Gosset prevailed and finally got Douglas to agree to allow eighteen $10 and ten $20 pieces to be struck for the exhibition.  The coins were sent to the Commissioner for B.C in London to be shown at the exhibition, then to be melted down for bullion.  Gosset was permitted to frame two specimens as Mint souvenirs.  Douglas then ordered the plant to be shut down, thus ending B.C.'s hope for a mint and a coinage of her own precious metal.

The few specimens of these coins known today were probably test pieces purchased by some senior members of the government as souveniers.  These patterns could not be called official coinage as no permission had been given by the Crown to strike coins in British Columbia.  Three, possibly four, of the $10 and five, possibly six, of the $20 are known to have survived.  Of the silver die test pieces, five of the $10 and 4 of the $20 are known to exist.  The gold set in the British Museum is most likely the set Gosset had framed.  The B.C. Provincial Archives has a set of both coins in gold and silver, of which the somewhat battered $10 gold coin was once worn as a watch fob by B.C. Premier John Robson.  At one time the late King Farouk of Egypt was known to have had one of the $20 coins.  One collector, Virgil Brand, had seven of the B.C. coins, gold and silver, in his collection.

The above article is based on a much longer article by Leslie Hill which in turn is based on the B.C. Archives memoir no. VII, "The Assay Office and the proposed mint at New Westminster", by Robie L. Reid.  Additional material was supplied by R. Greene.