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A History of Gold - The Early Modern Period

The Early Modern Period, referring to the years 1400-1800, saw a resurgence in gold's popularity.

When Columbus left from Spain he was planning to reach the trade-rich Orient. Although spreading Christianity was a major objective, so was obtaining gold and silver. The person who financed Columbus, King Ferdinand, told the voyager to return with gold from his journey. In fact, in 1511, King Ferdinand made his famous call to action: “Get gold, humanely if you can, but at all hazards, get gold,” as he launched huge expeditions to the newly discovered lands of the Western Hemisphere, in particular Central and South America. The Spanish were hoping to find El Dorado (literally, "the golden one"), the city where the yellow metal could be found everywhere. El Dorado was declared to be found several times: each time explorers found the glittering metal, they said that they had discovered the mythical city and started a gold rush. One of the most important rushes took place in Brazil's Minas Gerais region in 1700. Slaves were brought from Africa to do the mining, which involved primitive gold-extraction methods such as panning. By 1720, Brazil, whose main activity was gold mining, had become the largest gold producer in the world, with nearly two-thirds of the output.

Also in 1700, Isaac Newton, who at that time was Master of the Mint, fixed the price of gold in Great Britain at 84 shillings, 11.5 pence per troy ounce. The Royal Commission, composed of Newton, John Locke, and Lord Somers, recommended a recall of all old currency, and issuance of a new coinage with a gold-to-silver ratio of 16:1. The gold price thus established in Great Britain lasted for over 200 years.

In 1744, there was a resurgence of gold mining in Russia with the discovery of a quartz outcrop in Ekaterinburg.

In 1787, the first U.S. gold coin was struck by the goldsmith Ephraim Brasher, placing the United States on the "gold map." In 1792, The Coinage Act gave the U.S. a bimetallic silver-gold standard, and defined the U.S. dollar as equivalent to "24.75 grains of fine gold and 371.25 grains of fine silver." In 1799, a 17-pound gold nugget was found in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, the first documented gold discovery in the United States. A few years later, the discovery of more gold in this state would spark the first of that country's gold rushes