Images courtesy of Heritage Numismatic Auctions
Until recently, the question of whether Templeton Reid ever went to California remained a mystery. The theory that Reid planned to make coins in 1849 and circulate them in California is suggested by Eckfeldt and DuBois. They mention receiving a $25 and $10 gold piece in 1850 (the only two specimens known or mentioned to date) from the “California” issuance to Templeton Reid. Although they were not assayed (probably because they were so rare even then), the authors stated that the coins “appear to be of California gold without artificial alloy.”
A thorough study of Reid by Dr. Dexter C. Seymour has established through considerable circumstantial evidence that Reid’s presence in California would have been virtually impossible. Dr. Seymour cites several reasons why Reid could not have made these coins in California. Reid had established a cotton gin in Columbus, Georgia, in 1836 and was still engaged in its operations until his death on August 5, 1851. As of May 1, 1849, he had an unclaimed letter at the Columbus post office, but it was delivered by June 1. Assuming Reid picked up the letter (and this is by no means certain), that places him in Georgia during May, 1849, when they coins were probably struck.
Prior to April 1850, a distress warrant covering “all the tools and material in the work shop of Templeton Reid” was issued on behalf of a Seaborn Jones of Columbus. This claim was evidently precipitated by debts unpaid by Reid, notice of suit appearing in The Enquirer on April 2, 1850. Dr. Seymour surmised that there was probably up to a year of preliminary attempts at reconciliation prior to the suit, and further speculates that if Reid had departed for California, Jones would have tried to secure earlier satisfaction.
A trip overland to California would have taken at least three months, and one via the Isthmus of Panama would have taken at least a month and more likely two. In either case, Reid, at age 60, with rheumatism and the aftereffects of a broken thigh, could hardly have survived such an arduous journey.
Even if Reid had been able to leave and escape paying his debts to Jones, he would have had to put his cotton gin in reliable hands. His brother Elisha was the only possibility, and the two never were associated in business after their partnership was dissolved prior to April, 1847.
No mention is made of Reid’s presence in California in any of the West Coast newspapers. In a letter to the editor citing Reid’s precedent in private coinage, John Moffat refers to both Reid and Christopher Bechtler. While he mentions Reid being just eighty miles from a branch mint of the United States (Dahlonega), he says nothing of Reid making California coins.
These facts indicate that Reid was probably in Georgia in 1849 and 1850 and the “California gold coins” were probably made in Georgia. The California silver-alloyed gold was probably obtained in Mobile or New Orleans where there was a steady flow of the yellow metal from California. Buy why Reid would go to the trouble of engraving dies, forging planchets and setting up a coin press to (presumably) make two or so coins of different denominations is still a mystery. He may have hoped to sell the dies to some other would-be coiner or perhaps, as Dr. Seymour suggests, it was an ego-assuaging act to create the intention of achieving another “first” (i.e., production of California gold coins) before any other “private minters.”
--Reprinted with permission of the author from Donald H. Kagin's, "Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States", copyright 1981, Arco Publishing, Inc. of New York