In 1830, Christopher Bechtler and his son Augustus, skilled German metallurgists, came to Rutherford County, later bringing distinction to that county by operating the first mint in the United States to coin a gold dollar, and the only privately-operated mint ever to be operated in the United States. More gold was coined by the Bechtler mint than at any other, with the exception of the United States mint itself.
At that time this was the center of the United States gold mining area. Soon after settling at Rutherford, it occurred to the elder Bechtler that there should be some other medium of exchange other than gold dust. State currency at that time was rare and the nearest government mint was at Philadelphia.
Started His Mint in 1831.
So, in the early part of 1831, Christopher Bechtler began to coin $1.00, $2.50 and $5.00 pieces from native gold. At that time, there were no stringent laws against the coinage of gold and silver.
On August 27, 1831, Bechtler inserted in the Carolina Spectator and Western Adviser published at Rutherfordton, an advertisement soliciting the gold coinage business of the miners of South Carolina and Georgia. The concluding paragraph of the advertisement ran thus:
"He has on hand a handsome assortment of jewelry, watches, etc. Any particular kind of jewelry will be executed to order in neatest and most skillful manner."
It is said that there was no kind of jewelry that the Bechtlers could not make, no matter how intricate the design. Watch chains, necklaces, brooches, rings, collar buttons and cuff buttons are some of the articles they made. They were also efficient gunsmiths, having invented a device to fire a rifle at the rate of eight shots a minute. These were very popular with hunters.
In addition to his operations as a minter and jeweler, Christopher Bechtler also did some prospecting on the property where his home was located, on the Rutherfordton-Marion highway, about six miles from Rutherfordton.
Bechtler coins were of various sizes and weights but of only three denominations, $1.00, $2.50 and $5.00. The
wide variety in size and weights of the coins was because Bechtler used the exact amount of gold necessary to make the coins assay to their gold standard. Some gold, being inferior in quality to others and containing more foreign matter, naturally weighed more.
There was a difference, too, in the color, the gold from South Carolina and the mountain counties of North Carolina being of a dull color while that from Georgia and Central North Carolina was a bright yellow.
The Bechtlers were natives of the Grand Duchy of Baden. Accompanying Christopher Bechtler and his son to America were another son, Charles, and a nephew, Christopher, Jr. The records do not state where he left his wife but she did not accompany him to Rutherfordton. Three years after coming to Rutherfordton, the elder Christopher and Augustus became naturalized citizens.
Augustus at that time was only 19 years of age, a jolly, companionable sort of person, passionately fond of hunting. He was a handsome boy, heavily built and with dark complexion.
His father was quite different in character, being quiet and reticent and unusually superstitious.
Christopher, Jr., the nephew, was like his uncle, avoiding people. He was an incessant smoker and drinker, often drinking from eight to sixteen glasses of beer a day.
Soon after coming to Rutherfordton, the second son, Charles, committed
suicide when he learned that the woman he had married was unvirtuous.
Continued Operations of Mint
At the death of Christopher, Sr., Augustus moved to Rutherfordton, on Highway 20, on the corner of what is now Sixth and North Washington streets. Until his death several years later, he continued to coin gold and make jewelry. Christopher, Jr., carried on his work for a short time after the death of Augustus but because of lack of interest, he soon gave it up and moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The press used by the Bechtlers is on display in the Hall of Numismatic History in New York. The North Carolina Hall of History has some of the dies they used while others are owned by South Carolina and Georgia descendants of the Bechtlers.
Good specimens of Bechtler coins are rare today and bring up to $100 or more. Many of them were re-coined when the Charlotte mint was established in 1837 while others of the coins were carried West when the westward trek began.
From January, 1831, to February, 1840, Christopher Bechtler's books showed that during his nine years of coining operations, he coined $2,241,850.50, a total of $3,625,840 in gold having passed through his hands. Of this amount a little more than $2,000,000 was coined for the United States mint.
The bodies of Christopher and Charles Bechtler were buried near the old home place but were later moved to a Northern state and reinterred.