GOLD FEVER AND THE BECHTLER MINT
9 p.m. Tuesday, UNC-TV, Channel 58.
Heres how the first American gold rush got going:
Conrad Reed, 12, was bow-fishing on a creek in Cabarrus County in 1799 when he saw a shiny rock. Heavy too. He took it home and it served as a doorstop.
Probably the most valuable doorstop in American history, says historian Richard Knapp in a UNC-TV special, Gold Fever and the Bechtler Mint.
John Reed, Conrads father, took it to Fayetteville a few years later. A jeweler asked what he wanted for the 17-pound lump. Reed, a farmer, figured a weeks wages would cover it. He accepted $3.50.
It was probably worth a thousand times that, documentarians Scott Davis and Brenda Hughes point out in the special.
Prospectors were soon pouring in. A German immigrant, Christopher Bechtler, opened a jewelry store in Rutherfordton. Miners had to haul their gold to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia to turn it into coins, so Bechtler opened his own mint in 1831, stamping out Bechtler Gold, which quickly acquired a reputation for standardized purity.
For seven years, Rutherfordton became a destination for miners wanting to cash in on their labors. It brought prosperity to the town and the region.
In 1838, the U.S. Mint opened a modern branch in Charlotte. After minting more than $2 million in coins, Bechtlers enterprise began to wither, as did his health.
By 1840, Bechtler moved into a house in Rutherfordton from the nearby countryside and he died in 1843, possibly of mercury poisoning from gold-refining chemicals.
Bechtlers memory lives on in the history of U.S. coinage. If you find one of his gold pieces in your grandfathers attic, dont repeat the mistake of John Reed.
It could be worth up to $25,000, a modern tribute to Bechtlers priceless skill.