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The year 1869 was quite memorable when Jay Gould and James 'Jubilee Jim' Fisk created quite a stir in the gold market. President Lincoln had partially financed the Northern war effort by issuing greenbacks (paper) currency. Gold had generally disappeared from circulation during the 1860s and continued in hiding well afterward, even as far west as San Francisco. As prices slowly returned to normal after the war and more coins returned to circulation Gould and Fisk decided it might be fruitful to attempt to corner the market for gold. Normally, the huge gold bullion holdings of the United States Treasury were used to keep the price of gold stable. Nevertheless speculators Gould and Fisk employed various friends and acquaintances to have President U. S. Grant hold the Treasury's gold off the market, giving them a chance to push up the price of gold. Grant was led to believe that long suffering farmers were unable to sell their home grown grain overseas as the price of gold was too low, so increasing it a bit might make local grain more competitive. Gould and Fisk bought highly leveraged positions in gold, hoping to cash in on the quick rise in the price of gold. At that time speculators could leverage about 100 to 1, in other words they could own 100 ounces of gold for every 1 ounce they purchased on paper. Naturally, just a small move in the price of gold the wrong direction would wipe out their holdings, but if they were correct, then millions could be quickly made in the market. Unsuspecting Grant cooperated for a brief time, and the highly leveraged Gould and Fisk made paper fortunes. The price of gold rose steadily into September, 1869. The Gould and Fisk scheme seemed to be working, but then President Grant found out the true motivation of his 'friends' and he immediately authorized gold bullion to be sold by the Treasury. This happened on September 24, 1869, a date which became known as 'Black Friday'. The price of gold collapsed back to levels seen before the corner was attempted. Many gold speculators were wiped out, and Gould and Fisk had to move on to other ventures.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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