(The notes depicted here are for illustrative purposes ONLY)

These notes show the history of the move away from Gold in the 20th century.

"Government is the only agency that can take a valuable commodity like paper, slap some ink on it, and make it totally worthless" Ludwig von Mises.

REAL Paper Money
1913: $50 Gold Certificate
The last of the true Gold Certificates - the Federal Reserve was instituted in December 1913. This is a completely honest and upright money. You can see that it states right on the certificate: "Fifty Dollars In Gold Coin, Payable To The Bearer On Demand".

What you are looking at here is a money substitute. Any holder of this certificate held title to 2.41896 troy oz of Gold (at $US20.67 per troy oz.) which could be redeemed at any bank or from the U.S. Treasury itself at any time.

Enter The Federal Reserve

1914: $1 Federal Reserve Bank Note
At the time this was issued, a "note" was well understood to be a promise of payment. Accordingly, this is prominently labelled as a "Federal Reserve Bank Note".

And what is this Note redeemable in? Here's what it says: "Secured By United States Certificates Of Indebtedness Or One-Year Gold Notes, Deposited With The Treasurer Of The United States Of America". The Note was directly redeemable in Treasury debt, but it was not directly redeemable in Gold.

It's Money Because We Say It Is
1928: $100 Gold Certificate
The last of the U.S. Gold Certificates. This certificate was discontinued in 1934 - the same year as the U.S. ceased to issue Gold coinage and made it illegal for Americans to own Gold.

While the statement that the certificate is redeemable in Gold coin still appears, there is this ominous addition imprinted on the "Gold Certificate" stamp.

"This Certificate Is A Legal Tender In The Amount Thereof In Payment Of All Debts And Owen Public And Private". "Owen" is an archaic form of the verb "owe", meaning "to be in debt".

Redeemable In What?

1934: $1000 Federal Reserve Note
As it says right on the note, "The United States Of America Will Pay To The Bearer On Demand One Thousand Dollars". But what is it redeemable in? "Lawful Money".

It says so right on the note: "This Note Is Legal Tender For All Debts Public And Private And Is Redeemable In Lawful Money At The United States Treasury Or At Any Federal Reserve Bank".

In 1934, Gold was no longer "lawful money". In fact, this note was "redeemable" in another note just like it, or 10 "$100s", or 50 "$20s", or 1000 "$1s" - you get the picture.

Remember These?

1963: $1 Federal Reserve Note
The U.S. probably printed more of these than any other note in its history. When they first came out, you could buy quite a lot with one. Now, the U.S. $1 Dollar bill is being phased out.

The recognition of what a "note" is is no more. There is no statement about what this note can be redeemed in anywhere on it. Nor does the Fed bother to point out that the note is "lawful money" - just try and spend anything else! The Note simply states: "This Note Is Legal Tender For All Debts Public And Private". That's it.

The New U.S. Paper Money

1997: $50 Federal Reserve Note
Here is a specimen of the new "counterfeit proof" U.S. paper currency (the "$100s" came out in 1996). As far as what is written on the note, there is not much to distinguish it from the $1 note above. The only discernible difference is the markedly inferior engraving.

But look at the portrait of Ulysses S. Grant, and then scroll up to the first example on this page. Same man, radically different "money". This is counterfeiting of a much more blatant kind than the mere copying of what is already just a piece of paper.

The Early Gold Wars

The Congress shall have power coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures."
1787 - The Constitution of the United States - Section 8

That is precisely what the Congress did. In 1792, the Dollar was fixed by law at 24.75 grains or 0.05156 troy oz. of Gold. In 1837, the coinage was reworked and the Dollar was defined at 25.8 grains of Gold "nine-tenths fine". That gives 20.67 Dollars to one troy oz. of Gold. That was the Dollar's "fixed value" (see the quote above) for 96 years from 1837 to 1933.

War Declared - 1933-34

(The reference for this material is: Economics And The Public Welfare - A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914-1946   by Benjamin M. Anderson)

March 4, 1933
Not quite 20 years after the establishment of the Fed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated for his first term in office.

March 6, 1933
Using a wartime statute passed in 1917, Mr Roosevelt issued a proclamation closing every bank in the U.S. for four days. The banks were closed from March 6 to March 9.

March 9, 1933
Day One of "The Hundred Days". The President called a Special Session of the newly-elected Democratic Congress for the purpose of debating an act prepared in advance by the President's advisors. In a few hours, with minimal if any debate, Congress passed the act: "to provide relief in the existing national emergency in banking, and for other purposes".

April 5, 1933
President Roosevelt, acting under the sweeping authority passed to him by Congress on March 9, invoked his authority to make it unlawful to own or hold gold coins, gold bullion, or gold certificates. The export of Gold for purposes of payment was also outlawed, except under license from the Treasury.

June 5, 1933
A joint resolution signed by the President was introduced into Congress. This resolution abrogated the gold clause on all existing government and private contracts. Needless to say, the resolution passed.

October 1933
The Roosevelt Administration decided to implement a policy suggested by Professor George F. Warren of Cornell University. This policy advocated controlling "inflation" (firmly defined by this time as "rising prices") by raising and lowering the "gold content" of the Dollar. This policy was implemented, amongst many others, under the first big measure of the New Deal, the "National Recovery Act" (NRA). By January of 1934, the "adjustable Dollar policy" was an obvious and perceived failure, and it was dropped. The NRA itself was declared Unconstitutional on May 27, 1935.

January 30, 1934
The "Gold Reserve Act" became law. It had passed through Congress in five days, with minimal debate. Under this act, the Federal Government took away title to all "Gold Certificates" and gold held by the Federal Reserve Bank (the independent Fed?) and vested sole title with the U.S. Treasury. The Fed banks were to be provided with "Gold Certificates" in return for their Gold, but these certificates had no specific value in Gold assigned to them. When one witness testifying before the Senate Committee protested, he was taken aside by an Administration Senator and the situation explained to him:

"Doctor, you don't understand about these gold certificates. These are not certificates that you can get gold. These are certificates that gold has been taken away from you."

January 31, 1934
The day after the passage of the Act, President Roosevelt fixed the weight of the Dollar at 15.715 grains of Gold "nine-tenths fine". The Dollar was thereby devalued from $20.67 to one troy ounce of Gold to $35.00 to one troy ounce of Gold - or 40.94%. The Treasury, which had become the possessors of all the nation's Gold on the previous day, saw the value of their Gold holdings increase by $US 2.81 Billion. The Treasury now "owned" the Gold, and no one else inside the U.S. was allowed to own any Gold except by the express permission of the Treasury.

The new ratio of $US 35 was adopted at Bretton Woods in July 1944. The U.S. Dollar was made the world's Reserve Currency and the IMF and World Bank established in 1947. The now international ratio of 35 U.S. Dollars to one troy ounce of Gold lasted until August 15, 1971.

The End Of the "Fixed" Dollar Gold War I - The "London Gold Pool" - 1961 to 1968

By the beginning of the 1960s, the $US 35 = 1 oz. Gold ratio was becoming more and more difficult to sustain. Gold demand was rising and U.S. Gold reserves were falling, both as a result of the ever increasing trade deficits which the U.S. continued to run with the rest of the world. Shortly after President Kennedy was Inaugurated in January 1961, and to combat this situation, newly-appointed Undersecretary of the Treasury Robert Roosa suggested that the U.S. and Europe should pool their Gold resources to prevent the private market price of Gold from exceeding the mandated rate of $US 35 per ounce. Acting on this suggestion, the Central Banks of the U.S., Britain, West Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg set up the "London Gold Pool" in early 1961.

The Pool came unstuck when the French, under Charles de Gaulle, reneged and began to send the Dollars earned by exporting to the U.S. back and demanding Gold rather than Treasury debt paper in return. Under the terms of the Bretton Woods Agreement signed in 1944, France was legally entitled to do this. The drain on U.S. Gold became acute, and the London Gold Pool folded in April 1968 [Ed. Note: mid-March, actually]. But the demand for U.S. Gold did not abate.

By the end of the 1960s, the U.S. faced the stark choice of eliminating their trade deficits or revaluing the Dollar downwards against Gold to reflect the actual situation. President Nixon decided to do neither. Instead, he repudiated the international obligation of the U.S. to redeem its Dollar in Gold just as President Roosevelt has repudiated the domestic obligation in 1933. On August 15, 1971, Mr Nixon closed the "Gold Window". The last link between Gold and the Dollar was gone. The result was inevitable. In February 1973, the world's currencies "floated". By the end of 1974, Gold had soared from $35 to $195 an ounce.

Gold War II - The IMF/U.S. Treasury Gold Auctions - 1975 to 1979

On January 1, 1975, after 42 years, it again became "legal" for individual Americans to own Gold. Anticipating the demand, the U.S. Treasury in particular and many other Central Banks sold large quantities of Gold, taking large paper profits in the process. This had two results. It depressed the price of Gold, which fell to $US 103 in eighteen months. More important by far, it "burned" large numbers of small individual investors.

But this "pre-emptive strike" against the Gold price did not solve the imbalances inherent in the floating currency regime. As the Gold price began to recover from its August 1976 low, the (US-controlled) IMF along with the Treasury itself, began a series of Gold auctions in an attempt to hold down the price through official means. But the problem of yet another free fall in the international value of the Dollar got in the way. Between January and October of 1978, the Dollar lost fully 25% of its value against a basket of the currencies of its major trading partners. By early 1979, due to this precipitous fall, the demand for Gold was overwhelming the amount that the IMF/Treasury dared supply, and the Gold auctions came to an end.

Gold regained its ($195) December 1974 level by July 1978. It then pressed on to new highs, hitting $250 in February 1979 and $300 in July. Also in July, Paul Volcker was appointed as Fed Chairman by a desperate Jimmy Carter. Gold continued to surge, hitting $400 in October. While this was happening, Mr Volcker was attending a conference in Belgrade. There the assessment was made that the global financial system was on the verge of collapse. When Mr Volcker returned to the U.S. from Belgrade, he took a momentous step. He announced that the Fed was swiching its policy from controlling interest rates to controlling the money supply.

This new Fed policy took some time to have effect. In the meantime, Gold soared from $381 on Nov. 1, 1979 to $850 on Jan. 21, 1980. The public, who had been burned in 1975, were late on the scene. The great burst of public Gold buying came in the four weeks between Christmas 1979 and the Jan 21, 1980 high. As in 1975, they were "burned" again.

The Paper Era Begins

In early 1980, Mr Volcker's new Fed policy began to bite. U.S. interest rates began to skyrocket. As they rose, the Dollar first slowed it's descent, then stopped falling, and then began to rise. Both the public and the investment community which had stampeded into Gold was lured back into paper by this huge rise in interest rates - and by the prospect of a higher U.S. Dollar. The threat of financial meltdown was averted, but at a cost. The U.S. Prime rate hit 20% in April 1980 and stayed there (with a brief dive in mid-1980) until the end of 1981. There was a rush out of Gold and back to Dollars.

Once interest rates began to come down, in early/mid 1982, the choice of where to put the Dollars faced investors once more. The initial solution was just as it had been in the 1970s. The Dow took off - rising from 776 to almost 1100 between mid August 1982 and late January 1983. Gold started earlier and took off even harder - rising from $296 in late June 1982 to $510 at the end of January 1993.

That's where the similarity to the 1970s ended. Gold fell $105 in the last four trading days of February 1983. As it fell, the Dow broke above the 1100 point level for the first time. The long bull market in stocks, and the long stagnation of Gold, had begun.

Many facets went into this change in investment attitude, but one concrete change in the U.S. financial system was the most telling. Way back in March 1971, four months before Nixon closed the Gold window, the "permanent" U.S. debt ceiling had been frozen at $US 400 Billion. By late 1982, U.S. funded debt had tripled to about $US 1.25 TRILLION. But the "permanent" debt ceiling still stood at $US 400 Billion. All the debt ceiling rises since 1971 had been officially designated as "temporary(!?)". In late 1982, realising that this charade could not be continued, the U.S. Treasury eliminated the "difference" between the "temporary" and the "permanent" debt ceiling.

The way was cleared for the subsequent explosion in U.S. debt. With the U.S. being the world's "reserve currency", the way was in fact cleared for a debt explosion right around the world. It was also cleared for three of the biggest bull markets in history.

The global stock market boom of 1982-87
The Japanese stock market boom of 1988-90
The Dow (and then Nasdaq) led boom - late 1994 to March/April 2000(?)

The HIDDEN Gold Wars

In the early 1980s, when world stock markets boomed in tandem everywhere in the world, Gold reached the $500 level twice. The first time was in early 1983, just as the global boom was getting started. The second time was at the end of 1987, two months after the infamous crash of October 1987. From $499 in December 1987, Gold fell throughout 1988 and dipped below the $400 level in January 1989. Gold has only ever regained the $400 for four very short periods since then.

Gold traded as high as $422 in December 1989 - January 1990.
It reached as high as $415 in the lead up to the Gulf war in August 1990.
It reached $408 in August 1993.
And finally, Gold reached a high close of $414 in February 1996.

But Gold's history in the years since the 1987 crash is that at all the actual crisis points, the Gold price has not risen, it has fallen. The best single example of this phenomenon remains Gold's performance on January 17, 1991, the day that the "air phase" of the Gulf war began. On that single day, Gold fell $30 from its previous close. In fact, it fell $40 from its intra-day high. Gold had been rising in the months leading up to the war. As soon as the war started, Gold plummeted.

The Gold price has failed to respond to the fact that Gold demand has exceeded newly-mined Gold supply in every year since 1988. It has, consistently done the opposite of what all of its previous history shows that it "should" do. Why has this happened?

From Overt To Covert

As we have documented in this series, in the 1960s and 1970s, governments fought Gold in the open. They announced what they were going to do before they did it. Of course, they failed miserably. But people in government, just like the rest of us, are quite capable of learning from their mistakes, The first thing they learned was that the best way to "fight" Gold was to go underground. They did so, with great success.

The plan adopted was to fight Gold on their own ground. In order to do this, they greatly expanded the ways in which Gold could be traded. More important, they introduced and developed an indirect market for Gold, they invented a Gold "derivatives" market.

The Paper Blizzard - "Derivatives"

Forward and futures markets were not, of course, an invention of the 1980s. What was an invention of the 1980s was the massive increase in paper trading instruments. These instruments, which became known as "derivatives", were first developed in the currency and debt markets. They then spread into the equity markets and into the Gold market.

The advantage of "derivatives" in the paper markets was twofold. First, they provided more and more leverage for more and more aggressive trading. Second, and far more important, they provided a method to hugely expand the amount of money in circulation without expanding the "money supply"! The traditional measures of money in circulation (M1, M2, M3, M...) expanded much more slowly. What did expand was the blizzard of "derivative paper" using paper money as its underlying "asset". This was one of the main reasons why "inflation" (defined as rising prices) slowed down.

The advantages of a Gold derivative market were similar. Governments learned in the 1960s and 1970s that it was impossible to meet an increased demand for Gold with physical Gold. They needed a paper substitute. Gold "derivatives" provided that substitute. With more tradeable alternatives to physical Gold, it became far easier to control the Gold price. But on top of the derivatives themselves, other specific mechanisms were developed to help control the price of Gold.

One of these methods was forward selling by Gold mining companies. This practice began with Gold's retreat from the $500 level in the wake of the 1987 crash. By the mid 1990s, Gold companies everywhere, but notably in Australia, were routinely forward selling years worth of their projected Gold production.

As the performance of Gold in the more than a decade since the market crash of 1987 illustrate, these mechanisms have worked very well indeed.

Paper Gold?

For as long as Gold has been prized, there have been men who have tried to create it. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, the Alchemists strove to transmute base metals into Gold, without success. But even after its introduction to the West and the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg at the end of the Thirteenth century, no-one had the idea of trying to turn paper into Gold. In past centuries, those who would control money contented themselves with substituting paper for Gold, with limited success.

It took some true "visionaries", and the end result of a long process of economic wishful thinking, to seriously propose "paper gold". The notion goes back about 30 years, to the period just before the dawn of the "floating currencies" era. When the U.S. closed the the "Gold Window" in August 1971, the Dollar promptly dived against all its major trading partners. By February 1973, it had become impossible to pretend that any fixed ratio still existed between currencies, and the era of "floating currencies" began.

The IMF actually invented what became referred to as "Paper Gold" in 1971 [Ed. note: SDRs were first allocated in January 1970] - months before the U.S. severed the tie between the Dollar and Gold. The IMF knew this step was coming, and so it invented the "SDR" (Special Drawing Right). It was touted as a Reserve "Currency" that would replace both the U.S. Dollar and Gold in the basements of the world's Central Banks.

While these SDRs still exist, they have not done much over the past three decades or so except gather dust. Their prime purpose, to provide a substitute for Gold, was not fulfilled. The SDR was the last major attempt to provide a "substitute" for Gold. For at least the past two decades, the approach has been that no substitute for Gold is necessary. And to "prove it", Gold has been progressively debunked as either a money or even a viable investment option. The price has been forced down, then held down, then forced even lower.

If You Can't Replace It - Dilute It

The price of Gold cannot be held down by selling the physical metal. The decade between 1970 and 1980 proved that conclusively. Hundreds of years of history have proven conclusively that nothing can be sold as a "substitute" for Gold. In the years since the 1987 crash - when the $US 400 "glass ceiling" on Gold has been put and kept in place, Central Banks have continued to sell Gold, but only in emergencies. The real mechanism for holding down the price has been different.

Forward Selling - By Gold Producers

For most of the past decade, Gold mining companies gradually changed the way they market their Gold. To an ever-increasing extent, they have "forward sold". The mechanism is quite simple. A Gold mining company with proven reserves in the ground wants to sell a portion of these reserves forward. The company representative goes to a bullion dealer who agrees to pay him, for example, $500 per ounce for Gold to be delivered two years from now. The Gold company has locked in a profit, and on top of that, has the money now for Gold which is still in the ground.

The Gold bullion dealer is exposed, however. He is exposed to a possible loss if the Gold price falls in the future. So, to hedge this position, the bullion dealer sells Gold - for immediate delivery. "Wait a minute" (you cry), where is the bullion dealer to get the Gold to provide for immediate delivery? The answer brings us directly to the second part of the mechanism for maintaining the $US 400 Gold "glass ceiling".

Gold "Leasing" - The Central Banks' Contribution

Our intrepid bullion dealer goes out and "borrows" the Gold. Where does he borrow it from? That's easy. From the formidable 36,000 Tonne hoard still owned by the world's Central Banks.

To get the Gold - or more accurately, to get a marketable claim to the Gold - our bullion dealer pays what is known as the Gold lease rate (an extremely low rate of interest). He then sells the Gold - or the claims to Gold, and invests the money. This is the way the difference between the spot and forward prices for Gold is determined. The forward price is the money interest rate which our bullion dealer receives for his investment minus the lease rate which he paid to borrow the Gold.

The point is that this entire fandango (that's "fandango" - not "contango") can be performed by lending physical Gold, or it can be performed by lending a paper claim to Gold. The miners' Gold is still in the ground. The Central Bank sometimes lends Gold, or it lends a claim to Gold. These are what our bullion dealer sells. And since most demand for Gold is not a demand for the physical metal but a demand for paper (forward, future, etc) claims to the metal, this mechanism can meet the demand without an undue strain upon the available supply of the physical metal, and the upward pressure on the price of Gold that would cause.

by Bill Buckler / The Privateer -- The Private Market Letter for the Individual Capitalist
Summer 2001

Copyright ©2001 The Privateer Market Letter. All Rights Reserved.

Investing in Precious Metals

Many Investment advisors recommend precious metals as part of a properly diversified portfolio to provide capital appreciation, liquidity, and a hedge against conventional paper assets. Because precious metals are counter-cyclical to paper assets, a diversification into gold, silver, and platinum can therefore reduce the total risk of your overall portfolio and preserve your wealth. History supports the premise that investment in precious metals is the best protection against uncertainties in the future.

Market Insights Newsletter

Sign up for the free newsletter

Sign Up