History Of Gold Bars

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Gold bars have a long and ancient history. The earliest type of gold bars were ingots made from pouring molten gold into moulds, most probably initially made from clay. Reference is made to an early type of ingot by Roman author Tacitus (Annals, Book XVI), who mentions a "tall story" told by one Cesellius Bassus to win the favour of Emperor Nero. Bassus claimed to know the whereabouts of "immense stores of gold, not wrought into the form of coin, but in rude and shapeless ingots, such as were in use in the early ages of the world." [1] The gold was never found, but the tale illustrates that in pre-Roman times, an ingot was a known commodity, but one that might not necessarily have been "bar shaped".

Although in modern times, most of the world's gold is mined in Africa, it was not always so: During the 18th century, Brazil was the foremost gold producer. Most of the gold that had been mined came to London - and there are a number of references to "gold bars" in the literature of the period. However these sources typically do not mention the size or purity of the bars, merely the total value of the bullion. This itself is an indicator that in those days the gold bars may well have been of non-standard size - and this seems likely seeing as that they were melted and poured into moulds, rather than pressed.

The Bank of England created the first "official" gold reserves and had gold minted into guineas - which were the standard gold currency coin of the day. Towards the end of the 18th century however, gold became scarce and much was either exported or used to finance military operations.

400 oz Gold Bar History

It has proven difficult to ascertain when the first "standard" sized 400 oz gold bars were made. Timothy Green and Stewart Murray have published a short 60-page book entitled History of the London Good Delivery List 1750-2010 which would likely resolve the matter. From the title it would appear that there was standardization of gold bars as far back as 1750. I have not read the book, although it is available from the LBMA and from Amazon UK. [2]

In 1810, gold bars at 200 ounces and 916 fine ("crown gold" / 22 carat) were accepted by the Bank of England's Bullion Office from just one refiner, Browne and Brind. [3] From this 200 ounce standard it seems plausible that 400 ounce bars may also have been in existence at ths time.

There are few references to 400 ounce gold bars from the 19th century, but they were certainly in use at this time. The earliest account of 400 oz gold bars: The Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Jan-March 1838, describes on p.321 a scientific experiment on the conduction of electricity in steam, stating "...the experimenters caused the steam to strike upon a large bar of fine gold (400 oz. in weight)..." [4]

One of the oldest written mentions I have been able to locate of the 400 oz gold bar being manufactured as a commercial standard comes from 1890 - in Arthur Horseman Hiorns' "Mixed Metals: or, Metallic Alloys"; where he states "The gold is sent from the Bank of England to the Mint in ingots of 400 ounces each." (p.308) [5] This is not the only account of 400-ounce gold bars from the 1890's - a fascinating 1891 reprint from the London edition of the New York Herald has a full description of the vaults of the Bank of England of the day - describing the gold bullion as being made up in 400 ounce bars. [6]

During this period it appears that there may have also been a smaller standard size for gold bullion bars - at 6 x 3 x 1.5 inches. An article from the Merchants' Magazine and Commercial Review, Volume 20, dated 1849, describes a "medium sized" gold bar of the day as weighing 275 ounces:

"The most important class of gold bars from London and Paris, (chiefly the latter,) bear the mark of the government or private assayer. They are styled pure gold. The French indemnity, in 1835, was paid to this country [USA] in upwards of 600 bars, the aggregate value of which was $3,500,000. A bar of fine gold, six inches long, three inches wide, and one and a half thick, which is the medium size, would weigh 275 ounces. Its value would be about $5,900." [7] However in modern times there appear to be no examples of 275 ounce fine gold bars.

With the development of modern manufacturing methods, many of the gold bars now manufactured are minted to extremely high standards of finish and precision. However, the older-style "cast" bars are still common and considered equally desirable by most, owing chiefly to their gold content, but perhaps also their aesthetics.

History Of Gold Bars - References:

[1] http://books.google.com/books?id=AwEMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA127
[2] http://www.lbma.org.uk/pages/index.cfm?page_id=119&title=gdl_history_book
[3] http://www.lbma.org.uk/assets/alc57_200_anniversary.pdf
[4] http://books.google.com/books?id=8nkOE0gegyMC&pg=PA321
[5] http://books.google.com/books?id=dzUKAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA308
[6] http://www.goldbarsworldwide.com/PDF/RT_1_HowCast.pdf
[7] http://books.google.com/books?id=vPkcAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA231

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