The History of Gold
A Brief History of What We Treasure
Men and women have possessed objects since the dawn of time. Initially these objects would have been simple keepsakes, tools or even attractive pebbles or suchlike. With ownership came the desire to protect and safeguard these objects and that process inevitably led to the concept of an object having value. Unfortunately, the idea of value then made such objects attractive to others and forced the owners to actively protect their treasures. Particularly in times of unrest this protection generally took the form of the owner burying the objects in the ground in the hope of returning to reclaim them at a later date.
The discovery in the UK of thousands of buried hoards of objects proves the unreliability of such a strategy but also gives an insight into what people have valued through history.
The earliest finds date back to the Neolithic Period from 4000 - 2000 BC and are composed of stone weapons and tools.
Bronze Age hoards were the earliest to contain Gold in the UK but mainly comprised of weapons and tools. During the Iron Age, between the 8th Century BC and the 1st Century AD, Silver and Gold coins and jewellery were highly valued and therefore are found in hoards dating from that period.
The Romano British period between 43AD and 410AD provides over 1200 known examples of Silver and Gold coin hoards.
From this period onwards most hoards were composed of coins and several Late Medieval hoards contain many thousand Gold coins.
The renowned diarist, Samuel Pepys gives an early written account of sending his valuables away from his London home with his wife and father during an attack by a Dutch fleet in June 1667. A later diary entry describes how the Gold coins were subsequently dug up from their hiding place.
The discovery in 2007 of a hoard of American Gold coins which had been hidden in London during 1940 shows that the urge to bury valuables was still present, and still resulting in the loss by the original owner, less than a century ago.
A Store of Wealth?
Over the years the real value of currency diminishes. Official Consumer Price Index figures recorded since 1913 compare how much currency would be required to match the value of a 1913 US dollar. By 1950 it took $2.43 to match the spending power of the 1913 dollar. In 1970 it needed $3.92 and by 2012 the figure had escalated to £23.27 to match the spending power of one 1913 dollar. This demonstrates conclusively that simply accumulating cash does not preserve wealth.
By comparison, the buying power of an ounce of Gold has recorded a very different story:
- In the US in 1970 the average house price was $23,400. Gold was worth £36 per ounce. It took 650 ounces of Gold to buy the average house.
- By 1990 the average house price in the USA was $123,000. Gold was $416 per ounce. The average house could be bought with 296 ounces of Gold.
- In 2012 the average house price peaked at $190,000 and Gold was $1600 per ounce. The average house could now be bought with just 119 ounces of Gold. (Source: http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1990s.html and http://ycharts.com/indicators/sales_price_of_existing_homes).
East and West
As populations became more settled, trade grew and monetary systems evolved, initially based on values of Precious Metals, in particular on Gold. Many western cultures developed complex banking systems and abandoned the ties with Gold to produce fiat currencies. In contrast, many Eastern cultures retained their belief in Precious Metals and it is still common today, particularly in India and China, for families to accumulate Gold as a source and protection of wealth.
Precious Metals in the 21st Century
The recent collapse of large sections of the Western banking system has caused many people to re-evaluate their attitude to Gold and other Precious Metals.
Physical Gold will not provide an income over time but neither will it be liable to counterparty risk or institutional collapse.
It is widely considered that for anyone seeking a strategy for long term wealth accumulation and protection, physical Gold is an option that should be considered for up to 10% of an investment portfolio.
In the last ten years Gold has outperformed every stock market on Earth but that is not the reason that you should own it. The potential to preserve the value of your investment is the primary reason for buying Gold.