History of Gold Bars

History of the Gold Bar
(aka Gold Ingot, Gold Bullion Bar, Gold Brick)
Pictured above: 4th century Roman gold bar (front and back)

Gold bars have a long and ancient history, the earliest of which were ingots made from pouring molten gold into molds – most likely made from clay. An early type of ingot is referenced by Roman author Tacitus (Annals, Book XVI), who mentions a “tall story” told by one Cesellius Bassus to win the favor 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.” The gold was never found but the story illustrates how the ingot (not necessarily “bar shaped”) was a known commodity in pre-Roman times.


In 1622, September 5, a fleet of 28 Spanish galleon (merchant ships) in the Gulf of Mexico were hit by a hurricane. Eight of the ships sunk, killing 500 people on board and hiding their treasures at the bottom of the sea for four centuries.

Galleon: 16th century Seville – similar to Spanish ships lost in the Gulf of MexicoGalleon: 16th century Seville – similar to Spanish ships lost in the Gulf of Mexico

The Spanish economy was deep in debt and relying on the boost it would have received from the ships’ arrival. But the loss of the galleon emeralds, pearls, silver, and gold destroyed the Bank of Madrid and contributed to the collapse of the Spanish Empire – a formerly all-powerful colonial economy.

In 1985, treasure hunter Mel Fisher discovered the 400 year old shipwreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, off the Florida Keys. It had a mother load 40 tons of silver, gold, and fine Colombian emeralds en route to Spain when it sunk in the Sept. 5, 1622 hurricane.

Bullion: 16th century gold bars with official marks certifying purity and taxation statusBullion: 16th century gold bars with official marks certifying purity and taxation status

In 2013, deep-sea divers found the 400 year old shipwreck of the Buen Jesus y Nuestra Senora del Rosario, 400 miles off the Florida Keys and 400 meters beneath the sea. It had 17,000 artifacts onboard and revealed it was carrying a large haul of pearls, silver coins, and gold bars en route to Spain when it sunk in the Sept. 5, 1622 hurricane.

It’s estimated that 3 million undiscovered shipwrecks exist on the ocean floor with billions of dollars in gold, silver, and other treasure to be found.


Brazilian gold, first discovered in the late 17th century, led to the Brazilian Gold Rush – the longest lasting gold rush in world history (from the 1690s into the 19th century).

The 1812 Joao VI Prince Regent gold ingot from Brazil weighs 90.2 grams and has marks to identify foundry, year, production number, assayer’s monogram, fineness, and weight.

Brazillian Gold Ingot: 1812 Joao VI Prince Regent (90.2g)Brazillian Gold Ingot: 1812 Joao VI Prince Regent (90.2g)

In addition to coins, gold ingots and bars circulated as legal tender for a time in colonial Brazil.


In 1848, January 24, the California Gold Rush began after gold was found in Coloma, California. Prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using the simple technique of panning. The news of gold brought about 300K people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The sudden influx of immigration and gold into the money supply reinvigorated the American economy.

Prospectors working California gold placer deposits in 1850

By 1853, a modern style of hydraulic mining was used on ancient gold-bearing gravel beds on hillsides and bluffs in the goldfields.

In 1854, the San Francisco Mint was built and gold bullion was turned into official United States gold coins for circulation.

California gold coinage includes privately issued coin-like ingots from 1849 until 1856 in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20, $25, and $50. Many of these were made by well-known assayers and some achieved circulation on the east coast of the USA – all are highly valued today.

1852 Augustus Humbert U.S. Assay Office of Gold $50 slug 1852 Augustus Humbert U.S. Assay Office of Gold $50 slug (Eq. $276,125 in 2017)

By mid-1880s, it is estimated that 11 million ounces of gold (eq. $15 billion in Dec. 2010) had been recovered by “hydraulicking”.


The Federal Reserve Bank of New York hosts a vault containing the world’s largest Gold depository. The vault is 80 feet (24 meters) below street level and holds 508K Gold Bullion Bars (eq. $260 billion in July 2018) weighing 6,350 tons.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Vault holds 508K Gold Bullion BarsThe Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Vault holds 508K Gold Bullion Bars

Manhattan’s bedrock was one of the few foundations strong enough to support the weight of the vault, its door, and the Gold inside – only a small portion of which belongs to the U.S. Government. Most of the Gold in the vault arrived during and after World War II, as many countries wanted to store their gold reserves in a safe location. So the bank serves as guardian for the Gold monetary reserves of about 60 foreign governments, central banks and international organizations.


Fort Knox is a U.S. Army post in Kentucky and the site of the U.S. Bullion Depository, a fortified vault building used to store a large portion of the United States official Gold reserves, and occasionally other precious items belonging or entrusted to the federal government.

Fort Knox, Kentucky: U.S. Army post and site of the U.S. Bullion DepositoryFort Knox, Kentucky: U.S. Army post and site of the U.S. Bullion Depository

In 1933, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102, outlawing the private ownership of Gold coins, Gold Bullion, and Gold Certificates by American citizens – forcing them to sell their Gold to the Federal Reserve. This left the federal government with a large gold reserve and no place to store it.

In 1936, the U.S. Treasury Department began construction of the U.S. Bullion Depository and the Gold Vault was completed in December 1936. Below the fortress-like structure lies the gold vault lined with granite walls and protected by a blast-proof door weighing 20 tons.

U.S. Bullion Depository: 20 ton blast-proof doorU.S. Bullion Depository: 20 ton blast-proof door

In 1964, the private ownership of gold certificates was legalized so they could be openly owned by collectors but not redeemable in gold.

In 1974, December 31, the limitation on gold ownership in the U.S. was repealed after President Gerald Ford’s signed bill to “permit U.S. citizens to purchase, hold, sell, or otherwise deal with Gold in the United States or abroad” went into effect.

In 2017, Fort Knox held 4,582 metric tons (147.3 million troy-ounces) of Gold with a market value of $100 billion. In contrast, the U.S. National Debt is over $21 trillion.

Fort Knox Gold: 4,582 metric tons (147.3 million troy-ounces)Fort Knox Gold: 4,582 metric tons (147.3 million troy-ounces)

NOTE: The U.S. holds more gold than any other country, with about 8,100 metric tons, or about 2.4 times Germany (the next leading country) that owned 3,400 metric tons in 2014.