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Did Americans traveling to Europe in 1900 take gold with them to spend?

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The US Treasury Department was interested in the flow of gold out of the country, and suspected American tourists took a lot to Europe with them. In early 1900, Mint Director Roberts asked the major steamship lines for their data. Here is part of a typical response.

March 1, 1900

George E. Roberts,

Director of the Mint

Answering generally your queries, it is my impression, not only from the records of our Exchange Office through which large numbers of our passengers exchange .their money, but from the records of the money turned in by the Pursers on our ships on both sides, and from my personal experience in crossing, which I have done many times, that the amount of gold coin taken out of this Country by Americans is almost nothing.

The Manager at our Exchange Department informs me that he has no recollection, or any record, of any passenger ever asking for American gold to take out with him. It stands to reason that a man going to Europe and taking the trouble to exchange his funds would naturally take foreign gold, silver or banknotes rather than to come into our office and exchange American banknotes for American gold. On our steamers we accept in payment of wine bills, cigars, etc. American notes, American gold, American silver or foreign notes and specie. Occasionally one of our Pursers turns in to us a five dollar gold piece, the Pursers turn in anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 at the end of the voyage. In the majority of cases there will be no American gold at all, and in some cases only a few five dollar gold pieces.

A great many Americans going to Europe do not take the trouble to get any foreign money as they travel with a letter of credit. They carry with them a few hundred dollars in American money, a portion which they spend on the steamers and the balance of which the keep so that they may have some American money upon landing on their return to this country. As soon as they reach Europe, they draw their foreign money against their letter of credit.

…Even this small quantity of gold does not leave the country, as if an American happens to have gold in his pocket, he does not spend it in Europe, but may spend some of it on our ships, which while it may take a round voyage to Europe, comes back on the ship.

I have once or twice myself had American gold in my pocket in Europe and attempted to use it. While I have always succeeded in the end, it always means a long explanation and a good deal of trouble getting it accepted. The trouble has been so great that a person who has once tried it would never try it again. Hotels, ticket offices and tradespeople in Europe will not accept American money, either gold or notes, unless a great point is made of it and they take the trouble to consult their bank to find out its value and whether it is genuine money.

American Line

Red Star Line

International Navigation Company

73 Broadway, New York

[RG104 E-229 Box 109]





Edited by RWB
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It makes me curious where the concern about the "flow of gold out of the country" was coming from, and why the Treasury would think it was tourists as opposed to large business transactions or hoarding or something else.

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The Treasury was always concerned about gold flowing out of the country. Gold leaving the country tended to have a deflationary effect, and made commerce more difficult due to a lack of money supply (one of the trickier aspects of having a hard money currency - and a fact that modern gold bugs conveniently overlook).

I suspect this was just one of many avenues they were trying to research. 

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There were more or less regular inquiries about how much US gold was in overseas banks, how much people brought to America or took to Europe, etc. Brokers, banks and shipping companies usually reported the quantities of gold they shipped out of the country, and the NYAO and Customs Bureau kept records. However, there was little legal requirement to report gold imports or exports. A significant late 19th century import/export conduit was between the Canadian Klondike and Seattle/San Francisco. Virtually all gold coin in western North America was US gold coins.

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