Now showing at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria BC is the “Gold Rush! El Dorado in BC” exhibition. I was in town, otherwise just restauranting and relaxing, so I decided to check it out.
Located between the elegant Fairmont Empress hoteli and the pristinely manicured BC Legislature grounds, the architecture of the Museum definitely stands out for its modernity, having been completed in 1968, some 70 years after the Greco-Roman government building and 60 years after the Edwardian rail hotel.
Entering the Museum and finding my way to the temporary exhibit, featuring over 100 pieces on loan from the Museo Del Oro in Bogota, Colombia,ii the show kicks off with this 100kg 99.999% purity gold Maple Leaf. Made in 2007, and with a face value of CAD $1 mn, there are only 5 such coins in existence, 4 of them being in the hands of private investors. Despite a claimed mass of 220 lbs, it looked to be approximately the same size as a 45 lbs plate you’d see in a weight room.iii The market value of this coin, based on mass alone, is about CAD $4.7 mn, though I’d imagine they’d fetch more on the open market.
Next : art.
Despite the superficial availability of gold, the Haida tribes of western BC, easily the most artistically and culturally advanced native tribes in North America on account of their access to food year-round and their “privileged” coastal climate, rarely if ever used gold in their art. Known for their immense wooden totem poles,iv gold carvings like the one you see above were unknown. This particular piece was crafted in 1971 by artist Bill Reid, who was the grandson of a well-known Haida carver and a trained jeweller in his own right. There aren’t many finer examples of primitivity meeting advancement.
Helping to weave the story of the BC gold rush of 1848 – 1875 were all manner of artifacts. This stage coach was used to transport prospectors between the towns where the amenities were and the rivers where the valuable yellow stones were. It wouldn’t be unusual for 8-10 people to fit on and inside this one vehicle, with 3-4 sitting on the roof.
For both defence against vulturous prospectors who’d wait for you to do the hard work of panning for gold before swooping in to steal your treasure, and for offence against pesky Indians who didn’t want to give up their wives and daughters so willingly, this assortment of Colts, Winchesters, Remingtons, and Smith & Wessons proved essential for life on the new frontier.
Equally essential were the tools of the trade, such as shovels, picks, boots, and brandy. Note how the prices reflected scarcity and as such were higher when there was more competition and lower once the boom died down. Not on this list but also noted elsewhere was that at the peak of the boom a single egg could cost as much as a labourer’s daily salary. That’s just how supply and demand work when there’s not state to diddle the economy’s twat.
More contemporarily, with the scarcity of Bitcoin stock exchanges these days, it’s no surprise that an MPEx seat that was once 20 BTC, then 30 BTC, is now 50 BTC, y’know ? The parallels between the gold rush and the Bitcoin rush don’t end there, naturally. One of the panels in the exhibit put it thusly, and ever so appropriately :
Last but not least, turns out that I weigh about CAD $4 mn in gold.
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Elsewhere in the Museum, a little discrete logic (for Alf) in the form of a PDP-8 computer logic circuit board, which was used to calculate positions for National Film Board animation cameras and artwork. Not as fancy as others, but pretty neat to see irl.
And before there was concern trolling, there was honest-to-goodness commercial trolling. Fancy that !
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- Form the hotel’s archives, I learned that, in 1922, a six course meal at the hotel cost $1.50, a basic room cost $7.00, and a suite was $15.00. Given that a six course meal would cost at least $100 there today, the rooms were comparably spendy ! If there’s one thing that inflation hasn’t run away with, it’s accommodations. Oh, and flights. I guess that’s two things… [↩]
- I visited the Museo Del Oro about 18 months ago but I can’t seem to dig up any images of the exhibits there at the time, impressive though I recall them being. The next best thing I can find at the moment was a photo I took just outside el museo, right out in front, in fact, on the pedestrian street :
gerbilguinea pig street races ! Fun for the whole family !!1
gerbilguinea pig zoom (from different shot), as per request :
Oh, those crazy Colombians… [↩]
- Now imagine that the reds are coming for you, your militia has been soundly defeated, and it’s time to make your escape. With conventional stores of value, you have to wheel this 100kg coin, along with whatever art and sculptures, into your
helicopteratomic dirigible to make your getaway. With Bitcoin, whether you’re carrying a brainwallet, a paper wallet, or a USB key, you’re as agile and mobile as an acrobat in the Cirque du Soleil.