Gold Price History from 30 B.C. to Today
Historical Gold Prices in the Roman Empire, Great Britain, and the United States
Gold has been considered precious throughout history, but it wasn't used for money until 643 B.C. At first, people carried around gold or silver coins. If they found gold, they could get the government to make tradable coins out of it. Because of its value and its usefulness as currency, the evolving value of gold can be traced back as far as 30 B.C.This article tracks the price of gold from 30 B.C.
Emperor Augustus, who reigned in ancient Rome from 30 B.C. to 14 A.D., set the price of gold at 45 coins to the pound. In other words, a pound of gold could make 45 coins. The next revaluation occurred in the period of 211-217 A.D., during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. He debased the value to 50 coins for a pound of gold, reducing the value of each coin and making gold worth more. From 284 A.D. to 305 A.D., Diocletian further debased gold to 60 coins per pound. Constantine the Great debased it to 70 coins per pound in the years 306 A.D. to 337 A.D. They did this to finance the military so they could stay in power. They also increased taxes.
These emperors lowered the value of the currency so much that it created hyperinflation. To give you an idea, in 301 A.D., one pound of gold was worth 50,000 denarii, which is another coin based on silver. By 337 A.D., it was worth 20 million denarii.
As the price of gold rose, so did the price of everything else. Middle-class people could not afford their daily needs. That's one reason the Roman Empire began to crumble.
In 1257, Great Britain set the price for an ounce of gold at 0.89 pounds. It raised the price by about 1 pound each century, as follows:
- 1351 - 1.34 pounds
- 1465 - 2.01 pounds
- 1546 - 3.02 pounds
- 1664 - 4.05 pounds
- 1717 - 4.25 pounds
In the 1800s, most countries printed paper currencies that were supported by their values in gold. This was known as the gold standard. Countries kept enough gold reserves to support this value. The history of the gold standard in the United States began in 1900. The Gold Standard Act established gold as the only metal for redeeming paper currency. It set the value of gold at $20.67 an ounce.
Great Britain kept gold at 4.25 pounds per ounce until the 1944 Bretton-Woods Agreement. That's when most developed countries agreed to fix their currencies against the U.S. dollar since the United States owned 75% of the world's gold. MeasuringWorth.com’s “The Price of Gold, 1257-Present” shows gold trend prices all the way back to the Middle Ages.
Before the Gold Standard Act, the United States used the British gold standard. In 1791, it set the price of gold at $19.49 per ounce but also used silver to redeem currency. In 1834, it raised the price of gold to $20.69 per ounce.
Defense of the gold standard helped cause the Great Depression. A recession began in August 1929, after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in 1928.
After the 1929 stock market crash, many investors started redeeming paper currency for its value in gold. The U.S. Treasury worried that the United States might run out of gold. It asked the Fed to raise rates again. The rise in rates increased the value of the dollar and made it more valuable than gold. It worked in 1931.
Higher interest rates made loans too expensive. That forced many companies out of business. They also created deflation, since a stronger dollar could buy more with less. Companies cut costs to keep prices low and remain competitive. That further worsened unemployment, turning the recession into a depression.
By 1932, speculators again turned in money for gold. As gold prices rose, people hoarded the precious metal, sending prices even higher. To stem the redemption of gold, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt outlawed private ownership of gold coins, bullion, and certificates in April 1933. Americans had to sell their gold to the Fed.
In 1934, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act. It prohibited private ownership of gold in the United States. It also allowed Roosevelt to raise the price of gold to $35 per ounce. This lowered the dollar value, creating healthy inflation.
In 1937, FDR cut government spending to reduce the deficit. This reignited the Depression. By that time, the government stockpile of gold tripled to $12 billion. It was held at the U.S. Bullion Reserves at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
In 1939, FDR increased defense spending to prepare for World War II, and the economy expanded. At the same time, the Dust Bowl drought ended. The combination ended the Great Depression.
In 1944, the major powers negotiated the Bretton-Woods Agreement, making the U.S. dollar the official global currency. The United States defended the price of gold at $35 per ounce.
In 1971, President Nixon told the Fed to stop honoring the dollar's value in gold. That meant foreign central banks no longer could exchange their dollars for U.S. gold, essentially taking the dollar off the gold standard. Nixon was trying to end stagflation, a combination of inflation and recession. However, inflation was caused by the rising power of the dollar, as it had now replaced the British sterling as a global currency.
In 1976, unhinged from the dollar, gold quickly shot up to $120 per ounce in the open market.
By 1980, traders had bid the price of gold to $594.92 as a hedge against double-digit inflation. The Fed ended inflation with double-digit interest rates but caused a recession. Gold dropped to $410 per ounce and remained in that general trading range until 1996 when it dropped to $288 per ounce in response to steady economic growth. Traders returned to gold after each economic crisis, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2001 recession.
Gold shot up to $869.75 per ounce during the 2008 financial crisis. The price of an ounce of gold hit an all-time record of $1,895 on Sept. 5, 2011, in response to worries that the United States would default on its debt. Since then, it has fallen, as the U.S. economy has improved and inflation remains low.
Because people want a safe haven when an economic crisis hits, they wonder “Should I buy gold?” To answer this, one must know what causes gold prices to rise and fall before investing in this asset.
Gold Prices by Year
This chart tracks the price of gold since 1929, compared to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, inflation, and other factors:
|Year||Gold Prices (London PM Fix)||Dow Closing (Dec 31)||Inflation (Dec YOY)||Factors Influencing Price of Gold|
|1933||$26.33||99.90||0.8%||FDR takes office.|
|1934||$34.69||104.04||1.5%||Expansion. Gold Reserve Act.|
|1937||$34.79||120.85||2.9%||FDR cut spending.|
|1938||$34.85||154.76||-2.8%||Contraction until June.|
|1939||$34.42||150.24||0%||Dust Bowl drought ends.|
|1941||$33.85||110.96||9.9%||U.S. enters WWII.|
|1945||$34.71||192.91||2.2%||Recession follows WWII.|
|1950||$34.72||235.41||5.9%||Expansion. Korean War.|
|1953||$34.84||280.90||0.7%||Eisenhower ends Korean War. Recession.|
|1954||$35.04||404.39||-0.7%||Contraction ends in May. Dow returns to 1929 high.|
|1957||$34.95||435.69||2.9%||Expansion until August.|
|1958||$35.10||583.65||1.8%||Contraction until April.|
|1959||$35.10||679.36||1.7%||Expansion. Fed raises rate.|
|1960||$35.27||615.89||1.4%||Recession. Fed lowers rate.|
|1961||$35.25||731.14||0.7%||JFK takes office.|
|1963||$35.09||762.95||1.6%||LBJ takes office.|
|1964||$35.10||874.13||1.0%||"Goldfinger" depicts plan to control Fort Knox gold.|
|1966||$35.13||785.69||3.5%||Expansion. Fed raises rate.|
|1968||$38.69||943.75||4.7%||Expansion. Fed raises rate.|
|1969||$41.09||800.36||6.2%||Nixon took office. Fed raises rate.|
|1970||$37.44||838.92||5.6%||Recession. Fed lowers rate.|
|1971||$43.48||890.20||3.3%||Expansion. Wage-price controls.|
|1973||$106.72||850.86||8.7%||Gold standard ends.|
|1974||$183.85||616.24||12.3%||Watergate. Ford allows private ownership of gold.|
|1975||$139.30||852.41||6.9%||Recession ends. Stocks rise, gold falls.|
|1976||$133.88||1004.65||4.9%||Expansion. Fed lowers rate.|
|1977||$160.45||831.17||6.7%||Expansion. Carter takes office.|
|1979||$455.08||838.71||13.3%||Fed's stop-go policy worsens inflation.|
|1980||$594.92||963.99||12.5%||Gold hits $850 on 1/21. Investors seek safety.|
|1982||$444.30||1,046.54||3.8%||Recession ends. Garn-St. Germain Act.|
|1983||$389.36||1,258.64||3.8%||Expansion. Reagan increases spending.|
|1986||$391.23||1,895.95||1.1%||Expansion. Reagan tax cuts.|
|1987||$486.31||1,938.83||4.4%||Expansion. Black Monday crash.|
|1996||$369.00||6,448.27||3.3%||Expansion. Investors turn to stocks.|
|1999||$282.37||11,497.12||2.7%||Expansion. Y2K scare.|
|2000||$274.35||10,786.85||3.4%||Stock market peaks in March.|
|2002||$347.20||8,341.63||2.4%||Expansion. 9-year gold bull market starts.|
|2007||$833.75||13,264.82||4.1%||Dow peaks at 14,164.43.|
|2009||$1,087.50||10,428.05||2.7%||Recession ends. Gold hits $1,000/oz. on 2/20.|
|2010||$1,405.50||11,577.51||1.5%||Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.|
|2011||$1,531.00||12,217.56||3.0%||Debt crisis. Gold hits record $1,895 on 9/5.|
|2012||$1,657.60||13,104.14||1.7%||Expansion. Gold falls. Stocks rise.|
|2015||$1,061.00||17,425.03||0.7%||Gold falls to $1,050.60 on 12/17.|
Note: Between 1929 and 1969, annual average gold prices are used. December monthly gold price averages are used from 1970 to 1999. Last business day of December is used from 2000 on.
Resources for Table
- "Gold Prices, 1833-Present,” KITCO
- “Daily Closing Value of the Dow Jones Average, 1885 to Present,” Samuel H. Williamson, MeasuringWorth, 2013
- U.S. Inflation Rate by Year
- Historical Fed Funds Rate
- Recession History
- Guide to the 20th Century
- “Business Cycle Dates,” National Bureau of Economic Research