1062543 | ARGENTINA. Tierra Del Fuego. 1889 AV Gramo. NGC MS64.
Buenos Aires mint. POPPER divides shaded circle /
Pick axe and sledge hammer within shaded circle. KM Tn5; Fr.-2; Janson-7.
Second Buenos Aires die with large letters on obverse and reverse. Produced by Julius Popper, a Jewish Romanian-born Argentine adventurer referred to as a "modern conquistador.".
Please use this link to verify the NGC certification number 5905794003
Set in the southern reaches of South America, Tierra del Fuego, the "Land of Fire," is so named for the many fires of the native Yaghan peoples that Ferdinand Magellan saw when he became the first European to visit the archipelago in 1520. Francis Drake followed later in the 16th century, a Dutch East Indies Company expedition in 1616, and much later, the famed HMS Beagle in 1830. By the mid-19th century, the "Land of Fire" came under Argentine and Chilean influence. When large amounts of placer gold was discovered there in 1879, a curious and colorful mishmash of adventurers, miners and soldiers of fortune poured in. Perhaps the most colorful was a young Romanian Jewish mining engineer, prospector and adventurer, Julius Popper.
Born in Bucharest in 1857, Julius was the son of Neftali Popper, a prominent Hebrew teacher and prosperous dealer in books and antiques. He left Romania at an early age to seek knowledge and adventure. Popper studied in Paris, and travelled about the Orient, the US, Mexico and Cuba involving himself in engineering projects and the development of mining techniques. In Cuba, he designed Havana's first sewer system and framed the modern outline for the city.
In 1885, a very well-rounded Popper arrived in Argentina, an excellent civil, mechanical and mining engineer, a polyglot who spoke and wrote a dozen languages fluently, a navigator, cartographer, military commander and administrator. On September 7, 1886, he launched the "Popper Expedition" with 18 members and found gold dust on El Páramo beach in the Patagonian peninsula. Soon his Compania del Lavaderos de Oro del Sud had found a great deal of gold, and tallied up great gains on the Argentine Stock Exchange. Meanwhile, Popper carved his own little kingdom out of Tierra del Fuego. Guarded by a small army outfitted in quasi-Austro-Hungarian uniforms, it saw frequent attacks from Chile and Argentina.
Resourceful in his administration, Popper designed new gold extraction machines, printed stamps for his postal service and issued private coinage. Struck by the Buenos Aires mint, Popper issued two gold coins in 1889, a one and five gram, the latter inscribed "Lavaderos de Oro del Sud" – both greatly prized by collectors today.
The Popper fiefdom, though, did not last long. Julius Popper died under mysterious circumstances in 1893 in Buenos Aires, and it was suspected that either rivals or unpaid creditors were behind his death. At Popper's funeral, the prominent writer Lucio Vicente Lopez called him a national hero, another Livingstone. In recent times, he has been the subject of the 2000 Chilean film "Tierra del Fuego.".