By exporting and selling it at the world price, you'd have earned an easy $850 per ounce. This might sound too good to be true, but it's precisely what happened in Japan in 1859. This post is about one of the greatest gold trades ever.
To understand how the greatest gold trade ever played out, we first need to delve into the years that preceded it.
Two centuries of isolation
By the early 1850s, Japan had been isolated from the rest of the world for over two hundred years. At the beginning of the 1600s, the ruling Tokugawa clan had adopted a policy of barring foreigners from entering the nation. The only point of Western contact was the Dutch trading post Dejima, an artificial island in the port of Nagasaki. But Western powers like the U.S. were anxious to trade with Japan too, so in 1853 U.S. commodore Matthew C. Perry was dispatched to negotiate a trade agreement.
Using the threat of force, Perry brought the Tokugawa shoguns to the bargaining table. In 1854, Perry managed to secure an opening of the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to U.S. vessels. This was a coaling agreement: it only allowed for the resupply and refueling of steam ships. A general commercial treaty would have to wait.