Pomo 0716 aurum mjpao1

One aurum, photographed upside down to highlight embossing

Image: Michael Novak

Until 1933, when FDR abandoned the gold standard, you could walk into a bank and exchange a US dollar bill for 1.5 grams of gold. Since then, paper money is worth whatever the cumulative mood of the world thinks it’s worth. Which could be a lot. Or could be very little.

Enter the aurum, a Portland-conceived alternate currency made from layers of gold weighing a fraction of a gram and sprayed with a chemical compound. Adam Trexler, founder of the Northeast Portland–based company Valaurum, hopes to make it an affordable way to accumulate gold, which has more than doubled in price over the past decade. “It’s good to have some of your value in other forms,” he says.

The aurum isn’t looking to topple the almighty dollar (or euro or pound or renminbi)—it’s simply an entry point for investing in the precious metal. An aurum, which looks and feels like a thin, plasticky bill about the size of a printed savings bond, simplifies the storage of a relatively cheap amount of gold.

For people in countries like Suriname, where the product has made a splash, the aurum offers financial security outside of a currency system that see daily fluctuations against the dollar and the euro—a massive headache for expats and travelers. If a national currency takes a dive, the value of gold offers more stability.

“Outside of the United States, people are very focused on exchange rates,” Trexler says. “Those currency fluctuations can have huge implications.”

Valaurum makes the aurum using the same technology used to create custom gold diplomas, certificates, business cards, and tickets. First, a strip of polyester is bombarded with a cocktail of gold ore and argon atoms. The argon atoms cause the gold to adhere to the strip’s surface. Another layer of clear film laminates the gold in place. Trexler can control the amount of gold in each bill down to the nanometer, which allows his company to keep the cost of the aurum low. If you’re handy with a torch, or if you’re huddled over a postapocalyptic barrel fire, reclaiming the gold inside the aurum is a cinch. A fire assay—basically heating the aurum to the point that the polyester strip and lamination burn away—allows the aurum’s gold to be melted, weighed, and cashed in. Cash for gold, meet gold for cash. 

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