Rare Coin University







California Fractional Gold
Historic Treasures from the Gold Rush Days

Gold MinersIn 1848 the cry “Eureka” – we found it– went out from California and within weeks a little place called Sutter’s Mill became the famous site for the California Gold Rush. 

Tens of thousands of fortune seekers rushed to California by sailing ship around the Cape of South America. Others rode on horseback or crossed the Western Frontier on foot through dangerous Indian Territory in search of gold.

The little Spanish town of San Francisco was quickly turned into a huge mining camp.  As a result, coins for everyday commerce were scarce and Silver Reales or Escudos from Spanish America were used for money. However, the few Spanish coins and U.S. coins that recent immigrants had brought with them were not enough to fill the needs of daily commerce during the gold rush.

A Pinch of Whiskey Please
When we think of gold coming out of the ground we naturally think of big nuggets. But typically, gold was found in tiny nuggets, flakes, or in a fine gold dust that varied widely in purity.

At general stores, dance halls, and saloons, a "pinch of gold dust” was the medium of monetary exchange when there was a shortage of coins. It's no wonder that men with the biggest hands were quickly hired as bartenders on the Western Frontier.   


Gold Coin Crisis Addressed

As a medium of exchange for commerce, raw gold was impractical. The West needed coins.  By 1849, the coin crisis was addressed by private mints who issued coins in the California Territory. These private mints converted raw gold ore into coins of various denominations and consistent purity. 

Some private mints produced large $20 gold pieces with the weight proportionate to those of official “Legal Tender" $20 U.S. coins. Since $20 represented several weeks wages in the 1850's, much smaller gold coins in denominations of 25 cents, 50 cents and one dollar were issued for use in daily commerce. Note the "1 Dollar" denomination on the reverse of the octagonal coin below along with the wreath and the words "California Gold".

First California “Fractional” Gold Coins
Back then, Westerners didn't trust paper money, so gold coins were literally worth their weight in gold. A Gold Dollar has the gold weight of a U.S. Gold Dollar while a Quarter Dollar or Half Dollar gold coin contained a fraction of that weight. Consequently, these coins became known as California “Fractional” gold. 

As quickly as private mints issued these small gold coins, most began circulating quickly to fill the need for coinage. Due to their small size, most surviving coins were worn down quickly from circulation and being carried in pockets of miners, merchants, and those trading goods on the Western frontier from the banks of the Mississippi River to the California Gold Coast.

California Fractionals are Uniquely Collectible

Recently, several noted collector/dealers documented the history of these California Fractional gold coins which has renewed interest in this little known area of U.S. coin collecting. But only when the Professional Coin Grading Service began to document the unique and semi-unique varieties by issuing official population reports were collectors able to prove the significant rarity of the entire California Gold series. 

In our opinion, these coins are uniquely collectible.  Even the most common of the California Fractionals have known certified populations that typically range from 500 to 1250 coins in all grades. Amazingly, some have survived in Brilliant Uncirculated condition to become the most sought after and highly prized coins in the series.

A few of the California Fractional Gold Coins are almost unique like the 1854 Round Defiant Eagle Quarter that sold at auction for $48,000 in 2003.  However, most collectors are attracted to the series by the affordable price ranges of $395 to $1,000 each, which we feel is a very attractive price for coins with such low original mintages and small surviving populations known to exist.

Many serious collectors of Austin Rare Coins who focus on acquiring distinctive gold coins from the Western Frontier Days of America will find California Fractional Gold to be a dream come true. For comparative rarity, a reasonable price range, and their uniqueness of size, we highly recommended Cal Gold to you.


Fractional Gold is One of the Last Frontiers for Collectors
We are convinced that California Fractional Gold Coins are destined to take a prominent place in American Numismatics in the years to come. We see this area of collecting as one of the last frontiers for coin collectors to discover in the 21st century.  Interestingly enough, it was created by California pioneers of the 1800's, a rare breed of men with the courage to challenge the Western frontier in search of fame, fortune, and gold.

In the opinion of our Austin Buying Trust, every piece of California Gold is a rare coin. Series numismatists have told us that less than 30,000 pieces probably exist for the entire series!  If that number is proved to be finite, few collectors will ever have the privilege of owning even a single one. That's the kind of rarity advantage usually found only in the dreams of serious collectors.

The Smallest Coins You'll Ever Own

Please note that these coins are very small gold coins typically smaller than your little fingernail. The photos shown here are greatly enlarged to show details. Just how small are they?  Well, one of our Rare Coin Specialists has been fond of telling her clients for years...

“You have to be careful not to sneeze or
your Cal Gold will end up across the room.”

Of course, that was before Cal Gold coins were certified and safely secured in specially designed protective PCGS and NGC holders. As a conversation piece to show off to your friends and loved ones, few coins will spark more interest and envy than one of the unique California Fractional Gold Coins.

California Gold - The Three Golden Eras

There are three distinct periods in which small denomination, California Fractional gold coins were struck.

• Period One (1852-1856)
The California Gold Coins of the first period, we believe, were used during the California Gold Rush as circulating small change. Production of these stopped near the time that the San Francisco Mint went into full-scale production. Simply put, the need for California Gold was diminished by the U.S. Mint’s production of fully trust-worthy coinage in the Bay area.1870 Gold Dollar

• Period Two (1859-1883)
The production of the Period Two coins lasted for over two decades. In 1883, Colonel Henry Finnegrass, Chief of Operations for the U.S. Secret Service in San Francisco, confiscated many dealers' stocks of California Gold Coins. He claimed manufacturers of these pieces were in direct competition with the United States Mint and confiscated all California Gold pieces dated after 1882.


• Period Three

The final period in the Cal Gold era is when jewelers minted re-strikes that were not intended to be original coins. Most were of only 9kt gold and jewelers used them in rings and necklaces. PCGS will not grade California Fractional gold coins from this period and it is not our policy to sell fractionals of this kind. 

Unique Images Adorn Each Coin
The vast majority of California Fractional Gold Coins from the two well respected periods bear the likeness of an adapted Miss Liberty on one side. The reverse displays the denomination surrounded by a laurel wreath. A few have the interesting image of an American Indian with a full feathered headdress. 

To distinguish values, a variety of both round and octagonal gold coins were struck.  In their day, they were a bright yellow gold, newly minted with gold from the California Gold Rush. While these gold coins were struck by private mints, not official government mints, they were still considered to be money and widely circulated on the Western Frontier. 

Nice Collection Just Found

The Austin Buying Trust recently uncovered a small group of PCGS, certified authentic, California Fractional gold pieces. These were put away some years ago by a serious collector of the series. 

Some pieces may be in lightly circulated grades priced from $395, but most are preserved in Brilliant Uncirculated condition. Each coin has been carefully examined by grading experts and is backed by a guarantee of authenticity. Each Cal Gold was graded and safely secured in specially designed holders that protect these tiny coins.

The certification process assures both the buyer and seller of the authenticity of each coin, the date, denomination, and the unique “BG” number identified with each coin in the series. The BG numbers were created by collector/dealers Breen and Gillio who have documented the entire series of California Fractionals. 

Own a Coin from this Very Special Series

In the past, serious collectors, with financial resources, were known to devote large portions of their collection to the California Fractional Gold Coins. In fact, a few famous U.S. coin collectors had the distinction of owning Fractional Gold in their collections.  The most famous was the "Lee Collection" which first established many of the notable issuing dates. At last, you also have an opportunity to acquire one of this fascinating conversation pieces for your collection during this exclusive offer by Austin Rare Coins.

We feel that coin collectors who understand and appreciate the unique nature of the California Fractional Gold coins will typically acquire several examples. It's nice to own both a Period One and a Period Two example of the series. Some people like to collect one each of the round and octagonal varieties. 

Other collectors will want to acquire a Liberty head example and an Indian head design. You can also collect by denomination of 25 cents, 50 cents, and One Dollar. Whatever approach you take, you can build an interesting set of Cal gold for less than you'd pay for a single Better Date $20 Liberty gold piece.

Little Known Works of Art
Due to the extremely low original mintages and their scarce nature today, only a few privileged collectors will have the opportunity to acquire even a single one of these California Gold coins. Today, the number of surviving pieces of the California Fractional gold coins is very small compared to larger gold coins minted by the millions from U.S. Mints during the 1850’s to early 1929. 

We encourage you to put away several California Fractional Gold Coins today in the highest grades you can comfortably afford. It's a privilege to own such a rare and important piece of American frontier history minted during the California Gold Rush days with some examples dating back to before the Civil War. 

We highly recommend acquiring several California Fractional Gold Coins any time they are available at Austin Rare Coins. For more information, please call one of our Rare Coin Specialists at 1-800-928-6468 to receive a private list of our inventory before we are sold out completely.