California Fractional Gold
Historic Treasures from the Gold Rush Days
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Fractionals are Uniquely Collectible
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.
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 & Bullion 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
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.
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
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.
Today these Cal Gold coins are 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
California Gold - The Three Golden
three distinct periods in which small denomination, California
Fractional Gold coins were struck.
• Period One (1852-1856)
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.
• 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.
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 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.
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 & Bullion. 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