Coin Update and Mint News Blog viewers have become accustomed to my continuing coverage of California Fractional Gold coins, tokens, souvenirs, charms, replicas, and counterfeits. I collect these small coins because of their pioneer history.
Some numismatists believe the Fugio cent is the ultimate American coin. In many ways, it is, having only recently been re-designated as a regular-issue federal coin by PCGS. You can read all about its lore in my January 2022 column titled, “It’s a Fugio cent, not a copper; and it’s about time!”
The Fugio motto is particularly intriguing: “Mind Your Business.” That alludes to two features of American life, respect for privacy and commerce, as in take care of your business and stay out of mine.
But these small gold coins harken to the gold rush era of the West and all its glorious lore.
In 1848 John Sutter and James Marshall noticed gold flakes in a stream bed near what is now Sacramento. They tried to keep their find a secret, but word got out. By 1855, 300,000 people flooded the area in search of fortune.
If you’re interested in learning more about California gold, visit Mike Locke’s informative website, which describes its history in more detail:
“After the discovery of large deposits of gold in California in 1848 there was a huge influx of people to California. Many of these new arrivals brought little money with them. Combined with the geographically isolated location of California, this produced a lot of people with gold but no money.” There was a need for small denominations, and so private minters created $0.25, $0.50, and $1 pieces.
Although tokens, charms, and souvenirs are avidly collected, they typically do not carry the value of Fractional Gold coins. These display denominations as “1/4,” “1/2,” and “1 DOLLAR” (with the word “dollar” sometimes abbreviated as “D.” or “DOL”). Walter Breen and Ron Gillio catalog these coins in California Pioneer Fraction Gold and are identified by their BG numbers (“B” for Breen and “G” for Gillio).
Although I have a highly rated set by PCGS in my bank box, all Uncirculated, I have been bidding on cleaned and circulated California Gold because they are more abundant and now often confused with lower-value tokens, several of which feature a bear on the reverse without any denomination. I’ve had decent success, primarily because buyers are unfamiliar with the category. Also, sellers on HiBid.com, eBay, and Proxibid hype the value of cheap plated replicas. So there is a lot of confusion. When that happens in numismatics, those with knowledge have the advantage.
You can read about that in this recent Coin Update post.
I will be submitting this “no date” Fractional Gold to PCGS.
This is BG-222, and I estimate the grade at AU-55, worth about $300 retail or about $250 in auction.
Here is another $1 Fractional Gold piece that I won with a bid of $77, or about $100 with buyer’s fee.
The above coin is BG-1109, of which only 75 coins are said to survive. This is an extra fine example, and I can find no counterpart at that grade. The lowest-graded example that I could find was MS-60 for $750. I think this coin is worth $180 to $240.
The last coin today is, in my opinion, a real bargain. It is not an authentic 1863 Fractional Gold piece, but a restrike, with a reeded edge, with the BG number as 1307a. (The “a” on the end denoting that it is a restrike.)
It is in fantastic shape, perhaps MS-65 or 66. Recent PCGS auction prices at these grades range from $264 to $384. So $36 was a great investment.
If you collect or intend to collect these small gold coins, please do read up on the topic. Mike Locke’s website mentioned earlier showcases all manner of privately minted tokens and souvenirs that often are mislabeled as authentic California Fractional Gold. And look for bargains on auction sites. As illustrated here, you can win lots with lowball bids and behold the golden history of the West.