Coins & Money

Rare Historic California Gold Rush Coins Up for Sale

The California Gold Rush began in the 1840s and lasted until the 1850s. The United States was slow to mint gold coins with the abundance of gold available. In effort to mitigate the problem the first coin produced was a $50.00 gold coin denomination in 1851, how do you make change for that in the wild west? A collection of 74 rare historic California Gold Rush coins is up for sale — known as California Fractional Gold.

Heritage Auctions has a wonderful collection of fractional gold that closes on October 20, 2021. These coins resemble gold coins minted by the United States from that era, however even the untrained eye will notice that they are not.

The minting for these coins would have been local businesses and jewelers in California for circulation in prospecting towns of the Old West. Instead of trading just gold dust and little nuggets and chips, these towns effectively created their own currency for a short period of time.

Collectors Dashboard evaluates high-end collectibles as an alternative asset class. This means collectibles are attracting the same capital that could have been invested into stocks or bonds. Many collectibles now cost thousands of dollars (or much more), and these rare coins from the California Gold Rush era would certainly fit in that narrative.. Collectors with a passion to own a collectible for years frequently have to compete directly against investors whose only desire is to make a profit in the future.

Here are the coins with the most interest generated in the auction.

1856 50C Liberty Octagonal 50 Cents PCGS MS64 with a current bid of $4,021.00 after 9 bids:

“The very scarce to rare BG-307 is the only 1856 octagonal half variety with a beaded circle instead of a wreath. The denominator is double punched. The peripheral legend is partial, as made from excessive lapping. Issued by Frontier, Deviercy & Co., BG-307 is typically encountered with indistinct strike or planchet issues, but the present near-Gem is nicely defined with unblemished apricot-gold surfaces. PCGS Population: (6/2 and 0/0+). NGC Census: (2/1 and 0/0+).”

1870 $1 Liberty Round 1 Dollar PCGS MS62 “prooflike” with a current bid of $2,703.00 after 10 bids:

“The present lot is the only example of BG-1203 certified as Prooflike by PCGS. The G initial above the date represents the maker, Robert B. Gray. The sun-gold surfaces show moderate incompleteness at the centers, but the fields are reflective and show only minor hairlines and a small flan imperfection between the hair bun and star 10.”

1852 50C Indian Round 50 Cents NGC MS66 “prooflike” with a current bid of $2,600.00 after 19 bids.

“It was discovered by legendary California small denomination gold specialist Jay Roe. PCGS states “6 to 7 known.” As of (9/21), no examples of the variety are certified above MS65. At NGC, only one example, the present lot, exceeds the MS64 grade. It is the single finest BG-1075 half dollar, and it certainly is impressive. The portrait and wreath are luminous, the fields are mirrored, and the strike is fairly sharp, with only the first L in DOLLAR lightly defined. The obverse field displays a few minute strike-throughs, as made.”

1853 50C Liberty Round 50 Cents MS66 NGC with a current bid of $2,500.00 after 17 bids:

“1853 50C Liberty Round 50 Cents ranks among the more plentiful Antoine Louis Nouizillet varieties, but the single finest at PCGS grades MS65, while only the present lot exceeds the MS64 level at NGC (9/21). Thus, this splendid Premium Gem is the single finest certified. The semi prooflike butter-gold surfaces are void of consequential detractions. A late die state with a vertical crack through the 5 in the date.”

1868 25C Liberty Head Octagonal 25 Cents NGC MS64+ “prooflike” with a current bid of $2,413.00 after 7 bids.

“A rare die pairing similar to BG-744, but the stars are larger, especially star 10. Both the portrait and shield border show signs of lapping. As of (9/21), this lot is second-finest at NGC, surpassed only by an example graded MS65 Prooflike. At PCGS, the single finest is also graded MS64+ Prooflike. This honey-gold near-Gem shows only minor post-strike imperfections. The central reverse shows incompleteness of strike, as that area was opposite the high points of the portrait.”

(Image above courtesy of Heritage Auctions)

The California Gold Rush captures the imagination of many collectors. Many of the coins are unique or have very low populations in their respective denominations. Collectors Dashboard looks forward to updating the final sale prices and tracking a rare event in American history. Gold coins are cool, gold coins made illegally by necessity of California gold prospectors in the 1800s are much cooler.