Gold Rush Coins Bring High Bids at Auction Posted by Brian Ford on April 22, 2013
California’s gold rush is a storied moment in American history and investors are willing to pay top dollar to own a part of it.
At an auction of Western Americana in Reno, the Jack Totheroh Collection of 200 gold coins minted privately in San Francisco during the 1850s brought in $865,000 and the Bergen-Istvan Collection of 50 gold coins of a similar mintage sold for $252,000, according to Holabird-Kagin Americana, the group responsible for the auction.
Local jewelers from 1852 to 1857 struck the coins, according to historians, during a shortage of small change in California. The coins were struck in 25 cent, 50 cent, and one-dollar denominations. Though banks did not accept the coins, they were used by local businesses in San Francisco and then became popular as souvenirs, possibly beginning in 1853.
Fred Holabird said not until the federal mint was built in San Francisco in 1854 did federal gold coins come in circulation in California. He added there was no paper money at that time in California because people didn’t trust it. Instead, he said the entire trade was based on gold dust and gold coin.
The collections that realized such high returns in Reno are what is currently known as California fractional gold and were split up and sold to dozens of buyers in pricing that far exceeded estimates. The coins are particularly small as they were minted in order to facilitate local business in the stead of government coinage, measuring roughly 5/10 an inch in diameter.
Holabird also said not a lot of it survives to this day and the auction saw exceptionally heavy action from all over the world for it.
The Reno-based company, headed by Holabird, calls itself the largest seller of Western Americana in the country.
The auction, which also featured 50 Panamint Indian baskets and a telescope believed to have been utilized by John Fremont, a 19th century explorer, brought in over 400 bidders with a total of $2.4 million in sales.
The private minting of coins was not restricted in the U.S. until 1864. In the Western Frontier, especially in California, many privately minted coins were still struck until strict enforcement of the law began in 1882, making privately minted California Fractional Gold very valuable.