The California Gold Rush was a life and state changing event. Americans and people from all over the world crossed oceans and the Great Plains, driven by the desire to pan for gold and strike it rich. Because of the sudden arrival of all of these diverse peoples in a boomtown economy, trading was complicated. Numerous solutions filled the gap temporarily, but it wasn’t until the U.S. Mint opened a branch in San Francisco that the economy had enough currency to run smoothly. Recently a $5-dollar Half Eagle surfaced in the possession of a New England man. This coin is so rare that coin dealers dubbed it a fake, but numismatists now believe it to be the authentic output of the early San Francisco Mint.
We’ve discussed California fractional gold before. These were privately minted coins, created to address problems that a currency vacuum had created. The people who traveled to California brought their own coins, but miners and settlers found it difficult to trade with so many varieties of coins. As a result, private jewelers stepped in and minted their own coins – over 450 varieties of California fractional gold. Fractional gold minting helped to oil the economy from 1848 to 1854.
The mines were full of gold, however, and it was being continuously mined. To handle this new supply, in 1852 President Millard Fillmore signed an act authorizing the building of a California branch of the U.S. Mint. This mint opened in 1854. During that first year it minted only 15,000 $1 gold coins and none the next year. Instead, in 1855 the San Francisco mint issued $150,000 in small denomination silver coins. People either hoarded or exported these, so it took more time before the fractional coin shortage abated.
As a result of these circumstances, early San Francisco coins are very rare, so when a New England man presented an 1854 Half Eagle at a coin show recently, all of the dealers there deemed it a fake. One dealer finally referred him to the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation in Sarasota, Florida. NGC assessed the coin carefully to determine its authenticity. They first wanted to make sure that it wasn’t the 1854 Half Dollar stolen from Willis Dupont’s mansion in 1967. They compared it to an image in the 1967 catalog and also contacted the Smithsonian Institute to ask for images of their 1854 Half Eagle. They also compared it to one owned by the Pogue family whose coin collection is worth millions.
After authenticating the coin, NGC priced its value at approximately $3 million. Gold Rush-era coins are quite collectible, and the San Francisco mint only struck 268 Half Eagle gold coins in 1954. The anonymous New England man who found it has a valuable asset in his possession.
If you are interested in Gold Rush coins, California fractional gold, or coins minted in San Francisco, we at Grand Rapids Coins would love to discuss options for selling or collecting with you. Call us today.