Can you help me identify a coin?
Question: Among some old US coins I found a tiny coin, approximately 1/2" in diameter and very thin. It appears to be a gold coin. The front of the coin has an Indian head surrounded by stars and a date of 1852. The reverse has an inscription "California gold" and a bear around the edge of the coin with "1/4" in the center of the coin. There is no USA inscription. Can you tell me what this coin is?
According to your description, I would guess that what you have is California Fractional Gold OR possibly a replica of a California gold piece. It would be impossible for me to say for sure without seeing the coin. I also want to point out that I am not an expert in California Gold pieces.
During the gold rush in California in the early 1850s, transactions and purchases were often made with gold dust, gold nuggets, etc., which was not exactly a practical or convenient way to do business, as you can imagine.
Federally issued coins were not readily available especially in smaller denominations, so some enterprising entrepreneurs began to make small gold coins with values of 'one dollar', '1/2 dollar' and '1/4 dollar'. These coins were actually made with the gold from the California gold mines. Note: the marking you described as "1/4" on your coin would indicate its denomination as a quarter of a dollar's worth of gold at the time it was made. Considerably more with today's
skyrocketing gold prices, if your piece is indeed gold.
Even after the U.S. Mint was established in San Francisco, and sufficient government issue coinage was being produced, California gold coins were still being produced by independent dealers, most of them jewelers by trade. These later issues were primarily produced as souvenirs.
There is basically three general categories for U.S. Fractional Gold Coins:
Period One (1852-1856)- some without dates. These early issues were comparable to federal coinage in weight and value. They also usually closely resembled U.S. coinage of the period.
Period Two (1859-1882) - The coins from this period were usually underweight and did not contain their stated face value in gold. There was also a wider variety of design elements used and they did not so closely resemble federal issue coins.
Period Three (1883-early 20th century) - During this period, the Secret Service was trying to put a stop to the manufacture of these private gold coins, so most of the coins from this period were back dated to the early 1850s in an effort to avoid prosecution.
Now you see why it is impossible for me to tell you what year your coin was made or what it is made of.
You can try doing a search for "california fractional gold" to learn more about these fascinating coins. The site that I found that had lots of photos and information is calgoldcoin.com
. Mike Locke, the owner of the site, seems to be knowledgeable about California gold coins and tokens.