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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?


My Answer: 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.

Comments for Can you help me identify a coin?

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Dec 10, 2012
California Gold 1/4 dollar coin
by: Steve H

I am trying to research the value of a gold coin that originated from my great grandfather who was born in the 1860's. It is in very good condition. It is round and approximately 3/8" in diameter. The front has a liberty head surrounded by 13 stars and is dated 1858. The back is inscribed California gold at the top, 1/4 in the middle, and has a bear below with garland on either side. I have two other $5 gold coins in very good condition as well which were easy to research. One is a 1929 Indian Head and the other is a 1897 Liberty head. I am being told that the small coin only has sentimental value, however, since the other two appear to be rather valuable I wanted an expert opinion on the small one.

Feb 10, 2013
not sure what it is
by: Anonymous

my wife and i were metal detection the local fair ground bout 6 inches deep we found something thats the size of a sliver dollar but we can barley make out 2 stars along the edge and we believe there is a O on the bottom any help would be helpful thank you

Feb 12, 2013
o at bottom
by: Anonymous

Maybe its a really worn Morgan dollar? If you look closely above the o there should be a faint large eagle.

Aug 25, 2013
Minerva 1/4 or faked either way GRADE
by: Mike

IF NOT GRADE IT /no 1 will Care or want IT (must get MS63 or higher to be ('said worth 300-350$)

Melt is maybe8- 12$ if said Gold is even 22kt

So No 1 buys it for the Gold content but History and very select coin people need want IT.

(as most do NOT but should work off IT ALL MELTS the same at X KT gold (so unless have 20,000 ounces plus Gold (would be waste to Buy it) IF real ALL want To be sure REAL and only NGC /as PCGS seems not to care much for California Fractional Gold. I like the other answer also (yet hope this is Helping you to (take action on it (as no 1 cares if YOU know was passed on and on as (even 1 year after coin was made FAKES came out ONLY NGC can help (trade/sell it like a stock per Grade quality) plus only 30$ or less to Know




May 17, 2015
question on souvenir coin
by: tim

I have a coin on the front it has an Indian Head like an Indian nickel and on the reverse it says souvenir coin Portland with wheat Reeves on either edge do you know if this coin is from Portland Maine or Portland oregon and who would have passed these out??p.s. the coin is about 3 inches in diameter and it might be made out of brass

Jun 14, 2015
odd coin
by: Anonymous

I found a coin that only has a square with a ring around it. The strange symbol is the only image on both sides of the coin. The coin itself also can't be more than 50-65 years old, at the most.

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