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Gold Coins: Small Change In Gold
( Article orginally published July 1963 )
Shortly after the discovery of gold in California and the West, the shortage of small change caused the use of all sorts of mediums for business transactions.
Gold dust was popular, a pinch being equivalent to a dollar. Mien with large fingers were in demand! Soon, however, small change was coined out of gold, and we come to the California small gold 25c, 50c, and $1.
The first of these were coined around 1852, three years after the 1849 discovery of gold. And they were continually coined in varying amounts, on up until the 1880s.
The three denominations, quarters, halves, and dollars, were coined in octagonal and round forms. They are found with two obverse designs, primarily, Indian Heads and Liberty Heads. All genuine pieces have their denomination upon them, either 1/4, or quarter dollar, or dollar; 1/2 or half dol, or dollar. The dollars always have 1 dollar upon them. There are hundreds of minor varieties of these, such as position of wreath, date, numbers of stars, etc., etc.
There are lots of counterfeits, and what are known as "Charms." Jewelers' pieces are not as desirable as the genuine California coins. But Jewelers' tokens are collectable.
Jewelers' tokens have such designs as a bear, the legend Eureka, and some may have a fraction denoting a denomination, such as a "1/2." But there are never any words such as "dollar" or "dol."The rarest of these gold pieces are the round Liberty Head gold dollars of which very few were made. I had occasion several years ago to secure one of these for a customer and it took me about a year to find it.
The territory of Alaska, also issued quite a number of gold tokens, the first series being 1/4, 1/2, and one pennyweight pieces of gold. Coined in 1909, in conjunction with the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, they have on their obverse a tall miner with pickax, the letters AYPE and denomination on reverse. The letters AYPE mean Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition.
Another series was issued in 1911 with Eskimo in Parka commemorating the 50th anniversary of the finding of gold there in 1861. These are denomination of 1/4, 1/2, and 1 pennyweight. Another, one of the commoner of the group, has the denomination "2 WAH" on the reverse.
The earlier and perhaps most interesting are the "One Pinch" series of 1897, through 1902. These were in denominations of 1/4 pinch, 1/2 pinch, and one pinch, and like their California predecessors, were both round and octagonal.
Many states have issued gold coins. Idaho issued a gold dollar, 1/4, 1/2, in 1914; as did Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Utah. All were similar to the early California pieces, Louisiana issued gold quarters, halves, and dollars in 1904, during the Louisiana Purchase Exiposition.
None of these state issues can be considered authentic coins, and I doubt if any really circulated. They should be considered tokens and collectors' pieces.
Other "so-called" coins which were struck in silver, and in some instances copper, are the 1909 Henry Hudson Daalder, the 1909 Robert Fulton dollar, the 1920 Wilson dollar (both silver and bronze), and the sieries of 1939 and 1940 Golden Gate Exposition so-called dollars.
There are also the 1875 Lexington dollar, and the token issued during 1903 and '04 for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Most of these, while called "so-called" dollars, due to their size, are really medals of interesting design.