Fractional Gold Reflects Mining Camp Era


Question: Could you tell me the value of a gold coin I have? The back says California Gold, below that 1/2, and below that is the image of a bear. The front has a picture of Liberty, I think, and is dated 1847.--D.W.

Answer: California fractional gold, also called pioneer gold, is an interesting area of numismatics reflecting California’s Gold Rush period. These coins were privately minted to alleviate the money shortage in the West. They were accepted in the small towns and mining camps that sprang up following the discovery of gold. Coins were rather crudely minted in denominations of 25 cents, 50 cents and $1. They were either octagonal or round, and designs include a Washington head, Indian head and Liberty head.

All genuine pieces have the words HALF D, DOL, DOLL, DOSSA, DOLLAR or CENTS on the reverse. Tokens have the denomination one-quarter, one-half or $1 California gold. All pieces with a bear on the reverse are tokens. That means your coin is not a genuine California fractional piece. This is not surprising. Probably four-fifths of these pieces are restrikes, such as yours, which is too bad, because they’re not the real thing and do not belong in California gold collections.


Prices for California fractional gold coins are rather modest, except for certain rarities. Most of these pieces are not well struck, so grading is also a problem. Nonetheless, genuine pieces are worth $60 and up. Tokens such as yours are worth the gold value, if indeed they are actually gold.

Q: I have the following: one set of U.S.S.R. Olympic coins (1980), four U.S.S.R. rubles Olympic (1980) and 25 Mexico Olympic 25 pesos.--J.R.R.

A: Your Mexican Olympic coins are worth about $3 each. The Soviet Olympic pieces were issued in silver, gold, uncirculated and proof. I need more information to determine the value. If you wish, you can look it up in the “Standard Catalogue of World Coins” by Krause and Mishler. Most dealers will pay about half of catalogue value.

Q: While looking through my coin box, I found a coin from Peru, issued by the Banco Central de Reserva del Peru in 1977. Its denomination is 5 soles. What is its current value?--R.K.

A: Your Peruvian coin is worth about $3 to $4.

Coin News

More than 2,000 coins will be offered for sale at the United States & Foreign Gold, Silver & Copper Coins auction featuring the Milo F. Snyder Collection. They are to be sold in conjunction with the Greater New York Numismatic Convention April 29-May 1. The auction, at the Omni Park Central Hotel, is being conducted by Stack’s. Highlights include a proof 1895 $1, a rare 1833 $5 gold piece and a rare sovereign of Elizabeth I, 1558-1603, estimated to be worth about $4,500 to $5,000. Prices realized are available for $10 from Stack’s, 123 West 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019; telephone (212) 582-2580.

George Washington, a perennial favorite on United States coins and medals, is being interpreted once again--this time by Frank Gasparro, former chief engraver of the United States Mint. Gasparro has created an edition of no more than 1,000 silver-dollar-size proof medals. The obverse features Washington’s portrait and the inscription: The First President of the United States of America 1789-1797/George Washington. The reverse is dated 1987 and has a griffin denoting the distributor, Bowers & Merena Galleries. Medals are $29.95 each, plus $2 for handling from Bowers & Merena, Box 1224, Wolfeboro, N.H. 03894.


Don Alpert cannot answer mail personally but will respond to numismatic questions of general interest in this column. Do not telephone. Write to Your Coins, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.