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California gold tokens and replicas

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The auctioneer described this as an 1851 (happens to be dated 1852) “Indian Head gold token.” He didn’t use the term “coin” but allowed the consignor to display his misleading flip. The consignor states this is EF condition, but the auctioneer in his description states it was Uncirculated.

Is it really rare? Is its price really $1,275?

The answer to both questions is no, but the flip and description seem to have triggered 21 bids with the leading one coming in at $280.

Here’s a close-up photo of the obverse and reverse.

The alleged $1,275 example is a 1970s replica. You can research these tokens on Mike Locke’s comprehensive website. He identifies the “rare” 1852 replica with these diagnostics:

  • Large smooth squatting bear with a thick upturned tail.
  • Plain blobs for the ground underneath
  • Plain floral pattern in front and behind
  • Denomination in large letters in the middle
  • “CALIFORNIA GOLD” in an arc across the top
  • Seen in modern souvenir presentation holders, known to have been produced as late as 1972
  • Only seen in 1/2 size

Locke writes that these tokens are “goldene brass,” contain no gold, are extremely common, and are valued at $1-3 each.

Locke even has a detailed page with several variations of the above replica. I think the above example is what Locke calls “1852 Indian #1, leaf touches ‘C.’ Bear eye small and high, chest droops, hind feet touch.” I could be wrong, but I have seen enough samples on his detailed page that I know now that the lot in question is not worth much and certainly not a bid.

This is not to say that California-dated tokens (as opposed to California Fractional gold) are not worth bidding on or collectible. Here is an example that I won and holdered with NGC:

I especially liked the toning, which you can see from these auctioneer photos:

Here’s another token on being offered in an online auction with this description: “1853 Dated Round California Gold Token, Wreath Type, in very nice condition! Great visible details throughout. Rare find here! Composition: Gold Weight: .25 Gram.”

You can research these on Locke’s website as well. Again, he has a detailed page with the various “wreath” types. I think the above example is “1853 Indian #2, 13 (6+7) stars, bust point above star point. Wreath with ‘CALI-FORNIA GOLD’ inside.”

Mike Locke states these are gold, worth between $20-$50. So now I know what to bid.

Some online auctioneers describe these tokens accurately, or consignors do on flips. Here are two examples:

California fractional gold differs from tokens in distinct ways. These usually come in denominations of 1/4, 1/2, and one dollar, and dollar is sometimes abbreviated to “D.” or “DOL.”

When you see such a coin, you will need to check the “BG” number for authenticity. (“BG” are the first initials of surnames of Walter Breen and Ron Gillio, authors of California Pioneer Fractional Gold.)

With a little research, you can find it on the PCGS fractional gold site.

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