1848 Quarter Eagle Made with California Gold
Posted by Brian Ford on April 03, 2013
The 1848 Coronet, CAL. Gold Quarter Eagle is the first commemorative coin minted by the United States.
The coins were specially struck from gold mined during the California Gold Rush and are distinguishable from other 1848 Coronet Quarter Eagles by the CAL. stamped in the field above the eagle’s head on the coin’s face. The coins were stamped after striking and most likely before leaving the coining chamber.
The military governor of California, Col. Richard Barnes Mason, ordered an officer to collect gold and deliver it to the Secretary of War. That officer collected gold nuggets, weighing approximately 228 ounces, to the White House and delivered them to William L. Marcy, then the Secretary. Marcy ordered that a portion of the gold should be reserved for medals and the balance was to be coined into Quarter Eagles bearing a distinguishing mark to be able to distinguish them from regular issues.
In history, it is this phrase from the Secretary of War that made the 1848 Quarter Eagle the first commemorative coin. Though dated 1848, the coins were likely struck in early 1849 with a total of 1,389 coins struck, according to correspondence from the Mint. Only a few hundred were sold from the Mint, which offered the coins at face value for a time. The rest were put into circulation. Of the original 1,389 coins, PCGS Coin Facts estimate that 162 examples survive today.
An example graded Mint State 68 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. sold at Heritage Auctions in 2008 for $345,000. A PCGS coin graded Good 6 sold at Heritage for $16,675 in 2008.
The coins have a tangible link to the California Gold Rush, which changed many towns in California forever. San Francisco, for example, ballooned from a small town of about 200 residents to a whopping 30,000 residents almost overnight. Additionally, the journey to California was fraught with danger and many died. Those who survived the journey went home rich, went home poor, or never went home at all. The coin commemorates their struggles. The low mintage and low survival rate make the coin one of the scarcest issues of the series.
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