Beginning in 1852 small denomination gold coins were minted by jewelers, bankers, and others in California. Denominations consisted of 25 cents, 50 cents, and one dollar, made in octagonal and round shapes. Issues of the earlier years are often of fine workmanship and, relative to later issues, of heavy weight. The around 1856 their use as small change in circulation declined, with the result that most subsequent issues were produced as souvenirs. Many of theses later pieces are struck in low-grade gold or even gold-washed copper and are on extremely thin planchets. Some even have holes drilled or punched through them as they were included on jewelry.
California Fractional gold coins are divided into three categories. These include:
- Gold Rush small change, 1852-1856
- Suppressed Jeweler’s Issues, 1859-1882
- Herman Kroll Issues, 1883-(?)
Several books have been published on the series. The most recent and widely regarded reference is the Walter Breen and Ron Gillio California Pioneer Fractional Gold, Second Edition. Collector Jay Roe based used the Rarity Scale R1 – R8 for each known issue based upon the frequency of which these coins appeared for sale in order to determine the survival rates on the number of specimens known. Some older references include California Fractional Gold by David and Susan Doering and Kenneth W. Lee’s California Gold: Dollars, Half Dollars, and Quarter Dollars. While the present author appreciates the wonderful illustrations, summaries and excellent technical information given in the Doering reference, it is our belief that in most instances the prices are not realistic reflections of true market value. We conclude this by referring to past and present auction records and other sources.