Michael Bugeja

Online Coin Auctions

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor at Iowa State University and also a former member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.

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Identifying Fake California Gold

The photo above features a genuine California Fractional Gold piece with a US currency denomination on the reverse and a fake piece, or replica, on the right with a bear symbol, which is not from the 19th century, not gold and most assuredly not from California. It was listed in a Proxibid auction has "1855 Cal. Gold Token."

At best, this should have been listed as a "plated gold or brass replica."

If you spot a bear on the reverse, or any other symbol or text without an indication of denomination, such as "dollar," "dol." or even "d," my advice is not to bid more than $1. My local coin dealer sells them for that much, and he has a box of them.

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Three other Proxibid auctioneers are listing lots labeled "California Gold." James Peterson auction lists one correctly:  "SCARCE 1870 1/4 DOLLAR CALIFORNIA GOLD COIN FROM SAFE DEPOSIT."

And then there are two lots offered by Weaver Auction, which carefully lists them as "2 California Gold Token Souvenirs: 1854 Octagonal, 1857 Round." I would not have listed the dates; however, I also had never seen these particular souvenirs before.

To identify the tokens on the Weaver site, I consulted Mike Locke's California Gold guide. Go to the "California Gold Token Guide" link and scroll down  to "Wreath." You will see that these are collectible gilt brass tokens worth $15-45.

Auctioneers need to check his site before identifying any token as gold, let along California fractional gold.

Identifying real vs. fake or replica California gold is important because of value. Look at the photo above again. The genuine 1872/1 25-cent piece, MS65 prooflike, is worth about $800. The token on the right, about $1. If a bidder pays hundreds for a brass replica, and later learns about it, he or she may leave the hobby.  

To learn more about how to detect fake California gold, view my Coin World article on the topic.

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