US Coins

Purported California fractional gold pieces replicas

Readers Ask column from the Feb. 22, 2016, Weekly issue of Coin World:

We received two inquiries, several weeks apart, from separate collectors questioning how to authenticate their purported California small-denomination gold pieces. Here are their letters:

My father was a coin dealer. He purchased these pieces around 1970. He passed in 1990, so I received them then, and I have eight in total. I found them pictured on a coin site but there was no value section. They appear to be in Mint State 65 grade. I guess he purchased them for whatever gold was. He said they were genuine but I can’t tell.

Jim Walker / via email

I am trying to find information on these gold coins from a great grandfather that was a banker. My mother passed in June at 88 years, and she received them from her mother 35 years ago. Grandmother received them after her father passed some 60 years before. He was a banker and would buy coins at the bank when something interesting or unusual came in. I would guess these have been in the family and hidden away for at least a 100 years. 

Ron Davis / via email

Two noted gold coin specialists, Doug Winter (Doug Winter Numismatics) and Ronald J. Gillio (Gillio Rare Coins), examined the images of the pieces in question. From examining the images, Winter and Gillio conclude the pieces are replicas, not genuine.

No known genuine California fractional gold pieces have the designs that appear on the pieces the readers have. None depicts a bear and none features CALIFORNIA GOLD without a denomination spelled out or abbreviated. Images from Mr. Walker suggest his pieces are likely souvenirs that were once distributed circa the 1960s/1970s at Knotts Berry Farm in California, Gillio said. 

Thousands of similarly designed pieces, made from “goldine,” were acquired from Knotts by numismatists Barry Stuppler and Joel Rettew, operating under the name Jobar Enterprises, Stuppler confirmed. 

The readers may consider submission to a major grading service.

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