US Coins

Mormon gold coin surfaces from half century in box

A recently surfaced 1849 Mormon gold $20 coin tucked away in a family’s lock box for more than 50 years has been graded and encapsulated Mint State 62 Secure by Professional Coin Grading Service, and has been called the finest example that PCGS has certified of the pioneer gold type.

The grading service considers the coin to be in a finer state of preservation than the example that has been in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History since 1968 as part of the Josiah K. Lilly gold coin collection.

The Lilly Collection became part of the National Numismatic Collection under special legislation passed by Congress to provide tax advantages to the Lilly estate for the numismatic donation.

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The newly certified PCGS Secure MS-62 coin will either be brokered for sale by private treaty by Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers or consigned to the firm’s September auction, Larry Goldberg told Coin World June 15.

Goldberg said the newly surfaced 1849 Mormon pioneer gold coin was brought to the Goldbergs’ Los Angeles offices by appointment by a representative of the coin’s owner.

Goldberg said the owner’s representative indicated the coin has been secured in a family lock box since the early 1960s, but no information was provided as to provenance.

The coin’s owner remains anonymous, Goldberg said.

David Hall, president of Collectors Universe, parent to PCGS of which he was a co-founder in 1986, has had the opportunity to examine the Smithsonian’s Mormon gold piece.

“As I stated in my narrative for PCGS CoinFacts, I believe PCGS would grade that coin MS-61,” Hall says. “This new discovery coin is, in my opinion, superior to the Lilly coin, and as such [is] the finest known example of this historically important U.S. gold coin rarity. I’ve been paying attention to ‘Territorial’ gold for 46 years, and this is the finest Mormon $20 I have ever seen.”

Numismatic Guaranty Corp. also graded and encapsulated another 1849 Mormon $20 gold coin as MS-62. That example realized $558,125 in an April 2014 sale by Heritage Auctions. The same coin also served as a plate coin for Donald H. Kagin’s Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States.

The NGC-certified example has subsequently been submitted to PCGS where it was graded and encapsulated MS-61.

Heritage Auction catalogers in 2014 determined through investigation by numismatic researcher Wayne Burt that at least 23 examples of the 1849 Mormon gold $20 coin were then extant in all grades. That total does not include the PCGS Secure MS-62 example recently certified by the grading service.

Historical perspective

The privately produced 1849 Mormon gold $20 coin is considered by many numismatists to be the first coin of that denomination to enter general circulation in the United States, beating the federal issuance of double eagles by a year.

Mormon gold coins were struck by the Deseret Assay Office from 1849 to 1860 in denominations of $2.50, $5, $10 and $20 from gold originating in California, despite the inscriptions on the coins, G. S. L. C. P. G., abbreviating “Great Salt Lake City Pure Gold.”

The Mormon gold coins, struck and issued with the approval of Brigham Young, were passed at face value within the Mormon settlement without question.

According to Jacob R. Eckfeldt and William E. DuBois in their 1850 work, New Varieties of Gold and Silver Coins, reprinted in Kagin’s reference: “The Mormon coins have just been received, through a gentleman who came overland from Great Salt Lake in eighty-one days. ... In fineness they are about .899 thous., with little variation; and they contain only the native silver alloy. The weights are more irregular, and the values very deficient. The 20-dollar piece weighs from 436 to 453 grains, value $16.90 to $17.53.”

Most of the Mormon $20 coins were melted for their gold content.

The obverse of the coin depicts the all-seeing eye of Jehovah below a three-point Phrygian cap or miter, en emblem of Mormon priesthood. Inscribed around is HOLINESS. TO. THE. LORD.

The reverse is inscribed G. S. L. C. P. G. and TWENTY DOLLARS around to clasped hands below which appears the date 1849. 

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