Readers Ask column from Dec. 12, 2016, weekly issue of
I bought this octagonal gold piece from someone who had traveled to
California and obtained it along with a number of other similar
pieces. The other pieces were in holders identifying the contents as
souvenir California gold. I took the 1871-dated piece to a local
dealer who electronically tested it and determined it was genuine
gold. I was offered $50 for it. I’m trying to find out any history
behind the piece.
Chris Harlamert / Address withheld
I sent photographs of the 1871 gold 25-cent piece off to
professional numismatists Ron Gillio and Doug Winter, who count
California small-denomination gold coins (also called fractional gold
coins) among their areas of numismatic specialization. Gillio is
co-author with the late Walter Breen of California Pioneer
It appears your piece is the BG-765 variety of fractional gold
quarter dollar as cataloged in the Breen-Gillio reference. The piece
measures 9.6 millimeters in diameter and weighs 0.24 gram.
San Francisco jewelers Robert B. Gray & Co.
struck octagonal California fractional gold quarter dollars between
the period 1858 through 1871. Gray’s quarter dollars appear with the
letter G in the field between the date and portrait on the obverse.
Your piece matches the BG-765 attribution.
In late 1858 or 1859, Gray purchased the business of another San
Francisco jeweler and fractional gold coin producer, Antoine Louis
Nouzillet, including all of his dies, hubs and punches. After making
trial strikes and restrikes from Nouizillet’s old dies to assess their
continued use, Gray made new obverse dies bearing his hallmark G.
Gray introduced his date obverses and undated stock reverses in
1870. According to Breen-Gillio, except for a few instances, Gray’s
pieces “are the heaviest and more intrinsically valuable of the Period
Two issues, some of his quarters even outweighing most from Period I [1852-1857].”
Your piece is in Very Fine to Extremely Fine condition, with obverse
scratches. Its retail value is about $100, according to Gillio and Winter.