US Coins

Noncollector purchase includes fractional gold

Readers Ask column from Dec. 12, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

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 Harlamert's 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 Fractional Gold.

It appears the piece that Harlamert, who is not a collector, purchased from his acquaintance 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. Harlamert's fortunate purchase 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.

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