Fake California gold still floods online auctions

Bids on these souvenir tokens show bidders cannot tell real from fake California gold.

Image courtesy of Michael Bugeja.

I keep reporting souvenir tokens as “counterfeit” or “misrepresented,” depending on the lot in question, but the items continue to be sold on Proxibid and eBay. I also email auctioneers and sellers, with no response.

These tokens, usually brass or gold-plated, are routinely described in online auctions by the year, state, denomination and coin, as in the lot in the lower left of the photo above: “1852 ½ California gold coin.”

Every single word of that description is wrong. The token was not manufactured in 1852. It is not a half dollar. It does not come from California but, most likely, from Asia or a U.S. tourist shop. It is not gold. It is not a “coin,” a word that suggests it was minted by the government for commerce.

The reverse of an authentic California fractional gold coin has a denomination on it, such as 1/4, 1/2 and 1 DOLLAR. The word “dollar” is sometimes abbreviated as D. or DOL.

Brass or plated replicas usually have an odd-looking bear on the reverse, just like the one with a current bid of $40 in the lower left of the photo. I suspect that lot will go for $50 to $100 by the time of the auction.

I can buy the same ones at my local coin shop for $1 each.

To learn more about small and token gold, visit Mike Locke’s California Gold website or read my “Home Hobbyist” Coin World column about it.

In the meantime, my hope is that online auction portals do more than merely notify sellers about possible fake or misrepresented coins. Perhaps the best way to get the point across is to email the auctioneer, state your case and then do not bid anymore in his or her sessions.