Michael Bugeja

Online Coin Auctions

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor at Iowa State University and also a former member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.

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Proper response on fake fractional gold

Upon seeing this fake fractional gold piece in Power Auction on Hibid.com, I emailed auctioneer Dave Gregory, stating: “This is a $1 plated modern souvenir replica. Not gold. Not from California. Not anything in the description.”

Typically, I expect my notices to go unheeded, especially on fake fractional gold. The temptation is to keep the high bids on replicas you can buy at the local coin shop for about $1 each. Authentic California fractional gold sells in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

The problem with these lots is multifold, and I have blogged and written about it extensively for Coin World. See this recent posting about fake gold flooding online auctions. For a longer Coin World article, click here .

To summarize, genuine California small denomination gold coins were struck from 1852 to 1882, typically in denominations of quarter dollar, half dollar and dollar. The reverse is the key. Authentic pieces have the inscription DOLLAR or abbreviation D. or DOL.

A second kind, California gold tokens, were privately minted on gold planchets until around 1871 and usually depict a miner or other Western scene on the reverse.

A third kind, California jeweler’s charms, are made of gold and were sold as souvenirs of the West typically in the 1930s.

Replica brass or plated disks are a fourth kind, depicted in the photo above. The disks, manufactured in China for the most part, do not carry the word COPY and are in violation of the Hobby Protection Act.

As soon as Gregory read my email, he wrote: “Thanks for the catch, I'll correct it and contact the bidders for bid retractions.”

This auctioneer did more than retract a lot. He established the kind of online trust that results in repeat business.

Online auctions should require sellers to list the “BG identification number” for small denomination gold coins. The “BG” refers to Walter Breen and Ron Gillio, authors of California Pioneer Fraction Gold . It’s a pricey book. An inexpensive and educational way to identify these coins is to refer to PCGS CoinFacts and wade through the hundreds of listings until you can identify the lot in question.  

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