There are basically three accepted categories of California Gold coins. The first category consists of the genuine pieces minted between 1852 and 1882. These pieces MUST have the word DOLLAR, DOLL, DOL or CENTS on the reverse. Most are referenced in the California Pioneer Fractional Gold guide by Walter Breen and Ronald Gillio. This reference can sometimes be difficult to obtain as limited quantities were produced in either of the two Edition printings. The most recent edition is the second edition printed in 2003. Copies can be found periodically on the internet for sale. The American Numismatic Association(ANA) Library has at least one copy for checkout for ANA members. We do handle a copy or two periodically for sale but it’s very difficult to maintain a steady stock on. Calif gold rarities generally range from R1 thru R8 and Unique(1 known to exist) with R8 being the rarest or least number of pieces known to exist. R-1 = over 1,250 pieces; R-2 = 501 to 1,249; R-3 = 201 to 501; R-4 = 76 to 200; R-5 = 31 to 75; R-6 = 13 to 30; R-7 = 5 to 12; R-8 = 2 to 4 known to exist. There are LOW and HIGH rarity variations beginning at R-4 and going to R-8.
The second category consist of tokens, not considered fractional gold, minted mainly by jewelers between 1882 and the 1920′s. Made usually of real gold, these pieces were normally backdated prior to 1882. Most were well made and emulated the fractional gold pieces. One main item differentiated these pieces and that was the absence of the word DOLLAR, DOLL, DOL or CENTS on the reverse as required on the category one pieces. The reverses would normally only show ¼, ½ or the equivalent. California Gold Tokens, while not as valuable as genuine fractionals, are still quite scarce and collectible. Pricing can range from $25 to several hundred dollars depending upon their variety and condition.
The final or third category is referred to as modern tokens or fantasies. While they share the Indian and Liberty Head designs along with early dates, they are normally not struck in gold but in brass or pot metal. They generally have a bear or star on the reverse and again lack the word DOLLAR, DOLL, DOL or CENTS on the reverse. These sometimes can be confusing to the uneducated collector. Please see our MODERN REPLICAS web page for some of these designs so you do not overpay for these very common non-gold pieces.