The Currency of the California Gold Rush

You’ve heard of the California Gold Rush. One day, miners found gold in the town called Sutter’s Mill, sparking a rush from all over the world toward fortune seeking in the state of California. About 300,000 fortune-seekers made the journey.

You can imagine the pandemonium this would cause. And methods of commerce were shaky. They usually used Silver Reales or Escudos from Spanish America for exchanges, but that currency could not keep up with daily needs.Minners01 (1)

This led to original methods of payment. The gold found during mining didn’t always come in nuggets of gold, and fine gold dust was at least worth something. People would pay in actual pinches of gold dust for general stores or saloons. As you can imagine, dust does not offer the most secure method of payment.

A more solid means of currency was needed. Some mints had made $20 gold pieces, but much smaller denominations were needed.


We have some of our own California gold coins. Interested in owning one of your own? Go here!

Private minters began to make their own small gold pieces. (And when we say small, we mean small. These things are tiny.) They were called fractionals because they were worth a small fraction of these larger denominations. These coins were literally worth their weight in gold. The first, privately made coins were made between 1852-1856.

The fractionals circulated quickly from the need for currency, and soon wore down from all that use.

But the San Francisco Mint began its own full production in 1856, and the availability of more trustworthy pieces put these privately-made coins less appealing.1871califracObverse

Henry Finnegrass, the Chief of Operations for the U.S. Secret Service in San Francisco, claimed that these California gold coins were in competition with the U.S. Mint and confiscated any pieces made after 1882.

As collectibles, these coins are rare and hard to come by. While the California gold rush only gave success to a select few people, these gold fractionals have lasted as pieces of that hectic time in history.

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