This week's Featured Web Site is Mike Locke's site on California fractional gold coins and tokens.
After the discovery of large deposits of gold in California in 1848 there was a huge influx of people to California. Many of these new arrivals brought little money with them. Combined with the geographically isolated location of California, this produced a lot of people with gold but no money. Several private firms produced gold coins denominated as $5, $10, $20, and $50, mostly in the 1849 to 1853 time frame. This activity filled the need for money for large transactions, but left no means to make change for more ordinary purchases. Although a number of solutions to the small change problem were tried, the subject of study here are the gold $0.25, $0.50 and $1 pieces made by private mints beginning in 1852.
Although these small coins never acheived large scale circulation, by late 1853 they had gained popularity as souvenirs that could be economically mailed home. The gold content of these small coins started out rather low and once they became popular as souvenirs the weights dropped even farther. Congress passed 2 coinage acts in 1864 that effectively banned privately produced coins, but the law was not fully enforced until 1883. During the period of partial enforcement of the coinage act of 1864, one mint tried using gold rush era dates in order to avoid attracting attention. Although production was more-or-less stopped in 1883, it resumed in 1884 with pieces that lacked a dollar value claim on the design. These later pieces are called tokens by the collecting community. The backdating practice of 1864-1883 was adopted by most mints in the post 1883 time frame.