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1848 CAL. Quarter Eagle, MS64
America's First Commemorative Coin
Few Survive Finer

1848 $2 1/2 CAL. MS64 PCGS. The 1848 CAL. quarter eagle is an iconic memento of the California Gold Rush, at once America's first commemorative coin and a classic remembrance of one of the great, historic seismic shifts in American history. Regardless of which disciplines within the broad "history" context one is interested in -- global, political, economic, geographic, demographic, communications, transportation, social, the list goes on -- it is a certainty that the California Gold Rush was the most significant single event between the American Revolution and the Civil War, one that gave rise to much of the American character as we know it today and continues still to shape our destiny.

Dedicated numismatists are well-acquainted with the story of how California's military governor, Colonel Richard Mason, dispatched a party to Sutter's Mill shortly after the initial discovery in January 1848, for the purposes of map-making and to acquire newly mined gold. Within a short time Mason had 228 ounces of gold in his possession, which he sent to Washington. The gold was couriered to Washington (Secretary of War William Marcy and President James K. Polk) by Lieutenant Lucien Loeser via the Isthmus of Panama (which, 66 years later, would see the opening of the great Panama Canal to more easily transport the wealth of the world), arriving in December, where it was struck into 1,389 quarter eagles with the distinguishing CAL. mark affixed on the reverse, above the eagle. After hearing Loeser's information, President Polk made his famous address to Congress on December 5, 1848, his remarks further fueling the great Gold Rush:

"The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory [California] are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service who have visited the mineral district and derived the facts which they detail from personal observation. Reluctant to credit the reports in general circulation as to the quantity of gold, the officer commanding our forces in California visited the mineral district in July last for the purpose of obtaining accurate information on the subject. His report to the War Department of the result of his examination and the facts obtained on the spot is herewith laid before Congress. When he visited the country there were about 4,000 persons engaged in collecting gold. There is every reason to believe that the number of persons so employed has since been augmented. The explorations already made warrant the belief that the supply is very large and that gold is found at various places in an extensive district of country."

Further on in his lengthy remarks, President Polk presciently called for the need to open a branch mint in San Francisco, which would open for coinage in April 1854.

Secretary of War Marcy sent the newly mined California gold on to Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson, with detailed instructions:

"As many may desire to procure specimens of coin made of the California gold, by exchanging other coin for it, I would suggest that it be made into quarter eagle with a distinguishing mark on each, if any variation from the ordinary issues from the Mint would be proper and could be conveniently made."

A total of 1,389 quarter eagles with the counterstamp CAL. on the reverse were struck. As mentioned, the addition of the CAL. stamp on reverse made the issue America's first commemorative issue, although it is, of course, not the first "bespoke" or custom-designed commemorative.

There is no documentation of their method of distribution, although some went into the hands of collectors. Perhaps 150 to 200 pieces survive today, most of them slightly circulated: The average grade of certified survivors is close to AU55. Most of the pieces, show much reflectivity over mirrored, prooflike surfaces. The present MS64 PCGS coin offers generous luster and prooflike field reflectivity contrasting with frosted devices. The surfaces overall are deep orange-gold and show only minimal tiny ticks and some diagonal die striations. Minor strike weakness appears on the eagle's left (facing) leg, on the hair curls under Liberty's ear, and at the top of the Y of LIBERTY, which blends with the coronet border.

PCGS reports four submissions in this grade with seven finer -- three each in MS65 and MS66, plus one piece in MS68 (11/13). Bidders eager to acquire this lot should not dawdle, as finer-graded examples may not appear for quite a long time. Although we have seen three finer offerings of NGC-certified examples, this piece appears to be the finest-graded PCGS coin we have handled since we began our Permanent Auction Archives in 1993; an MS63 PCGS piece that we offered in our Boston ANA Platinum Night session (Heritage, 8/2010), lot 3422, brought $103,500. More recently, an MS64 NGC example (Stack's Bowers, 3/2012), lot 4269, realized $115,000.
From The Klamath Mountain Collection, Part II.(Registry values: P2) (NGC ID# 25HA, PCGS# 7749)

View all of [The Klamath Mountain Collection, Part II ]

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Auction Dates
January, 2014
8th-12th Wednesday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 11
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
Page Views: 993

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