Colorado Gold (1860-1861)
Territorial and private issues were common all the way through the Coinage Acts of 1857 and 1864, which banned private and foreign money from circulating alongside U.S.-minted currency. There were still private issues that circulated in Western states and territories like Utah and California even after this act. Some of these were certified by the U.S. government before official mints were put in place, while others only saw circulation for a limited period of time. Colorado saw several coins created by private mining concerns during the mid-1800s.
Colorado Gold Design
The history of early United States coins embraces a wide variety of money, not just coins minted within the United States itself. World coins saw common usage across the whole of the United States, and major denominations from countries like the Netherlands, France, and Spain were widely circulated through the 1850s. British coins were commonplace, not surprising considering the American colonies were under British rule. The bulk of coinage was English crowns, shilling and pence as well as the Spanish piece of eight (which laid the groundwork for the Silver dollar). This began to change as the U.S. started striking its own coins, but this currency still circulated alongside it.
Foreign coins were not the only circulating currency in the New World. Private issues were also available, and there were circulating coins created by some of the states in both colonial and post-colonial times. There are several major privacy issues that were created in the Americas and saw varying degrees of circulation. After the colonial era, many of these were Gold coins created to fill in the gaps in higher-denomination coinage. Gold private and regional issues saw use even after they technically became illegal, particularly out in the Western states.
“Private Gold” is defined by the Guide Book of United States Coins as “interesting necessity pieces of various shapes, denominations and degrees of intrinsic worth that were circulated in isolated areas of the United States by individuals, assayers, bankers and so on”.
Some issues were allowed under U.S. law. Provisional mints were established as private enterprises out in California and other new Western states. Out in the West and the territories, Precious Metals saw more circulation than they did back East. Eastern states were moving towards banknotes and base metal coins were starting to gain traction, but in the farther-flung areas, there were not the same established networks of value. That meant people gravitated to the things that they knew held value regardless: Gold and Silver.
The Colorado Gold Rush came a decade after the California discovery of Gold at Sutter’s Mill, and it became the second biggest rush. Over 100,000 people flooded Colorado, gaining the name “Fifty-Niners” for the year in which they came. Many of the large cities in Colorado today were created in this Gold rush.
California had dealt with this problem before, and now Colorado was dealing with it. There was no infrastructure or monetary system prepared to deal with this kind of influx. Gold dust became the currency of choice, but disagreements over value caused conflict between shopkeepers and miners. The solution was local. Mining concerns and private mints stepped into the void, creating $2.50, $5, $10 and $20 coins.
Clark, Gruber and Co. were one that created all four types in 1860. These followed Eagle designs on the smaller coins but the $10 and $20 had Pikes Peak on the obverse.
John Parsons & Company was linked to the Tarryall mines, and there are a few 1861 coins known in $2.50 and $5 denominations.
The J.J. Conway & Co. coins were also created in 1861, and they also were made in $2.50 and $5 variations. This mint operated in Georgia Gulch.
These coins are unique, struck in small numbers and capture a unique moment in American history. They are a time capsule of the Colorado Gold Rush.
These coins are expensive even in low grades, with the lowest going for tens of thousands of dollars and the highest going for multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of these were struck in very small numbers initially and have even smaller surviving populations.
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