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J. H. Bowie – Cal. Gold – 1849

Learn About John Haskins Bowie

Joseph Haskins Bowie is part of that extended Bowie family which includes the creator of that famous fighting knife and a relative who perished defending the Alamo in Texas. He grew up on a plantation in Maryland and visited relatives in North Carolina where it is presumed that he encountered both Augustus Bechtler’s coinage as well as that of Templeton Reid.

He headed across the country to join his cousin Augustus, who was a surgeon in San Francisco. Dr. Bowie’s office, coincidentally, was across the street from that of Moffat & Company, which may have been an attraction for young Joseph Bowie.

It is believed that Bowie brought coinage dies with time on this transcontinental journey, but coining presses and other equipment would not have survived the journey. It is presumed that the dies for the Bowie coins were engraved by Baltimore Jeweler George W. Weber.

The design of the Bowie gold coins is simple itself. The obverse has a crude pine tree as the central vignette with “CAL. GOLD” above and the date “1849” below. 

The reverse has “5 DOLLARS” in the center on 2 lines with his name along the top periphery “J. H. BOWIE” and the fineness “879” below the denomination and the weight “137 GRS.” at the bottom periphery.

(The 1849 J. H. Bowie $5 Gold Coin, Obverse [left], Reverse [right].)

Another version was struck besides the Gold one. A $1 Copper Pattern was also struck but is thought to be unique. The design is similar except for the size, denomination and metallic composition. (NO IMAGE)

While it is unknown how many $5 Gold Coins were actually struck, only one specimen exists. The reason for their scarcity today can easily be explained. The weight of the coin was 8.60 grams and the fineness was .879 which produced an intrinsic gold value of more than $5. So it is likely that the overwhelming majority of coins produced were melted, for the intrinsic value of the gold itself, which ensured a considerable profit for the owners of these coins. 

Bowie, after living some time in California, Mexico, and Texas, finally settled in Illinois. He died on January 5, 1879, while on a visit to St. Louis, Missouri.

DateTypeMintageFine ValueAU Value
1849$5 Gold1 SurvivingPricelessPriceless
1849$1 Copper Pattern1 SurvivingPricelessPriceless

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