The Short-Lived Massachusetts and California Company
When Gold Fever struck in California in 1849, people all across the country were captivated and wanted their share. People in New England were no different. Numerous groups banded together to go there and mine for gold. People invested in “shares” of these companies, hoping their company would strike it rich. In Massachusetts alone, 124 companies were organized hoping to strike it rich in the Golden state.
One company, in particular, had somewhat different ideas. The “Massachusetts and California Company” decided that instead of trying their hands at mining and prospecting – looking for that elusive vein of gold, they would be more pragmatic. They decided that there was an important need in California for the conversion of gold ore and dust into minted coins and they wanted to fill that void.
These folks knew nothing about mining for gold but their idea was solid. They would go to California and establish a private mint – just as Christopher Bechtler had done in North Carolina and produce coinage for local consumption. They purchased a machine that was capable of producing $10,000 worth of $5 face value coins each day if they had a steady supply of gold dust. With investment and pledges totaling $50,000, the company was set up, directors selected and management decided to ship their talent and the coining machinery to California as soon as possible. At the time, private mints were allowed to operate and create their own coinage.
While we do know that the principles of the Company did make it to California, there is no evidence to suggest that their coinage equipment survived the long and arduous journey to Panama and then across the Isthmus overland.
But Massachusetts and California Company gold coinage does exist. However, these coins were struck in Massachusetts and not in California. By the time the principles made it to San Francisco, there were a plethora of private mints and that fact may have discouraged the principles from starting operations. In fact so many private minters were operating that the public resisted using privately-minted gold coins as their reliability and integrity were anything but assured.
What has led today’s numismatists to determine this is that the coins were alloyed with copper which was the sole practice with mints on the East Coast and with the US Mint itself, whereas California coins tended to be alloyed with Silver for durability, which was the common practice in California at the time.
The coins were likely produced in Northampton, Massachusetts where the company was headquartered and the town was well equipped to produce metals and metallic products.
Although the coinage presses were capable of producing $10,000 worth of $5 coins in a single day, only a very small handful of these coins exist today. Some speculate that a quantity of these coins was melted when the company dissolved in 1854, a scant five years after their dreams of riches were squelched by a variety of factors. Only a small handful of their treasured $5 gold coins survive today.
The Massachusetts and California Company gold coins were nicely executed. The obverse was a combination of Massachusetts symbols – an arm holding a spear, and a deer combined with a California golden bear and a man on horseback in the center.
The reverse has the denomination in the center in “FIVE D.” on two lines, inside a wreath, with “MASSACHUSETTS & CALIFORNIA CO. 1849” around the periphery.
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