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Norris, Gregg & Norris Gold Coins – 1849

Norris, Gregg, and Norris and $5 Gold Half Eagles

As gold was discovered in 1848 in Sutter Creek in California, one of the first companies to take advantage of the gold strike was Norris, Gregg & Norris, in Benicia City, California. Their private gold coinage was reported in local newspapers on May 31, 1849. While they might not have been the first, it was the first reference to a private gold coin.

The Alta California newspaper observed “We have in our possession a Five Dollar gold coin, struck at Benicia City, although the imprint is San Francisco. In general appearance, it resembles the United States coin of the same value, but it bears the private stamp of “Norris, Grieg & Norris”, and is in other particulars widely different.” It is unknown today if Norris, Gregg & Norris had a minting facility in Benicia City, but it is assumed so. Though the Stockton Times of Stockton, CA, mentions a minting facility in Stockton for Norris, Gregg & Norris it is believed to be accurate and reliable.   

They struck different types of $5 Gold Half Eagles. The first type of coin had an obverse whose central vignette was an eagle with wings spread downward. On the eagle’s breast is an American shield and the number “5” represents the denomination. The eagle has an olive branch in one claw and three arrows in the other. Around the periphery of the obverse was “CALIFORNIA GOLD. WITHOUT ALLOY.”

The reverse of the coin was all text with “1849” in the center coin. Around the date was “N. G. & N.” above and “SAN FRANCISCO” below. This was surrounded by 22 five-pointed stars. This coin had a Plain Edge.

(An 1849 Norris, Gregg & Norris Gold Half Eagle. Plain Edge. Obverse [left], Reverse [right].)

The next type of Norris, Gregg & Norris Half Eagle had the exact same design but had a reeded edge. The fact that today they have exactly the same value in all grades seems to indicate that a like number of each was found to exist.

(An 1849 Norris, Gregg & Norris Gold Half Eagle. Reeded Edge. Obverse [left], Reverse [right].)

The third and final type is exactly the same as the two more commons, but still very scarce varieties, except instead of stating “SAN FRANCISCO” under the “1849” date on the reverse, this piece has replaced San Francisco with “STOCKTON”. Only one piece is known and it resides in the National Coin Collection of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington DC.

(An 1849 Norris, Greg & Norris Gold Half Eagle. UNIQUE –“ STOCKTON” Reverse.)

The coins were well received by people living in and around San Francisco and traded at par with the federal coinage. While some tried to discourage the local populace from accepting the Norris, Gregg & Norris coinage by questioning their actual value in the newspapers of the day, the firm responded and defended its coinage as actually being superior to the Federal coins.

Norris (himself) replied that the coinage bearing his name was “pure of any placer gold” and “contained no alloy whatsoever.” In addition, he stated that his coinage would “weigh 1% HEAVIER than the US Half Eagles” and that his coinage sold “in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans at a premium of 1% (more than the US Coins).”

Norris, Gregg& Norris (San Francisco) coinage is scarce, but not impossible to find. But given the fact that it was likely the first California private coinage, it is highly desirable.

DateTypeMintageVF ValueUnc Value
1849San Francisco, Plain EdgeUnknown – Scarce$8,500$40,000
1849San Francisco, Reeded EdgeUnknown – Scarce$8,500$40,000
1849Stockton IssueUnique – 1 KnownPricelessPriceless

Expand your collection today and shop for an 1849 $5 Gold Half Eagle Greg & Norris California MS-61 NGC.

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