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Pioneer Gold Pieces Highly Collectible

September 24, 1987|DON ALPERT

Question: I recently inherited several bags of old coins. Among them were many fairly worthless types, like Shield nickels in pretty average shape, old wheat pennies and the like. Because I've had a passing interest in collecting for five years, I decided to try to weed out the junk from the potential finds.

Among the more interesting ones was a 1913 Indian-head $2 1/2 gold piece. I have a fairly good idea of what that one might be worth. But a second coin is a mystery to me. It appears to be gold, has a head with no printing other than 1859 and stars on the edge of the front and California Gold with and the state bear on the back. I assume this is a commemorative, not legal tender, but I was unable to identify it through the several coin books that I have. Any ideas?--M.S.

Answer: First, you've gone about your inheritance the right way. Coin dealers are often besieged by people with no idea of what they own and customers get incensed when told their small hoard is just worth a pittance. You've done your homework, weeded out the culls and learned something about numismatics in the process.

As for your mystery coin, there's a reason you've not been able to identify it. That's because it's not a coin at all. What you have is a replica of California gold, sometimes known as pioneer gold or fractional gold. The real thing was privately produced in California during the Gold Rush when money was scarce and private minters helped fill the void. Such gold coins, quite small, are highly collectible. There are many varieties in round and octagonal sizes.

But what you own is a token produced as a souvenir. I doubt that it's gold at all. The telltale mark is the figure of the bear, which does not appear on genuine California pieces. And, I'm sorry to say, it has no collector value.

Coin News

Canada will host its first Olympic Winter Games next year and is honoring the occasion with a 1987 $100 gold proof coin. The coin is the 12th in a series of annual gold commemoratives, marking the XVth Olympics in Calgary. Interestingly, the first gold commemorative struck by the Royal Canadian Mint was issued in 1976 for the Summer Olympics in Montreal. The new coin will contain only a quarter ounce of gold and silver. Previous issues contained a half ounce of gold. Total mintage is limited to 350,000. The selling price is $205 ($255 Canadian). Order from the Royal Canadian Mint, P.O. Box 473, Station A, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 9H3.

More than 1,100 coins will be sold by Pacific Coast Auction Galleries next Thursday in conjunction with the 26th annual Northern California Numismatic Assn. Convention in San Francisco. The auction takes place at 7 p.m. in the Cathedral Hill Hotel, but mail bids are also being accepted. For a catalogue, contact the galleries at 1013 State St., Santa Barbara, Calif. 93101; telephone (805) 962-3197.

Coin Calendar

Today, Friday, Saturday and Sunday--The 10th annual Long Beach Numismatic and Philatelic Fall Exposition gets under way today with a full schedule. Features include 420 dealers, an auction, a United States Mint booth and specialty forums. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The show, at the Long Beach Convention Center, traditionally draws large crowds. For information, call (213) 436-3636.

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