Territorial Gold Coins and Monetary Assayer Ingots are, without a doubt, one of the most interesting segments of the United States coin market. They are . . .Young America’s Privately-Struck Money!

Territorials come in all shapes and sizes due to their diverse periods, regions and private producers, with such notable names as: Humbert, Kellogg, Moffat, Templeton, Bechtler and Baldwin. Though the U.S. Constitution prohibited State-issued coinage, and it was strictly forbidden, no laws were enforced against individuals producing coinage. Most importantly, territorial coinage resulted from a localized spike in raw gold supply and the related demand for a reliable medium of exchange for commerce in America’s dynamic mid-1800s. Not only is each territorial specimen a fascinating, tangible asset attesting to its historic regional economic boom, territorial issues are seeing increased popularity, while being exceptionally rare, particularly in high quality condition. Simply put, they make a great addition to any coin portfolio.

Though most territorials came as result of the California Gold Rush, similar economic conditions existed in other early American gold mining regions as well, because it was hazardous, costly and time-consuming to transport gold dust and nuggets to an existing US Mint for coining. Regional Federal branch mints developed, but they took time, being a highly political and costly issue. Important regions where private coinage was issued were:

  • Georgia, beginning 1830
  • N. Carolina, beginning 1831
  • California, beginning 1849
  • Oregon, beginning 1849
  • Utah (Mormon Gold), beginning 1849
  • Colorado, beginning 1860

In California, for example, upwards of eighteen such enterprises were formed by the end of 1849, mostly in the San Francisco Bay area. Norris, Gregg and Norris was the first of these concerns to issue coins. Norris produced five-dollar coins, which are scarce, but occasionally an XF or AU specimen becomes available. One of the most important among the early private California issuers was Moffat & Co., where John Moffat and his partners struck $5, $10 and $20 gold coins from 1849 until 1853. Moffat’s reputation remained unblemished, and these coins traded at par with federally-minted coinage, likely the only privately-minted coins to do so in that region.

Two other important coiners of the early California Gold Rush that occasionally come to market are Miners Bank and Baldwin & Co. The remaining issuers, which are typically very tough to acquire, include J.H. Bowie, Cincinnati Mining & Trading Co., Dubosq & Co., Massachusetts and California Co., J.S. Ormsby, Pacific Company and Shultz & Co. and are great rarities today, not because so few were struck, but rather because of widespread melting in the early 1850s. Sadly, these spectacular tributes to the American Dream and pioneering commerce were short-term solutions and were, for the most part, reformed into United States coinage.

One of the most spectacular of all territorials to hold in your hand has to be the hefty $50 octagonal Augustus Humbert gold ingot, especially if it has a special California Gold Rush pedigree and was recovered directly from the shipwreck of the S.S. Central America steamship that was lost in 1857. In fact, any one of the approximately 250 Territorial coins recovered from what is called the “Ship of Gold,” which was the largest horde of Territorial coins ever found in one place, is a very attractive pedigree for collectors who appreciate the importance of provenance.

Now, no Territorial collection would be complete without “the crown jewel” of gold rush territorials . . . the large assayer ingot, having the gold rush era monetary value affixed by hand at one the five prominent private enterprises of the day. Each and every one of the few hundred gold bars in existence are unique, and each one is worthy of a place in a museum considering the comparable specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection.

You see, the California gold rush phenomenon warranted an efficient means for miners to convert their hard-earned raw nuggets and dust into a gold bar form that was readily accepted. This necessity caused the advent of private monetary ingots. Assayer ingots soon became the standard method to deal with the massive flow of new California gold.

First, a gold miner would stockpile a cache of raw gold dust and nuggets. Then, based on word-of-mouth reputation, location and fees, the miner would select one of the competing assaying offices. The miner would deposit his bag of gold and get a written receipt with the assayers inventory identification number and a gross weight. It was customary for the miners to return within 24 hours to pick up their refined gold bars.

The assayer would melt the raw gold and refine-out impurities and base metals such as iron. What remained was gold and silver. Gold bars of this form are called “unparted” gold ingots. The molten gold was poured into a mold of a size that corresponded to that miner’s lot size. After the bar cooled, the assayer would clip off two opposite corners of the bar to retain as his fee and also to use for the assaying process. Once assayed to determine the purity of gold, the precise weight and fineness (represented in thousandths) were stamped on the bar along with its unique I.D. serial number, which matched the miner’s receipt. Also, the assayer would stamp the exact U.S. Dollar value. This transformed the bullion into a medium of exchange, which was easily accepted for large transactions domestically and internationally, making it real money and numismatically important.

If you are looking for long term price appreciation, you have to take a look at the past performance of great territorial specimens. As a result of the S.S. Central America putting so much focus on the segment in the last decade, the base of collectors has grown significantly and the number of investors looking to seek them out has grown as well. It’s simply a case of supply and demand, and the supply of territorials is minuscule when you start comparing it to other areas of the rare coin market. Monaco has built a foundation of knowledge and significant inventories of major rarities of territorial issues from North Carolina to Colorado, Oregon and California. Each example is a story in itself.