Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin
1848 California Gold Quarter Eagle
Greetings to you from Peter the Mint Eagle on this fine September day. And this month's coin features a handsome bird, I must say.
The coin is a "quarter eagle" from 1848. The value marked on it is $2.50 and it is made of gold from California. In fact, this gold probably came from the first shipment of gold sent back east as the famous California Gold Rush was about to begin.
Colonel R.B. Mason, the military governor of California, sent the first 282 ounces of gold to the Secretary of War, who turned the gold over to the Mint in Philadelphia. The Mint made it into medals and quarter eagles.
It's interesting that it took about a year for the gold rush to get rushing. That's because news traveled much more slowly in those days—mostly by stagecoach or pony express. The telegraph was still fairly new for us, and the railroad would not reach from coast to coast until 1869. They didn't even have telephones, let alone the Internet! And people weren't eager to travel across the country just because there was some talk about gold in the California wilderness.
But in September of 1848, the New York Herald newspaper started printing articles about the gold. The articles were based on letters that the paper got from someone in California who saw that there really was gold there.
Then, in December, President Polk talked about the gold in his report to Congress. That's when things really started moving—and so did people...to California! The gold-seekers who rushed there in 1849 were called "Forty-niners."
By that time, quarter eagles were already being made from California gold. To make sure people knew where the gold came from, the Mint stamped "CAL" on the coins right after the main design was stamped. This separate stamping is called "countermarking." The countermark was made above the head of the handsome eagle on the reverse side.
He looks a bit like me, don't you think?