NGC To Certify California Fractional Gold

Posted on 2/6/2004

Starting March 1, 2004 Numismatic Guaranty Corporation will begin grading and encapsulating California Small Denomination Gold coins, more commonly known as Fractional Gold.

Among the least understood areas of American numismatics, these gold quarter dollars, half dollars and dollars have become increasingly popular in recent years, prompting NGC’s decision to certify them.

The original issue of these coins, known as Period One, lasted from 1852 to 1857. These were coins of high gold content, produced by California jewelers and intended to circulate as money in the Far West, where small change remained scarce during the California Gold Rush years. Period Two began about 1858, when the many silver coins being produced at the San Francisco Mint eliminated the need for circulating fractional gold. These later pieces were debased or underweight, reflecting the fact that they were intended for the souvenir market rather than actual circulation. Their production continued until 1882, at which time the federal government began enforcing an 1864 law that prohibited any kind of private coinage, regardless of the intent.

The most mysterious and somewhat controversial issues are those of Period Three. The standard reference on Small Denomination issues, California Pioneer Fractional Gold, by Walter Breen and Ronald J. Gillio, provides a speculative production date of 1906-08 for Period Three. The vast majority of these later pieces were the work of a single maker, New York City jeweler Herman M. Kroll. His dies, however, survived his death in 1915, and several varieties were restruck in the 1950s and later. NGC will certify only those Period Three varieties believed to be original Kroll strikings.

The Fractional Gold series includes a wide variety of dates, most of the pieces bearing Indian or Liberty Heads on their obverses. They are either round or octagonal in shape. These design features will be included in NGC’s descriptive label, along with the date, denomination, grade and Breen-Gillio (BG) variety number. Due to the research necessary to authenticate and attribute these specialized coins, NGC requires that they be submitted at its EarlyBird tier ($28) or higher. Fractional Gold coins may be submitted to NGC in another company’s holder for Crossover service under the same terms. Fractional Gold coins requiring professional conservation may be submitted to NGC’s companion company, Numismatic Conservation Services.

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