Featured The 1848 CAL Quarter Eagle, America’s First Commemorative Coin

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by johnmilton, Mar 23, 2020.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Greetings, fellow shut-ins! I decided that is time to dust off another old article to help pass the time. I hope that you enjoy it.

    In January of 1848 James Marshall, who was an employee of John Sutter, discovered gold in the race of a sawmill that was under construction on Sutter’s property near Coloma, California. (Coloma is located about 36 miles northeast of the state capitol, Sacramento.) The men soon discovered additional gold deposits further upstream, and it was found that there was more gold in the area. Sutter and his men tried to keep their discovery a secret, but that was impossible. By spring dozens of prospectors were looking for gold with tools that ranged from a simple metal pan to a primitive trough-like device called a cradle.

    In Monterey, California Colonel Richard B. Mason, who was the military governor of the U.S. territory, viewed the developments with concern and interest. “Gold fever” had prompted many of the enlisted men in his unit to desert their posts and head for the gold fields in search of wealth. In addition, men who had been engaged in almost every profession from farming to office clerk had left their jobs “to strike it rich.” Mason decided that the time had come to report the news of the California bonanza to his superiors and provide them with some physical evidence of the gold strike.

    Col Richard B Mason.png

    In July Mason and his chief aid, Lieutenant William Sherman, selected four good soldiers and other support personnel and set out for the Sacramento Valley. Over the following weeks they purchased 13 samples of gold from the miners in the area and carefully marked on a map where those samples had been obtained. In August Mason combined those samples, along with an “oyster can” full of gold that Mason purchased from the San Francisco Custom House for the depressed price of $10 an ounce. He packed the entire deposit into a tea caddy.

    William T. Sherman as a young man

    Gen Sherman young.jpg

    A 19th century tea caddy

    1848 Cal tea caddy.jpg

    Mason selected Lieutenant Lucien Loeser to take the box, which contained 230 ounces of gold, to Washington, DC, and asked Lieutenant Sherman to write a report about the California discoveries. Sixteen years later Lieutenant William T. Sherman, by then a Union general, would emblazon his name into the history books with his famous or for some infamous "March to the Sea" across Georgia toward the end of the Civil War.

    Lieutenant Loeser set out on his journey on August 30. The first leg of Loeser’s trip took him from San Francisco to Payta, Peru. There he boarded another ship that took him to Panama, which he crossed on horseback, to board a ship on the Atlantic side of the isthmus. From there he steamed to Kingston, Jamaica where he embarked on another ship to New Orleans, Louisiana. From there Loeser probably took the quickest route to Washington, DC. That journey began by traveling by steamer from New Orleans to Montgomery, Alabama. From there he traveled on local coaches and railroads to central Georgia, probably Atlanta, and then proceeded by rail to Washington, DC where he arrived on December 7. Overall the trip from the West Coast to Washington, DC had taken three months and one week.

    Lieutenant Lucien Loeser

    Lucien Loeser.jpg

    Loeser's rounte from San Francisco, California to Washington, DC

    1848 Trip.jpg

    Two days before Loeser's arrival, President James K. Polk announced in his annual message to Congress that, “Recent discoveries render probable that these (gold) mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated.” This statement combined with the display of the box of gold in Secretary of War, W.L. Marcy’s office set off a frenzy of interest.

    War Secretary Marcy sent a letter to Mint Director R. M. Patterson in which he asked to the director to convert the almost 231 ounces of gold into two gold medals that were to be awarded to Mexican War heroes, Generals Zackary Taylor and Winfield Scott, one or two small gold bars, and some quarter eagles with a distinguishing mark. Marcy anticipated that some people would like to have a sample from the first gold shipment from California that was delivered to the Philadelphia mint. He thought that citizens would be eager to trade ordinary gold coins to obtain the California quarter eagles at face value.

    Secretary of war, William Marcy

    William L. Marcy War Sec.jpg

    As it happened a second gold shipment from California arrived a short time after Lieutenant Loeser delivered his chest. Gold from that second shipment would be used to produce the two medals that were awarded to Generals Taylor and Scott.

    In the mean time the Philadelphia mint personnel began their assignment. As was quite often the case the California gold contained silver that had to be parted from the body of the ore. After that the gold was alloyed with copper, formed into ingots and rolled into sheets from which the planchets were cut. After the coins were struck, there was one more step. Using the obverse coin die as an anvil, each coin was counterstamped with the letters “CAL.” above the eagle on the reverse. The use of the obverse die as an anvil prevented the flat spot that would have resulted on the coin had the counterstamp been applied on a smooth surface.

    As the year came to a close, Secretary Marcy was becoming impatient with the time it was taking to produce the quarter eagles. He sent his chief clerk, Archibald Campbell, to Philadelphia to investigate the situation. Marcy stated that if quarter eagles were ready, the mint personnel could hand them over to Campbell. Campbell returned to Washington empty handed.

    On January 5, 1849 Mint Director Patterson sent Secretary Marcy a letter that would confirm the importance of the 1848 CAL. quarter eagles for generations of coin collectors. Patterson stated that during the normal course of business the mint would have supplied the quarter eagles to a depositor as soon as the facility received the gold. In this case, however, Marcy had requested that the same gold that had been deposited was be used in the coins. This request had created the delay. The need to part the silver from the gold and apply the CAL. counterstamp had prolonged the process. At long last the coins were ready for delivery.

    Although the mint did not record the mintage for the 1848 CAL. gold coins, it has been estimated from the available evidence that 1,389 pieces were produced. Although a small number of the coins were saved, the vast majority of them went into circulation. It has been estimated that less than 200, perhaps no more than 160, of these coins survive today. Among that group less than 40 meet the standards for the Mint State grade.

    Today the 1848 CAL. quarter eagle is one of the most desirable U.S. coins. Many numismatists view it as the first United States commemorative coin because it marked the receipt of the initial shipments of gold from California to a United States mint. In addition the coin does not just commemorate that event. The coins were made from the actual gold that was shipped from California to the Philadelphia mint. No other U.S. commemorative coin has such a close relationship to the event that it marks.

    1848 CAL. $2.50

    1848 CAL $250 Obv.jpg 1848 CAL $250 Rev.jpg

    I will show pictures of the two medals that were awarded to Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott in the next post.
    TheRed, NLL, Publius2 and 4 others like this.
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  3. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Here are examples of the two medals that might been made from the first shipment of gold from California. Thank goodness that did not happen. If had, none of us would have been able to own a small amount from that "first shipment."

    Zachary Taylor for his role in the Mexican War

    Zachary Taylor O.jpg Zachary Taylor R.jpg

    Windfield Scott for his role in that war.

    Winfield Scott O.jpg Winfield Scott R.jpg

    Both of these medals are huge. Here is one of them next to a silver dollar.

    Zachary Taylor  Compare 2.jpg
  4. Penna_Boy

    Penna_Boy Just a nobody from the past

    Very interesting; thank you.
  5. QuintupleSovereign

    QuintupleSovereign Well-Known Member

    This is one of my favorite trivia questions (first US Commemorative coin). Most people say the 1892 Columbian but there is a strong argument for this piece.
    panzerman likes this.
  6. charlottedude

    charlottedude Novice Collector

    Great story... love the “history behind the coin”.
    panzerman likes this.
  7. fretboard

    fretboard Defender of Old Coinage!

    wow.gif Like they used to say in an old neighborhood I lived in when I was paying low rent. :D You be havin' thangs!! laughhard.gif I love that 1848 as I'm from California, wish I had deep a$$ pockets but I don't, so I'll continue to dream!! :D
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