Obverse of 1851 $50 RE Humbert 880 Thous
Reverse of 1851 $50 RE Humbert 880 Thous

Ron Guth: "Territorial" is a term that encompasses a wide range of coins issued by private minters, semi-official entities, fly-by-nighters, entrepreneurs, and opportunists in a variety of locations. Nearly all of the coins arose out of necessity and were created to fill a void that the U.S. government could not or would not fill. Until the government intervened, these issue flourished; once the government entered the market, they effectively disappeared or were made illegal.

The first Territorial issues appeared in Georgia and North Carolina, when gold was discovered in those regions. In 1830, Templeton Reid of Georgia produced $2.50, $5, and $10 of proper weight but improper content, so his coins lost credibility quickly (this will be a recurring theme among most Territorial gold coins). The Bechtler family produced gold coins of $1, $2.50 and $5 denominations beginning in 1831. Their coins were more credible and were accepted locally until the 1850s.

After gold was discovered in California, a massive influx of miners and hangers-on created a demand for coins for use in daily commerce. Several of the local assayers responded by producing coins of varying purity, mostly in their favor. While their coins were grudgingly accepted by the populace, pressure mounted on the U.S. government to come up with an adequate solution to protect all parties. The government responded by setting up their own assay office and creating "coins" that were really just glorified ingots with quasi-official sanction. The opening of the official U.S. Mint at San Francisco drove all of the spurious gold coins out of circulation or they were quickly melted down and turned into real U.S. gold coins.

In Utah, the Mormons struck gold coins in $2.50, $5, $10, and $20 denominations. Although the coins claimed to have been made from gold mined in Salt Lake City, most likely the ore came from California.

Perhaps the most interesting of the California gold coins are the small denomination coins of 25 cents, 50 cents, and 1 dollar. Initially, these tiny gold pieces were used as actual money, but they eventually became trinkets used in jewelry, thus many of the survivors have holes drilled through them or they show evidence of having been mounted in jewelry.

Most Territorial gold coins are quite rare and expensive. They are rife with history and, if they could speak, would have some very interesting stories to tell.