The 19th saw three major gold rushes take place with the most significant of them being the California Gold Rush. Thousands of members of the Mormon faith traveled west in search of fulfilling their dreams of financial prosperity and a new land which they could call their own. We know that early settlers were tithing the church with gold dust and nuggets which they brought to Utah from California as early as November 1848.
Brigham Young wrote to miners interested in selling their mining concerns in Bear Valley informing them of his desire to settle the transaction with “coined money, I have not on hand, but we are preparing to put the gold dust into coin…”. It is the first record which exists of his idea to mint private coins in Utah.
On November 19, 1848, preparations were made to begin striking coins from gold dust brought to Utah from California. Several days later an inscription for their gold coinage was created. On one side, the phrase, “Holiness to the Lord” encircling the emblem of priesthood, a three-point Phrygian cap over an all-seeing eye. On the other side was clasped hands portraying friendship, encircled by the face value.
On December 10, 1848 they first coins were struck, but all were of $10 face value. Several accounts of the amount and to whom they were paid are on the historical record. However, it wasn’t until September 1849 that coining resumed and this time it included the denominations of $2.50, $5 and $20 piece. By the end of 1850 there was enough coins minted for them to be considered “quite plentiful” and there was believed to have minted in excess of $70,000. On July 17, 1898 the Salt Lake Tribune published this information referencing the Mormon mint records of the time:
“At first the $2.50 pieces were most plentiful and popular. Then a large number of $5 coins were made, and these, with first named, constituted the bulk of the mint’s work. Not many $10 pieces were minted, and the $20 coins were still fewer”.
Although the Mormon gold coins are popular today, they are not without controversy. They were discovered to contain less than the standard weights for their face value and thus were debased and traded at discounts. This debasement and discovery of being deficient in weight caused many publications to describe them as “spurious”, “debased” and “vile falsehoods”. This is largely responsible for their extreme rarity today, because most were doomed for the melting pots.
Amazingly, the choice uncirculated specimen offered here still exists. It is a beautiful MS61 graded by NGC. It is worthy of note that no mint-state example has been seen at public sale in over eight years. There was an AU58 example seen in September 2012 at it realized an impressive $69,000. The population for a MS61 by both PCGS and NGC is listed as three, but this is likely inflated due to resubmissions. The finest known is a lone specimen graded MS63.
The MS61 noted here is a tremendous opportunity to acquire a piece of western Americana and is very reasonably priced at only $125,000.