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The California Gold Rush started on January 24, 1848 when James Marshall, a foreman working for Sacramento pioneer, John Sutter, found pieces of shiny metal in the millrace of Sutter’s lumber mill along the American River. Marshall quietly brought what he found to Sutter, and the two of them privately tested the findings. The results changed California and America’s history forever; it was GOLD! Sutter and Marshall tried to keep the discovery a secret to only their inner circle, but rumors soon started to spread and were confirmed in March, 1848, by the San Francisco newspaper publisher and merchant, Samuel Brannan. After Brannan had purchased every piece of necessary equipment to mine for gold, he hurriedly set up a general store to sell gold prospecting supplies. Brannan then ran through the streets of San Francisco, holding aloft a vial of gold, shouting, "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!"

Those words spread like a wildfire across the United States. Six months after Brannan went public on August 19, 1848, the New York Herald became the first major newspaper on the East Coast to report the discovery. Later, on December 5, 1848, President James Polk confirmed the discovery of gold in an address to Congress. What followed were massive waves of immigrants, known today as "forty-niners," who came looking to strike it rich in the Gold Country of California.

San Francisco became a boomtown as tens of thousands of immigrants came in search of prosperity either as entrepreneurs or gold miners. The growth far exceeded what little infrastructure was in place as the town exploded. The economic infrastructure was practically non-existent, considering there was no paper money, only gold. Gold dust was the primary medium of exchange. A "pinch" of gold dust was used to settle most accounts. So when someone wanted to purchase an item the seller would reach into the buyers pouch and "pinch" out as much gold dust as he could with his index finger and thumb. The pinch was very unreliable because gold dust could not be tested for purity and the size of people’s pinches varied. Considering the large amounts of new found wealth coming out of the streams, river beds, and hills of California, a monetary system was greatly needed and some skillful entrepreneurs had the solution.

By the end of 1849, about a dozen assay companies had set up shop in Sacramento, Marysville, and San Francisco and solved the short-lived currency problem. The assayers would refine the gold dust and nuggets as they came in from the gold fields and then produce their own privately minted coinage and monetary ingots. These new gold coins and ingots would become the foundation of the West. The most well respected assayers from the era were Kellogg & Co., Wass Molitor & Co., Moffat & Co., and Augustus Humbert. In 1851, Moffat & Co. was given a joint government contract with Augustus Humbert and formed the U.S. Assay Office where they produced the famous 2.5 oz octagonal $50 Gold Ingot commonly referred as a “slug.” The U.S. Assay office lasted 4 years until the U.S. Branch Mint of San Francisco officially opened in 1854. By 1855, the San Francisco Mint was operating at maximum capacity and the privately minted gold coins had become replaced by the more popular official government money. Most assay companies continued business as gold refiners producing commercial monetary ingots.

For more information on California Gold Rush coins and ingots, or to find out about Legacy Rare Coin’s current inventory, please call 1-800-608-2850. When you call, be sure to request your Free "Ship of Gold" DVD and also a free copy of our S.S. Central America Shipwrecked Treasure Catalog which depicts the highlights of the California Gold Rush.

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