1848 CAL Quarter Eagle Price Guide

Why is the 1848 CAL Gold Quarter Eagle considered the first US commemorative coin, and how much is it worth? Read about the history and value of this unique coin.

How much is an 1848 CAL Quarter Eagle worth?

These glittering reminders of the California Gold Rush can be worth many thousands of dollars–even hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases–depending on condition. Given the small quantity created and popular buyer demand, they always generate interest when available for auction.

What determines CAL Quarter Eagle price?

From a cleaned specimen that sells for a few thousand dollars to this monumental 1848 CAL. Quarter Eagle, graded MS68 ★ (star) – the finest certified at NGC – that sold for $345,000 in 2008, prices can vary widely. 

What determines the value?

While all 1848 CAL Quarter Eagles are rare given the small mintage of only 1,389 pieces, their condition and eye appeal can vary depending on how the coin was cared for and stored over the years. 

Did the coin enter circulation and become worn? Or, like the amazing MS68 Star example linked above, was it saved in the very best uncirculated condition? The higher the grade, the more an 1848 CAL piece is worth. 

For example, Heritage offered an AU53 example graded by PCGS in August 2019, which sold for $57,600: 

On the other hand, a higher-grade coin would sell for even more. Heavily circulated, cleaned, or damaged examples can be purchased for less than $25,000 and offer an impressive opportunity to own a piece of numismatic history on a more reasonable budget.

View more examples of 1848 CAL 2 1/2 gold coins.

1848 CAL Quarter Eagle for sale at auction in April 2020

One such item is a great piece that Heritage is offering in the April Central States sale–an 1848 “CAL” $2 1/2 gold piece, considered to be America’s first commemorative coin! This coin is graded NGC MS68 Star, making it not only rare but also in beautiful condition.

Graded an astronomical MS68 Star by NGC (the * designation is for great eye appeal), one has not been offered in this type of high grade at auction since 2008, when Heritage sold it for over $300,000. This piece should sell for six figures and generate significant collector attention. It is not only a coin for numismatists, but also students of history, California history enthusiasts, or “gold bugs.” 

California gold rush produces rare collectible coins

When gold was first found at Sutter’s Mill in California in 1848, optimistic hoards of people surged to this remote area of the West, hoping to strike it rich. When you think about how difficult transportation would have been–through little-known lands and with primitive roads with only the most basic of technology–the number of people who traveled to California to make their fortunes may be surprising. It is estimated that around 300,000 came to California between 1848 and 1855 and started digging.

With a new population of prospectors coming to town, San Francisco grew by leaps and bounds, and infrastructure improved to accommodate the new industries surrounding the gold rush. All of these changes ultimately led to the admission of California into the Union as a state in 1850.

Not only is the California Gold Rush a significant part of the United States’ history for the general populace, but it is also of key importance for coin collectors. Some of the most beloved rarities today come from the territorial gold genre or gold rush era of the 1840s and 50s. 

History of the CAL Quarter Eagle Gold Coin

Around 50 years before the commemorative half dollar series began in 1892 with the Columbian Exposition, in December 1848, the Military Governor of California, Col. R.B. Mason, sent 228 ounces of newly mined gold to the Secretary of War, William L. Marcy. Secretary Marcy then sent this gold along to the Philadelphia Mint and provided instructions to use the gold for Congressional Medals that were to be struck for military heroes. Any leftover gold from this 228-ounce batch was to be turned into specially marked Quarter Eagles that had a commemorative mark on one side. 

How rare are 1848 CAL 2 ½ gold coins?

A tiny mintage of only 1,389 of these special 1848-dated Quarter Eagles were struck from the California gold shipment, each one stamped with a small “CAL” (short for “California”) in the upper reverse field. Experts believe that the stamping was likely done while the coins were still in the press, as none of the obverse features appear to have been flattened on the other (obverse) side.

Why collect the 1848 CAL gold quarter eagle?

These coins are appealing to many different subsets of coin collectors. As a former description for a similar coin at HA.com explained, 

“Regardless of their status as proof or business-strike issues, the coins are among the most attractive examples of U.S. coinage ever issued, and collectors of many disciplines pursue the date avidly. Many commemorative enthusiasts consider the 1848 CAL. quarter eagle the first U.S. commemorative coin, while type collectors consider it a one-year type coin. Of course, Liberty Head quarter eagle specialists include the issue in their sets, as well. Experts estimate fewer than 75 examples of this rare issue survive today in all grades. The 1848 CAL. quarter eagle is listed as one of the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.”

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Posted by Sarah Miller

Director of Numismatics, New York

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