1850 Mormon $5. K-5. Rarity-5+. AU-55 (NGC).
Starting in the mid-1840s, many members of the early Mormon Church traveled west from Nauvoo, Illinois in what is sometimes called the Mormon Exodus. Fleeing battles with their neighbors, they settled in the Great Salt Valley in what they called the State of Deseret.
Additional migrations used Salt Lake City as a starting point for further trips westward to California. Many such groups settled in the San Francisco area, including several veterans of the Mormon Battalion who worked at John Sutter’s mill in Coloma, California.
With the discovery of gold in 1848, the local Mormon community was well positioned to share in the bounty. Much of the gold was sent back to Salt Lake City and was used to pay the church’s tithes and to alleviate many of the economic hardships of the community.
Similar to the situation in San Francisco, the use of gold dust as a medium of exchange in Salt Lake City proved problematic. By the end of 1848, Brigham Young and John Kay announced plans to set up a small mint in Salt Lake City to process the gold dust into coin.
The coins were designed by Young and the dies cut by Kay with the first coins, 25 $10 pieces, being struck on December 12, 1848. Issues of $2.50, $5 and $20 coins followed in 1849, with additional $5 pieces struck in 1850. All of these coins include the abbreviated inscription G.S.L.C.P.C for “Great Salt Lake City Pure Gold,” an interesting statement considering that the gold was neither from Utah nor was it pure.
Due to the rather primitive minting and assay equipment, the purity and weight of the coins were consistently below face value.
In 1850, Jacob Eckfeldt and William Dubois performed an assay of some of the Mormon coins at the Philadelphia Mint and recorded their findings in the work New Varieties of Gold and Silver Coins. In it, Eckfeldt and Dubois found the coins wanting in terms of valuation: “The weights are more irregular, and the values very deficient….The 5-dollar about 111 grains, $4.30.”
This huge discrepancy between face value and intrinsic value damaged the coins’ reputation and they would only be accepted in commerce at steep discounts. Ultimately, approximately $70,000 in Mormon gold coins was produced by the time the mint ceased operations in late 1850. The vast majority of those coins were eventually destroyed through melting.
Today, all Mormon gold coins are quite rare and particularly sought after by territorial gold specialists. As scarce as they may be in mid-range circulated levels, they are especially challenging at and above the AU level. Mint State survivors of the 1850 $5 issue are exceptionally rare; the combined total of such pieces from both certification services can be counted on two hands. This Choice AU is a lovely example from an important chapter in the coinage history of the California Gold Rush.
This example is a boldly impressed, evenly toned example of this classic territorial gold rarity. The satiny surfaces exhibit warm orange-olive patina throughout. The striking detail is sharp and the overall appearance is very nice for a Mormon gold coin of any denomination or type. A few shallow scuffs in the left obverse field are mentioned for accuracy.
Being sold as LOT # 20157 in the Stack’s Bowers November 2015 Baltimore Rarities Sale