SALT LAKE CITY — A collection of rare Mormon gold coins just sold at an auction for more than $1.8 million.
The coins were sold by Heritage Auction, a company which specializes in coins and currency sales. The seven coins of various denominations were made in 1849.
Because U.S. currency and coins were scarce when the pioneers arrived, they manufactured their own from gold that the Mormon Battalion brought back from California.
“The gold that they used to make these Mormon gold coins came from the original California gold strike," said Tyson Emery of All About Coins in Sugar House. “Probably right from the American River at Sutter's Mill.”
The pioneers produced a series of coins in various denominations: $2½, $5, $10 and $20. “Territorial coins” as they are called were common during the period as the West was being settled. The equipment used to make them was crude, and therefore not a lot of coins were manufactured. Emery says many were sent to the east coast and used to buy supplies that were then sent back to Utah.
“They were used once, then they were melted down and turned into other stuff back there on the east coast,” Emery explained.
It’s believed that only a couple hundred of the Mormon coins still exist, and only a handful are in the hands of collectors who rarely sell them. A replica collection of the complete set of coins is on display at the LDS Church History Museum across from Temple Square.
During this week’s auction (bids were accepted both online and live), the rarest of the collection was a 1849 $10 gold piece. Only 46 were ever made, and only a handful — perhaps less than a half dozen — are still out there. Plus, it’s not often a coin like this ends up in an auction. As such, the bidding was big.
The $10 gold coin sold for $705,000.
Other coins in the collection also sold for big bucks: a $20 Mormon gold piece sold for $558,125, and a $2½ coin was sold with a $235,000 bid. The final tally for the seven-piece collection was $1,827,125.
“The Mormon coins are valuable simply because of how many they made and kind of the story behind them,” Emery said.