5 Dollar Massachusetts and California Company Coin, 1849

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This five dollar coin was produced by the Massachusetts and California Company around 1849. James Marshall’s 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill kicked off the California gold rush and changed the wealth and reach of the nation as gold was suddenly in plentiful supply and the population was shifting westward. As the government lagged behind the gold rush to mint its own coins, private businesses filled the void in the market. The Massachusetts and California Company operated from 1849 until 1854, most likely bringing gold back to Northampton, Massachusetts, to be minted. Contemporary reports note that the five dollar piece was debased with copper, indicative of coins minted in the east. On the obverse, or front, of the coin are arms holding a spear; a bear and a stag stand on either side of the shield showing a vaquero throwing a lasso. A scroll with “ALTA” appears below the arms. On the reverse is a laurel wreath tied with bow with twenty stars arrayed around. The coin reads “5 Dollars” in the center. The rim reads “MASSACHUSETTS & CALIFORNIA CO 1849.”
date made
place made
United States: California
place of issue
United States: California
Physical Description
gold (overall metal)
0 (overall die axis)
0 (overall die axis measurement)
struck (overall production method)
overall: .2 cm x 2.2 cm; 3/32 in x 7/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Estate of Josiah K. Lilly
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Work and Industry: National Numismatic Collection
American Enterprise
Coins, Currency and Medals
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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