2 12 Dollars, United States, 1848

2 1/2 Dollars, United States, 1848

<< >>
Usage conditions apply
Description (Brief)
One (1) 2 1/2 dollar coin
United States, 1848
Obverse Image: Left facing Liberty with hair tied in a bun and wearing a coronet. 13 stars around.
Obverse Text: LIBERTY / 1848
Reverse Image: Eagle with wings outstretched clutching arrows and branch in talons, shield over chest.
Reverse Text: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / CAL. / 2 1/2 D.
In 1848, the largest single gold rush in history was just getting under way in California. This event triggered a mass migration of fortune hunters from around the world. The territory had only recently passed into American hands as an outcome of U.S. victory in the Mexican War. The new California military governor Col. R. B. Mason sent 230 ounces of native bullion to the Secretary of War, who in turn passed the gold on to the Mint.
Much of this first shipment went into large, honorific medals Congress authorized for the winning American generals in the war, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Scott's medal is in the Smithsonian Collection. The rest of the gold was used to make "quarter eagles," or 2½ dollar gold pieces. These became some of the most legendary coins in American numismatic history.
The basic design was standard: the head of Liberty was on one side, a somewhat bellicose eagle on the other. The mint had been striking quarter eagles with these designs for nearly a decade. But closer scrutiny showed that these coins had one odd feature: above the eagle on the reverse, the initials "CAL." These were added by means of a punch.
Precisely 1,389 quarter eagles marked with the CAL stamp were made. Less than 200 still exist. They bear poignant witness to the colorful history of the American West.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
U.S. Mint. Philadelphia
Gobrecht, Christian
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
United States: California
United States
political area
United States
Physical Description
gold (overall material)
overall:.1 cm x 1.8 cm; 1/32 in x 23/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Estate of Josiah K. Lilly
See more items in
Work and Industry: National Numismatic Collection
Coins, Currency and Medals
Josiah K. Lilly Jr. Collection
Legendary Coins
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.

Note: Comment submission is temporarily unavailable while we make improvements to the site. We apologize for the interruption. If you have a question relating to the museum's collections, please first check our Collections FAQ. If you require a personal response, please use our Contact page.