The earliest and rarest example of Mormon coinage, a $10 piece struck in 1849, is being sold as part of Heritage Auctions' CSNS US Coin Signature Auction in Chicago.
The coin has a current bid of $375,000 ahead of the April 28 closing date, reflecting its rarity and importance. As part of the Riverboat Collection of Territorial Coinage, it was produced to meet demand in America's territories before the national coinage had reached them.
Gold dust first arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley in September 1848, after a group of veterans from the US army's Mormon Battalion spent the winter in California, having been discharged in 1847, to raise funds for the journey back to the valley.
Working for the famed John Sutter on building a sawmill, they were among the first to hit pay dirt in California's Gold Rush when gold was discovered on the site by James Marshall on January 24, 1848.
The early discovery of gold dust led to a barter system, in which a pinch of dust could be exchanged for goods and services. However, this method was flawed due to the variable scale of one pinch.
It was eventually measured out into paper packets, but this was time consuming and a temporary measure at best.
As a result, the first gold coins were struck in the valley on December 12, 1848, in a very limited run of just 25 $10 pieces. The president of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Brigham Young, received all but five of the coins, which were given to Moburn Kay - the man behind the design and striking of the coins.
A further 21 coins were struck a week later, all of which were presented to Brigham Young before the gold crucible broke and production was halted. The mint at Salt Lake City did receive new crucibles, but the decision was made not to produce any more coins.
One of the issues behind this decision was that, although the coins claimed to be made of pure gold, the gold found in California is naturally alloyed with other metals such as silver, making them worth far less than $10.
In any case, the coins contained far less than $10 of gold as it was valued at the time regardless, and those outside the Mormon community would not readily accept them.
Paul Fraser Collectibles has some exceptional gold coins for sale.