Jim T. writes: I have found the exact coin (token?) that was described in your pages, “Blake & Co. assayers, 20” in middle; other side “California gold, 20 dolls, s.a.c., smv .900, 1855” with a picture of a press…. Do you have any additional information on this coin? Thank you, Jim
Gorham Blake was a gold dust buyer for Wells Fargo. He went into business with John Agrell, assaying ores and stamping ingots. When Agrell died, Blake continued his business as Blake & Co. Since there were constant coin shortages caused by repeated closings of the San Francisco Branch Mint, Blake thought to make private issue coinage as other similar companies were doing to alleviate the shortage of money. Blake was a little late in beginning and by the time he created his first coins the era of private coinage in California was about over. The government was getting a bit sticky about unofficial coinage, and the coin was never minted. Only a few brass and copper patterns survive today.
The only Blake & Co. piece that I know of minted in Sacramento, is a milled edge pattern struck with the date 1856. It exists in brass and copper and show a Liberty Head to the left surrounded by 13 stars, date below, on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse with a design similar to that on the United State’s Liberty Double Eagle. Around the edge, above, SACRAMENTO CALIFORNIA and below TWENTY D. There also exists a gold-plated specimen that was sold at the McCabe sale sometime in the 1860′s.
This coin is actually a gold ingot with the denomination punched in by hand. Only one Blake and Co $20 gold coin is known to exist. It is in the Eli Lilly collection that is currently housed at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. As this example is accounted for, your piece is most likely one of the brass copies sold in souvenir shops. The coin that you have may really be a token or even an advertising piece. Tokens such as these were in use in California as gambling markers, at a time when gold dust was the ” coin of the realm”.
If you think it might be genuine you can weigh it. It will weigh 32.9 grams and will be made from .900 fine gold and have a reeded edge. If it passes that test, it’s time to send it to PCGS or NGC for certification.