The source of the Hart set of Coins of the Golden West has been a mystery for decades. The theme, size and shapes of the coins duplicates the California fractional gold coins. The popularity of the Cal fractional series amplified by 1900, when many of these tiny treasures were recreated in various forms for use in jewelry. That demand created a perfect market for the new series sold by Hart.
Collectors of Hart coins get excited by the themes represented by the tokens. The various western gold rushes are all represented, as are some of the great expositions of the period. Produced in both octagonal and round form, the tokens are very collectible.
Few complete sets are known still in the frame made by Schreve & Co. of San Francisco (perhaps less than ten). The coins were originally sold in sets as far as we know now (see the ad). It is not known if all the sets were prepared in the Schreve metal frames. The coins were placed in like-kind groups on a green velvet cloth, which lost color easily. Each coin was adhered lightly to the cloth. The adhesive is easily removed, hence the high number of certified pieces. Hundreds of the coins individually survive, most in mint state, since they were sold as a memento, not as circulating coin. Many were made into charms for bracelets or necklaces. NGC has recorded even more coins, though many of these are the same coin submitted for re-grading.
Bill Hyder has been a student of the Hart coins for years, in part because of a quest he and co-author Jeff Shevlin were on to find out who made many of the small gold pieces distributed in the circa 1900-1916 period, which covered the St. Louis Exposition, Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition, Pan-Pacific Expo, and more.
While researching these subjects, Hyder came across a number of original catalogs offering “these coins/tokens in an institutional collection in Washington.” Taking solid leads, he then searched all the newspapers looking for more clues about Hart and other small sized gold coins. “I … searched the San Francisco papers, Los Angeles Times, and Newspaper archives with no luck for the Coins of the Golden West. I found M.E. Hart selling the US commemorative gold dollars from the PPIE, but not the gold sets. I went through the Numismatist through 1920 with no mention of the Gold Sets and one mention of M.E. Hart selling the left over government official medals from the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego.” Finding clue after clue, Hyder constructed the following essay, printed in part in the Numismatist recently.
Fascinated with the sales history of these gold coins, I found myself looking for sales data. Jack Totheroh compiled four notebooks full of data for Cal fractional gold coins going back 150 years. But I couldn’t find anything on the Hart coins. I asked Bill if he was able to follow any sales records backwards in time to locate more clues about the origin. “The first mention I have for the set is Burnie. He discusses it in some detail in his Small California and Territorial Gold Coins in the back section of his book. He talks about the set and catalogs the pieces as a group, attributing them to M.E. Hart. At the end of the section he has a footnote saying he does not think Hart actually made the pieces, rather Hart gathered remainders and sold them as a set. He talks about the frames set and attributes the PPIE commemorative coin sets to Hart since they were sold in the same frame. We know Zerbe sold the framed sets and at least one invoice from Zerbe survived with one of the framed sets. He also mentions the sales flyer from Hart tucked into the frame of a set. I believe this is the flyer Locke owns today… Burnie assumed Hart sold the Coins of the Golden West in 1915 and the AYPE sets in 1909. He also concluded that the same company made all the pieces, although he suspected that the firm was not Hart.”