Several major discoveries of gold in the United States in the 19th century led to the striking of gold coins by private firms and individuals. The first was in the Southeastern part of the U.S. in the early 1830s, specifically Georgia and North Carolina. The Bechtler family was certainly the most prolific of the early private minters from this region, issuing $1, $2.50 and $5.00 denominations in the 1830s and 1840s.
A much larger gold find was made in California in 1848, leading to the great gold rush of 1849, and from 1849 through the mid-1850s, a number of Territorial gold coins were struck by over a dozen different firms and individuals. Among the most prolific were the firms of Moffat & Company, Norris Gregg & Norris, Baldwin and Co., Wass Molitor, Kellogg & Co. and the U.S. Assay Office which was administered by Augustus Humbert and worked in conjunction with Moffat & Co. Nearly a dozen other smaller firms also struck coins in the 1849-51 period, but many of these are prohibitively rare or even unknown today.
In addition to the Southeast and California, other private gold coins were struck by the Mormon community in Utah (1849-60), by Clark, Gruber & Co. and a few others in Colorado (1860-61) and a small issue in Oregon in 1849. Finally mention should be made of the tiny fractional gold issues of California made in denominations of 25¢, 50¢ and $1.00. These have been reproduced extensively as souvenirs for tourists and collectors, so care must be taken when collecting these.
One of the primary reasons for the local production of gold coins was the difficulty and danger of transporting large quantities of gold across the country. The transcontinental railroad had not yet been completed, and a stagecoach proved an easy target for robbers. Consequently, it proved far safer to keep the gold close to the source, and strike coins locally.
With the opening of the U.S. mint in San Francisco in 1854, the need for privately struck gold coins greatly diminished, and in the Spring of 1864, Congress passed an Act prohibiting the manufacture of any coins designed to pass as money.