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Marc Weaver, Deseret News
A seven-piece collection of Mormon coins brought in close to $2 million at a recent auction.

SALT LAKE CITY — An auction of rare Mormon gold coins that were made in 1849 was completed Thursday, and the sale amounts were eye-popping.

The rarest of the collection was a 1849 $10 gold piece. Only 46 were made, and only a handful are still around.

When the pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, U.S. coins and currency were scarce. To be able to buy and sell things, early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started making their own coins.

“They were made to basically ship back East to buy goods to ship back to the valley; that’s where the vast majority of them went,” said Tyson Emery, a coin expert from All About Coins in Sugar House.

This past week, a collector had several of the coins in the various denominations up for bid at Heritage Auctions, one of the country's major coin auctioneers. A rare collection of these "territorial coins" doesn't come along very often, and a $10 gold coin is the biggest prize.

The winning bid: $705,000.

Other coins in the collection also sold for big sums:

• A $20 Mormon gold piece sold for more than $500,000.

• A $5 gold coin went for more than $76,000.

The entire seven-piece collection brought in close to $2 million by the time the auction closed.

“The gold that they used to make these Mormon gold coins came from the original California gold strike, probably right from the American River at Sutter's Mill," Emery said.

They produced a series of coins in various denominations. The equipment used to make them was crude, and therefore not a lot of coins were manufactured. Many were sent to the East Coast and used to buy supplies that were then sent back to Utah.

All About Coins has a collection of Mormon currency, and has bought and sold several of the gold coins in the past. While rare, collectors and auction companies do sell them from time to time.

“Obviously, the Mormon gold pieces, since there are so few of them around, don’t come up on a monthly or weekly basis; but we sell a couple dozen of them,” Emery said.

The LDS Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City has a replica display featuring the coins, dies and other equipment used to make them. The designs were simple and rugged, showing clasped hands; the lettering and numbers uneven.

“But in private hands; there’s got to be less than 10 known, maybe even less than five known, in private hands that can actually be bought,” Emery said.

Here are the auction results:

1849 $2 1/2 Mormon Quarter Eagle, $64,625.

1849 $2 1/2 Mormon Quarter Eagle, $111,625.

1849 $2 1/2 Mormon Quarter Eagle, $235,000

1849 Mormon Five Dollar, $76,375.

1849 Mormon Ten Dollar, $705,000.

1849 Mormon Twenty Dollar, $558,125

1850 Mormon Five Dollar, $76,375.