John Sutter was a Swiss settler and investor in the late Mexican era of California. I have only seen secondary sources on the matter, but apparently his colony New Helvetia had bespoke coinage:

... to his other activities he had added the coinage of money, even if it was tin money; pieces of that metal stamped with figures denoting its value and which he accepted in trade at his Fort. -- Watson, The Life of Johann August Sutter

A tin disc with a star inscribed on it...was used as a form of exchange. -- Pierson, Roughing it in Gold Country: Tales from the Mother Lode

Sutter paid the Indians with tin cans, stamped with stars to be used at the company store. -- Ironton Tribute

... he minted tin coins with stars stamped into them for payment to the Indians for work performed and the coins could be redeemed later for food or dry goods in Sutter's store. -- Wells, nevadacounty.com

Does any of these tin coins still exist?


1 Answer 1


Normally it is difficult to provide evidence that something doesn't exist. I can offer this article on another website, Society of Private and Pioneer Numismatics, concerning early coins used in California (emphasis mine):

There is some evidence that tokens were used in exchange for labor and goods. On September 3rd, 1846, a visitor to Sutter’s fort, Edwin Bryant, observed that, “a tin coin issued by Captain Sutter circulates among [his employed Indians], upon which is stamped the number of days that the holder has labored. These stamps indicate the value in merchandise to which the laborer or holder is entitled.”4 Writing two years later, pioneer E. Gould Buffum confirmed such use:

[Sutter] paid his Indian laborers with a species of money made of tin, which was stamped with dots, indicating the number of days’ labour for which each one was given; and they were returned to him in exchange for cotton cloth at a dollar a yard, and trinkets and sweetmeats at corresponding prices.5

The use of these tokens—none of which are known today—was quite limited and evidently only served as a supplement to barter goods like store merchandise or ox hides.

  • 1
    "evidently only served as a supplement to barter goods" -- funny how dismissive that can read, considering how it's a pretty good definition of what money is and how it probably is a good example of how currency came to exist. Oct 14, 2019 at 18:32
  • That sounds about as conclusive as we're going to see. Nice work justCal. Oct 17, 2019 at 18:36

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