Saturday, April 3, 2010

California Gold Rush Collectables

The collectors of gold rush era bottles, more often than not, are also collectors of California gold rush related items. It’s not unusual to see early gold coins, mining related items, tin type photographs and other related items from the early settlement of California on display with their bottle collection. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of available bottles or the fact that almost everyone that collects anything acquires “ go withs” or items related to their collections.

For example, one prominent western whiskey and gold rush bottle collector that I know also collects most anything related to the California gold rush. Wells Fargo items, gold rush era postal covers and even California gold rush belt buckles. What the heck do belt buckles have to do with bottle collecting you ask? Glad you asked.. The miner that bought that big 31 ounce black glass Hostetter’s Bitters probably had to either walk or ride his horse to the tent saloon to buy that bottle of bitters. More than likely he was wearing pants on his trek to purchase that bottle and needed something to keep em’ up!

I know your thinking “Boy, the old timer is really reaching on this one” but it isn’t much different than the guy that collects 57 Chevy’s also collecting match books from Mel’s Drive In because he once drove his Chevy to Mel’s. Or the guy that also collects clay face pipes because that old miner probably had a smoke while he was drinking his Hostetter’s.

If you have ever been lucky (or good) enough to have found and dug a few gold rush era privies then you are possibly familiar with California gold rush belt buckles. If not then read on because that’s what this post is about.

The early use of belt buckles has generally thought to be only related to the United States military or local militia groups. While some of the buckles discovered in California’s gold rush country were used by military and militia groups, these buckles were not manufactured for or worn exclusively by members of military groups. The majority of belt buckles recovered from gold rush camps were worn by everyday prospectors, miners and businessmen. These important pieces of history are a direct and personal connection to the pioneers of California and as collectable as a black glass Hostetter’s or a Catawba Wine Bitters.

If you are collecting gold rush belt buckles, in my opinion, the holy grail of buckles is the California state seal, or as it’s sometime called, the Eureka buckle.
When it comes to downright California history the Eureka buckle has it in spades. Manufactured by the firm of William Taussig & Co. in late 1850 or early 1851, at about the time he opened his store on Sansome Street in San Francisco, this buckle embraces everything California.

At first glance you notice the ornate shape and cast filigree around the buckle. But if you take a closer look the buckle features 31 stars around the wreath. On the tongue is the goddess Minerva with a grizzly bear at her feet. In the foreground is a miner at work with his rocker and a stock of wheat. The center of the buckle has a steamship on the water with the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background. If that isn’t enough the work EUREKA is cast in the top of the buckle. Eureka is the California state motto and means “ I HAVE FOUND IT”

With less than 15 complete buckles known, by bottle standards, it would be considered rare. If you are interested in learning more about California gold rush buckles Max Bell, the dean of gold rush buckles, has written an excellent book on the subject titled “ Belt Buckles and the Men That Wore them – A Collection of California Gold Rush Buckles” You can contact Max at if you are interested in purchasing a copy.

1 comment:

  1. ...and as with most buckles and belt plates, there are reproductions out there that some individuals may be passing off as originals. Hanover Brass foundry has a bit of history on this particular one on their website.