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California Gold - US Assay Office 1851-1853

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This might be an obvious question but in the striking of coinage, what was the difference between the US Assay Office and the SF Mint? If the US Assay Office was a federal government agency, seems to me these coins could be (but aren't) considered regular issue coinage. To my knowledge, they certainly circulated extensively, maybe more than many of the subsequently dated coins. I read the Wikipedia entry (and don't know if it is completely accurate) but it is limited to its quality control function and didn't mention the one in SF.

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