What Are Goldbacks?

Posted - October 23, 2023
what are goldbacks

Goldbacks are a voluntary currency made of actual gold bullion. In certain states, businesses might accept goldbacks as payment for goods and services. The small golden notes contain 1/1000 oz of pure gold bullion per Goldback. This means that their value is pegged directly to the current spot price of the precious metal they’re minted with. 

What are Goldbacks? In this guide, we’re taking a look at the history, specifications, and uses of one of the most unique gold products available at Hero Bullion. If you’re wondering how to use goldbacks, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for a comprehensive guide to the Goldback’s history and application in the modern gold standard economy. 

What is a Goldback? 

What are Goldbacks, and where are they used? Goldbacks are local currencies that are used to conduct transactions in five states: Utah, Nevada, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and South Dakota. These gold notes contain actual gold bullion but are not technically legal tender. We’ll take a closer look at the legal status of Goldbacks later in this guide. 

For now, let’s answer an important question: what are Goldbacks, and what do they look like? 

Goldback Specifications

Goldbacks are a unique type of alternative currency. Many gold collectors wonder why the United States no longer adheres to the gold standard. For centuries before the 1900s, the world economy was run by gold bullion. Even fiat paper currencies like the United States Dollar (USD) were once backed by physical gold. What are Goldbacks? It’s helpful for readers to consider Goldbacks an alternative currency. 

To detractors who yearn for a return to the gold standard, our government’s choice to eliminate the backing of pure gold from our currency is a tragedy. 

What are Goldbacks? Goldbacks are an attempt to return to the gold standard. Following the passage of an important currency law in Utah, some people saw Goldbacks as an opportunity to incentivize consumers to trade using currency backed by actual gold. 

50 South Dakota Goldback Aurum Gold Note
50 South Dakota Goldback Note

How Much Gold is in a Goldback? 

What are Goldbacks, and how much gold do they contain? Each single Goldback contains one-thousandth of an ounce of gold bullion. The currency is fungible, which means you can easily convert from one denomination to another. For the 5 Goldback note, as an example, you’ll find 5/1000 oz of gold. If we simplify the fraction, this means that the 5 Goldback is composed of a respectable 1/200 oz of gold. 

Goldback collectors and traders tend to love this fungibility. Instead of a complex conversion process, the makers of the Goldback made it simple to convert between different denominations to help you understand how much gold is in a Goldback. 

Goldback Designs 

What are Goldbacks, and why are they popular with collectors? Because the main stated purpose of the Goldback project was to incentivize the use of actual gold for business transactions, it might surprise you to know that most Goldback purchases are made by collectors. 

The reason for this is pretty simple. First, Goldbacks contain actual gold. More importantly, each Goldback features a beautiful design that reminds us of the culture and environment of the state they celebrate. 

Let’s take a look at one of the most popular Goldback families, the Utah Goldback. 

Like all Goldback notes, the 1 Utah Goldback features an exceptionally detailed obverse design. On the reverse, the same design can be found – this time in its reverse form with colors inverted. On the 1 Utah Goldback, the star of the show is Prudentiae, the feminine personification of the virtue of prudence. A nod to the state’s history of Native American culture, she’s pictured here as a Native American woman. What are Goldbacks? To some collectors, they’re a work of art. 

Prudence is surrounded by Utah’s wildlife. In particular, our eyes focus on the wolf, which howls at her feet, as well as the birds flying above her head. Prudence sits below a classic Utah tree, with each of its branches rendered in the level of detail that Goldback buyers have come to love. 

Are Goldbacks a Real Currency?

After we answer the basic question, “what are Goldbacks,” we should take some time to respond to one of the biggest questions that new investors have. Are goldbacks a real currency? The answer is: yes and now. On one hand, the Goldback is a voluntary currency. This means that it can be accepted by businesses as tender to pay for goods and services. 

But Goldbacks are not actually legal tender. Some of the confusion comes from the Utah Legal Tender Act, which was passed in 2011. Some analysts interpreted the law as a return to the gold standard. This is not the case. Instead, the Legal Tender Act merely made it legal for businesses to choose to accept alternative gold currencies as payment. 

Because of this, Goldbacks are not legal tender. Business establishments are under no legal obligation to accept Goldbacks as payment, although many businesses in Utah choose to do so anyway. 

Goldbacks: A History

What are Goldbacks, and what is their history? The history of the modern Goldback begins in 2011 with the passage of the Utah Legal Tender Act. This law made it legal for businesses to choose to accept alternative currencies made from real gold bullion as payment. Goldbacks were first issued in 2019. At that time, Utah was the only series available to collectors. 

They took off in popularity, and business in the Utah region began to accept Goldbacks as tender. In fact, some pawn shops and other businesses actually use machines to process and store Goldbacks used for payment. Collectors often ask us, “What are Goldbacks?” But after they know the basic concept of this complementary currency, they want to know where to use their Goldback investments. 

In 2023, there are five different Goldback series. We’ll take a closer look at all five currency families later in this guide. For now, know that the history of Goldbacks has been marked by an explosive increase in popularity. 

Where Are Goldbacks Accepted? 

Goldbacks are accepted at a number of businesses in several states. We’ll highlight five of the most popular U.S. states with businesses that accept Goldbacks. As we explained earlier in this guide to “what are Goldbacks,” the currency took off in 2019 and has become a staple for many collectors since. After 2019, the business slowly expanded, and they now offer a Goldback series in five states: 

  • Utah
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Wyoming
  • South Dakota

Below, we’re taking a look at Goldbacks from all five of these states. In each state, you might find actual businesses that accept Goldbacks as payment for goods and services. What are Goldbacks like in different states? To answer this question, we’ll go state by state. 

Utah Goldback

Utah is home to the original Goldback. The passage of Utah’s Legal Tender Act in 2011 paved the way for the creation of the Goldback. The lowest denomination in its series features the feminine personification of Prudentie, or Prudence. She’s depicted as a Native American woman, which is an homage to Utah’s rich history of Native American influence and culture. 

1 Utah Goldback Gold Note
1 Goldback – Utah

If you’re looking to learn “what are Goldbacks,” the Utah series is a logical place to start. It’s also important to note that Utah might have the highest number of businesses that actually accept Goldbacks as payment. For investors who want to spend their Goldbacks at a genuine business, Utah has won an excellent reputation. 

Nevada Goldback 

Like the original Utah series, the Nevada Goldback pays homage to one of the cardinal virtues. Here, the virtue is Caritas, or Charity. She appears in a long robe with a scarf covering most of her hair. A classic Nevada bird appears at the bottom of the note, which is a subtle nod to the state’s brilliant wildlife scene. 

1 Nevada Goldback
1 Goldback – Nevada

What are Goldbacks, and what does the Nevada series look like? Nevada was one of the first states to get a Goldback series, so it makes sense that Nevada Goldbacks would celebrate the same cultural icons that characterized the original Utah Goldback. 

New Hampshire Goldback

For the New Hampshire Goldback, we chose to highlight the 5 New Hampshire Goldback Note. This piece is one of the most stunning in the entire Goldback family, and we don’t have any trouble understanding why. Verditas, the feminine personification of the virtue of Truth, stands in her dress in front of a barn. She’s surrounded by creatures native to New Hampshire, including both a large bird and a moose. 

5 New Hampshire Goldback Aurum Gold Note
5 Goldback – New Hampshire

The detail on this Goldback is one reason why it’s become such a popular investment choice. New Hampshire’s Goldbacks are a relatively new addition to the series, but the 5 New Hampshire Goldback has quickly gained traction. You’ll also find a number of establishments in New Hampshire happy to accept Goldbacks as payment. What are Goldbacks like in New Hampshire? This unique form of alternative currency has become a popular choice for collectors and investors alike. 

Wyoming Goldback 

Wyoming’s natural scenery has made it a vacation and hiking destination for decades. This history of beauty has made its way onto the Wyoming 1 Goldback Note. Unlike the other Goldbacks we’ve covered in this guide, this note places most of its focus on scenery, rather than the feminine virtue on its obverse. 

1 Wyoming Goldback Aurum Gold Note front
1 Goldback – Wyoming

The female personification of Reverentia was chosen for the Wyoming 1 Goldback Note. She’s surrounded by a mixture of natural scenery, including flowers, a Bison, an eagle, and mountains. For fans of Wyoming and its thriving wildlife and natural scenery, it’s hard to find a better investment than the Wyoming Goldback. 

South Dakota Goldback 

South Dakota is the latest edition to the Goldback family. What are Goldbacks from South Dakota like? The South Dakota 1 Goldback Note is one of the most creative we’ve ever seen. It features a woman holding several rings. She’s flanked by a majestic eagle and a Bison, while a wolf stands proudly at her feet. Even flowers make an appearance on the South Dakota Goldback Note, decorating the foreground of the nature scene. 

1 South Dakota Goldback Aurum Gold Note
1 Goldback – South Dakota

South Dakota is the newest state to be celebrated in the Goldback series, so you might have some trouble finding vendors that accept Goldbacks as payment within the state. But in order to really answer our question, “what are Goldbacks,” you should have an understanding of South Dakota’s role in the evolving design philosophy of modern Goldback notes. 

How Much are Goldbacks Worth? 

What are Goldbacks, and how much are they worth? Goldbacks are valued primarily for their gold content. When the spot price of gold increases, the value of your Goldback notes will climb as well. It’s important to note that Goldbacks are usually sold at an additional premium over spot. Longtime gold investors should be familiar with this concept. 

Expect to pay more than the spot price of gold for your Goldbacks. Hero Bullion provides competitive pricing on Goldbacks from around the country, but investors interested in low premium gold might consider gold bars a better investment. 

Where to Buy Goldbacks 

You can buy Goldbacks online. Hero Bullion sells the entire series, which makes it easy for collectors to get their hands on Goldbacks from multiple different states. We recommend buying Goldbacks primarily as a collectable investment, but some consumers prefer to use them to buy goods and services. 

Where to Spend Goldbacks

Now that you understand the basics of “what are Goldbacks,” you’ll want to know where to spend Goldbacks. Goldbacks are not legal tender, so businesses in Utah, Nevada, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Wyoming are not legally required to accept them as currency. However, online directories can lead you to companies that do accept Goldbacks as payment. 

Final Thoughts: What Are Goldbacks? 

What are Goldbacks, and what are they used for? This alternative currency isn’t yet considered legal tender, but Goldbacks can be used to purchase goods and services from many businesses across several states. 

Still interested in learning about Goldbacks? As this family of voluntary currencies continues to grow in popularity, we’re here to equip investors with the knowledge they need to stack with confidence. 

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About The Author

Michael Roets is a writer and journalist for Hero Bullion. His work explores precious metals news, guides, and commentary.