1849 Mormon Ten Dollar, AU58
1849 $10 Mormon Ten Dollar AU58 NGC. K-3, R.7. The Deseret
Assay Office in what is now Salt Lake City, established by the
Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) who had recently settled in the Great
Salt Lake Valley, is among the best-documented non-federal
operations for coining gold in what is now the United States. The
history of private and territorial gold coinage is incomplete and
forever will be; many partnerships formed and dissolved within a
matter of months, leaving little documentation behind, and some
companies are known solely by their coins. The LDS Church, by
contrast, still exists today and information on the mint and its
operations can be found in its archives and elsewhere. The
circumstances surrounding the production of the first Mormon gold
pieces, the ten dollar coins dated 1849 but actually produced in
December 1848, are particularly clear.
Earliest and Rarest Mormon Gold Coinage
Fewer Than a Dozen Pieces Known
Gold dust first appeared in the Great Salt Lake Valley on September 28, 1848, brought by veterans of the U.S. Army's Mormon Battalion who had wintered in California after their discharge late in 1847. To support themselves and to make money for their eventual journey to the Valley, some of them went to work building a sawmill for John Sutter on the American River. On January 24, 1848, project engineer James Marshall found gold, and the Mormon veterans working for him were among the first to strike it rich in California -- and also among the first to leave the gold fields with their wealth.
As in so many locales around the world, the discovery of gold sent a shock through Great Salt Lake City. Like California at the time and for years after, the Mormon settlement had an acute shortage of small change, or indeed currency of any kind. Soon a gold economy sprang up to complement the barter system, but gold dust was an inconvenient medium of exchange on many levels. Willard Richards, who as Second Counselor to LDS President Brigham Young was one of the highest-ranking and most trusted members of the community, took responsibility for a small weighing office that placed gold dust into paper packets representing specific dollar figures. The packets then passed as currency.
Richards was a doctor who had received training preparing medicines. He was best-qualified in the community for the delicate task of measuring the envelopes of gold dust. It was only a stopgap solution, though, and Brigham Young recognized this. Donald Kagin's Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States reprints Young's writing on a business transaction dated November 15, 1848: "The coined money [italics in Kagin] I have not now on hand, but we are preparing to put the gold dust into coin without any alloy, which if you dispose to take, you can have out the value ..."
Kagin writes that less than a month later, after great efforts to set up a modest mint with the tools and skilled labor available in the Valley, the first coins -- 25 ten dollar gold pieces -- were struck on December 12, 1848. Brigham Young received 20 coins, while the other five went to John Moburn Kay. Kay, an English-born metalworker, had fashioned the coinage dies, contributed to their design, and done the physical work of striking the coins. One week later, on December 19, 1848, another 21 of the ten dollar gold pieces were minted and Brigham Young received them all. Soon after, the crucibles for melting gold dust broke, and though the mint at Great Salt Lake City eventually received new crucibles the next year, no more of the ten dollar gold coins were struck that year or any other.
As the earliest Mormon gold pieces, the ten dollar coins have a slight design difference from the rest of the 1849-dated pieces from quarter eagle to double eagle. Instead of the acronym G.S.L.C.P.G. for Great Salt Lake City Pure Gold, they read simply PURE GOLD over the clasped hands. In no case were the coins pure gold in the chemical sense, as California gold naturally is alloyed with other metals such as silver. (The Philadelphia Mint assay of 228 ounces of California gold obtained by the U.S. military in 1848, source of the famous CAL. quarter eagles of the same year, averaged 894 fineness.) The Mormon ten dollar gold coins may well have been "without any alloy" added by the mint, but they still contained significantly less than ten dollars' worth of gold as it was valued at the time, which led to later problems with the coins' acceptance outside the Mormon community.
Of the various Mormon gold issues, the 1849-dated ten dollar pieces are the rarest by far with fewer than a dozen distinct survivors known out of the 46 coins struck. They seldom appear at auction and are inevitably the subject of fierce competition when they are offered. Two facts about the issue's auction history are particularly telling. First, the auction record for the Mormon ten dollar coins was set in 1984 with the offering of the remarkable Amon G. Carter, Jr. Family Collection specimen, which brought $132,000. Second, this is the first time since 1992 that Heritage has had the privilege of offering a Mormon ten dollar piece at auction, a fact made all the more remarkable by the firm's sale of multiple Brasher doubloons, 1913 Liberty nickels, and 1804 dollars, among other great rarities.
At least two examples of the Mormon ten dollar gold piece are in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Another two specimens are held in the collection of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints in the Mormon Temple. Our roster below includes these four institutionally held examples as well as seven more in private hands. The PCGS Population Report lists three examples, one each in VF35, XF40, and AU53, while NGC lists only the present coin, in AU58 (2/14).
This attractive near-Mint example offers well-detailed design elements, with a weak 1 in the date and some fading on the 8 as well. The most prominent pedigree markers on its still-lustrous orange-gold surfaces are a shallow planchet flaw above the D in DOLLARS and a long but shallow mark below the O in the same word. The upper right reverse shows a partial wire rim. Eye appeal is quite strong for the issue, and this coin boasts the highest technical grade of any known Mormon ten dollar gold piece.
We believe this identical coin appeared in at least two 19th century auctions, but whether it was offered by the named consignors to those sales or consigned by the prominent dealers who cataloged those auctions is unknown. This coin's first confirmed owner was Captain Andrew Christian Zabriskie, whose collection of important pioneer gold coins was sold by Henry Chapman in June 1909; its picture on Plate VIII of the Zabriskie catalog clearly shows the markers mentioned above. H.O. Granberg owned this coin in 1914, when it was part of the American Numismatic Society's January-February Exhibition of United States and Colonial Coins and plated in the exhibition catalog. Later the Zabriskie specimen appears in the plates of the Waldo Newcomer Collection, sold through B. Max Mehl in the early 1930s. Many prominent collectors have owned the coin since then and we expect its next home will be in the finest collection of Territorial gold. The following roster was a collaborative effort and we wish to thank David McCarthy, P. Scott Rubin, and Donald Kagin for their valuable contributions.
Roster of 1849 Mormon $10 Gold Pieces
1. AU58 NGC. Emil Justh Collection (Henry Griswold Sampson, 4/1884), lot 100, realized $16; Frank Dietrich Collection (Charles Steigerwalt, 6/1884), lot 296, realized $22; Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie; Zabriskie Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1909), lot 458, realized $75; Sheppard Collection; purchased by the Chicago Coin Company (T.E. Leon and Virgil Brand) as part of a six-piece set of Mormon gold coins on December 31, 1911 for $3,700; the set was sold to H.O. Granberg in 1912 for $5,000, exhibited at the 1914 ANS Exhibition; Virgil Brand, purchased from Granberg in 1920 for $3,000, per Q. David Bowers; Waldo Newcomer; Abe Kosoff's 1948 FPL; Charles M. Williams; Kosoff's 1951 FPL; Henry Clifford; sold privately to the Clifford-Kagin Collection; Robert Campbell; Donald Kagin; Robert Rhue; Paul Padget; Donald Kagin; Stuart Levine; the present coin.
2. AU55 uncertified. U.S. Mint (retrieved from gold sent in for melt); Smithsonian Institution.
3. AU53 PCGS. Waldo Newcomer, exhibited at the 1916 ANA Convention; "Col." E.H.R. Green; Jerome Kern; Golden Jubilee Sale (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 728, realized $2,600; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr.; Carter Family Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 1163, realized $132,000; ANA Signature Auction (Heritage, 7/1988), lot 2691; Dwight Berger; Robert L. Hughes; ANA Signature Auction (Heritage, 8/1992), lot 2592; Heritage Auctions; Thomas, Don Kagin; private collection.
4. XF40 PCGS. Dr. George Alfred Lawrence Collection (Thomas Elder, 6/1929), lot 1372, realized $1,125; Yale University; Tuldes Estate; Aurora; Donald Kagin; Ed Milas; Mid-American Rare Coins; Don Kagin; private collection.
5. XF40 uncertified. DeWitt Smith; Virgil Brand; Josiah K. Lilly; Smithsonian Institution.
6. VF30 uncertified. Dr. Conway Bolt; Bolt Collection (Stack's, 4/1966), lot 1148, realized $11,000; Mormon Temple.
7. VF uncertified. Kenyon Painter, Jr.; ANA Convention Auction (Jess Peters, 8/1973), lot 1038, realized $32,500.
8. Fine to Very Fine, uncertified. Arnold and Romisa Collections (Bowers and Merena, 9/1984), lot 335, realized $57,200.
9. Fine uncertified. Willis duPont.
10. Fine Details, plugged. Judge Charles W. Slack; Slack Collection (Mehl, 5/1925), lot 52, realized $765, Morris and Beach Collections (Mehl, 4/1931), lot 926, realized $865; William D. Waltman Collection (Mehl, 6/1945), lot 70, realized $850; Stack's; Mormon Temple.
11. VG details, repaired. F.H. Knoop Collection (Mehl, 12/1931), lot 305, realized $345; George O. Walton Collection (Stack's, 10/1963), lot 225, realized $14,000; Gibson Collection (Stack's, 11/1974), lot 224, realized $22,000; Brown; Jack Klausen; 1983 ANA Sale (Kagin's, 8/1983), lot 3659; Patrick Hoolihan; George Eggiman; Donald Kagin; Robert Campbell.
Well Worn. T.B. Lynch Collection (Édouard Frossard, 5/1886), lot 36.
From The Riverboat Collection. (NGC ID# 2BCH, PCGS# 10271)
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