1849 $5 Pacific Company Five Dollar AU58 PCGS. K-1, High R.7....
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Only Four Examples Known
Finest Certified, Ex: Garrett
Little is known about the origins of the 1849 Pacific Company five dollar gold piece, or its closely related one and ten dollar counterparts. In Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States, Donald Kagin lists four companies connected with the California Gold Rush that were formed in 1849 with the word Pacific in their official names. All of these companies are possible originators of the dies used to coin these issues, but the most likely candidate is the Pacific Company, which was formed on January 8, 1849 by Boston merchant John W. Cartwright. The Pacific Company consisted of 38 members who purchased the ship S.S. York at Boston and sailed for California, arriving in San Francisco on September 16, 1849. They continued on to Benicia, but the company began to break up almost immediately after arrival and was formally dissolved on October 20, 1849. While it is not certain that the Pacific Company was the entity that devised the coinage plan that resulted in the 1849 Pacific Company issues and created the dies for their coinage, the chronology of this group fits the known facts best.
Most evidence (method of manufacture, chronology, and known fineness of the various issues) indicates that the firm of Kohler & Company actually struck the Pacific issues. The firm was a partnership of F.D. Kohler and David C. Broderick, backed by Col. Jonathan D. Stevenson. The colonel commanded a regiment of New York volunteers sent to California during the Mexican War and became one of the first men to strike it rich when gold was discovered in 1848. Both Kohler and Broderick were former firemen in New York, with Kohler also working as a jeweler, metal worker, and assayer. Broderick was an expert stone cutter. Kohler did the engraving and assaying for the firm, while Broderick handled the heavy work of melting the gold, pouring it into ingots, weighing the resulting bars, and striking the coins. The coins were struck in the ancient manner, by a sledge hammer, rather than a coin press. Stevenson remained a silent partner and, along with a few English investors, provided financial backing.
The dies for the coins were acquired by Kohler & Company sometime in late 1849. The designs for all the denominations were similar, with the obverse featuring an eagle with spread wings and head to left, holding an olive branch in the right talon and a hammer in the left, with PACIFIC COMPANY, CALIFORNIA around and the date below. The reverse displays a radiant Phrygian cap on pole, with 30 stars arranged in groups of three between the rays and the denomination below. The radiant cap is similar to the device seen on many Mexican coins of the period and may have been chosen because of its familiarity to the general public, as California was part of Mexico until 1846. The edge of the five dollar coin is reeded, but both plain and reeded edge ten dollar pieces are known. One, five, and ten dollar coins are known in gold, but several off-metal patterns exist from Pacific Company dies, including two and a half dollar pieces in silver, some of which have been gilt. A few of these patterns have been struck over federal and foreign silver coins.
The Pacific Company coins were accepted at par initially, but assays conducted by Eckfeldt and DuBois for the U.S. Mint in 1851 revealed that the five dollar coin contained only $4.48 value in gold and the ten dollar piece contained just $7.76 worth of the precious metal. Once the report of this assay was made public, the coins became immensely unpopular and were only accepted at a steep discount. Most of the mintage was melted for recoinage, accounting for the rarity of the Pacific Company coins today. Of course, this imbalance between the face value and intrinsic value of the coins worked in favor of the manufacturers, resulting in high profits for Kohler and Broderick. Both men earned a fortune quickly through their assaying and coining operations and investments in real estate. Broderick was elected state senator in January 1850 and left the business shortly thereafter. He became a U.S. Senator in 1857, and was killed in a duel over the issue of slavery (he was an abolitionist) on September 13, 1859. Kohler continued the business after Broderick left, but only for a short time. He sold the equipment and facilities to Baldwin & Co. in March of 1850, long before the Eckfeldt and DuBois assay that caused the Pacific Company coins, and many other private issues, to fall into disrepute. Kohler was commissioned Assayer for the State Assay Office in April 1850 and became the first chief of the San Francisco Fire Department. He died of kidney failure in San Francisco on December 6, 1864.
Because much of the mintage was melted in the 1850s, the Pacific Company issues have always been very rare. The earliest appearance of any Pacific issue we can trace was the ten dollar coin offered in lot 1755 of the J.N.T. Levick Collection (Woodward, 5/1884):
"1849. Ten Dollars. Radiated Liberty cap, surrounded by stars; rev., eagle with olive branch and hammer, Pacific Company, California. An original piece; gold, full weight and value; rudely struck, but fine, extremely rare. Plate."
It is interesting to note Woodward's insistence on the composition and value of the coin. Perhaps some of the off-metal patterns had been gold plated and passed off as gold pieces by contemporary con men. Lot 1762 in the same sale was an 1849 Pacific one dollar pattern in tin. We can find no public offering of a Pacific Company five in the 19th century.
The early history of the coin offered here is unknown. It first appeared in lot 935 of the Garrett Collection, Part II, where the cataloger called it "A splendid example." Unlike almost all lots in that catalog's Territorial gold section, no pedigree information was included in the description. The coin may have been acquired in the 19th century by T. Harrison Garrett, or it may have been purchased by one of his sons at a later date. It was not included in the inventory of Territorial and Colonial pieces that John Work Garrett purchased from Col. James Ellsworth in 1923.
The present coin is an attractive near-Mint example that exhibits sharp definition in most areas, but displays a touch of softness on the eagle's legs, a trait that is seen on all four of the surviving examples. The pleasing orange-gold surfaces show only minor contact marks, with a circular planchet flaw in the obverse field, above the eagle's right (facing) wing, that serves as a pedigree marker. Traces of mint luster are evident in protected areas. The dies were misaligned, with the reverse rotated about 45 degrees clockwise. PCGS has encapsulated this coin with the side usually identified as the obverse in the reverse position, because of the eye-catching quality of the Cap and Rays design. This example, which has not been offered publicly in more than 34 years, possesses a combination of absolute rarity, intriguing origin, illustrious pedigree, and pleasing appearance. It may be decades before a comparable specimen becomes available. Listed on page 386 of the 2014 Guide Book.
Roster of 1849 Pacific Company Fives
1. AU58 PCGS. Garrett Collection, Part II (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1980), lot 935, realized $180,000; the present coin.
2. XF45 NGC. DeWitt Smith; Virgil Brand in 1908 (Brand Journal number 47404); Horace Brand; Robert Friedberg; Brand-Lichtenfels Collections (Kreisberg-Schulman, 3/1964), lot 2211; Gibson Collection (Stack's, 11/1974), lot 200; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 9/1981), lot 417; Coles Collection (Stack's, 10/1983), lot 252, realized $57,750; Long Beach Sale (Pacific Coast Auction Galleries, 6/1987), lot 1813; Paul Padget; Stuart Levine and Donald Kagin: Private Collection.
3. Grade unknown, but on the Newcomer plate it appears to have full detail, possibly cleaned. Waldo Newcomer; possibly "Col." E.H.R. Green; Charles Williams; purchased by Willis duPont circa 1951 for $5,000, per Walter Breen.
4. AU50, per numismatist David McCarthy, with a small obverse planchet flaw on the rim. Mint Cabinet; Smithsonian Institution.
From The Riverboat Collection. (PCGS# 10302)
Service and Handling Description: Coins & Currency (view shipping information)