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Description

High R.6 1851 Humbert Fifty, 880 Thous. With 50 Reverse, K-1
MS62, High Within the Condition Census

1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 880 Thous. 50 Rev. MS62 NGC. Lettered Edge, With 50 on Reverse, K-1, High R.6. Of the four varieties identified for the Lettered Edge versions of the Humbert octagonal fifties, only three are collectible, and of those three varieties, K-1 is the most difficult to locate in any condition. In fact, specialists in the field of Territorial gold believe that less than 18 examples of the 1851 K-1 fifty are extant. From a numismatic point of view, K-1 and K-2 are technically the same variety, since they share obverse and reverse dies, or at least the working dies were created from the same pair of master dies. The distinction between the two varieties is made by the presence, or absence, of the 50 stamp in the center of the reverse. The 50 on the reverse was a secondary operation performed on the slug after it was struck. The reason why only a portion of the Lettered Edge slugs have the 50 stamp on the reverse is undocumented, and strictly a matter of speculation. One possible explanation is that the initial design did not emphatically state the actual face value of the ingot. Stamping both sides with the 50 logotype perhaps added some emphasis on the denomination and must have been done on a whim, although this is undocumented to the best of our knowledge. In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, Walter Breen conjectures: "Most likely those with 50 in central reverse came first of all, that number briefly representing one superfluous extra stamping per piece." Breen makes a logical supposition that is as good as any other theory on the matter. It is of significance to note that no subsequent issues incorporated a 50 stamp on either side, since the denomination was conveniently added to the actual die and boldly represented as such.
Tangible evidence of the true rarity of this variety can be found in the NGC Census Report; as of (6/07) seven examples have been certified at the MS62 level, with only one grading finer. The total number of coins graded at NGC is 18. It is an irrefutable fact that the census data are artificially high due to resubmissions in the quest for a higher grade; there are simply not enough examples in existence to substantiate that number. The PCGS Population Report seems slightly more reasonable, with a total of just nine coins graded at all levels, the finest a lone MS63 (6/07). Perhaps a more reliable indicator is a study of actual auction appearances of this variety. In Dannreuther and Garrett's The Official Red Book of Auction Records (1990-2005), the 1851 K-1 fifty appeared at major auction a mere 14 times, compared to 38 appearances for the K-2, a rarity in its own right. Of those 14 auction appearances, all but a handful were circulated examples. We must also consider the likelihood that some coins visited the auction block more than once, thus inflating the numbers quoted in the Dannreuther-Garrett reference.
Certainly the K-1 variety is fascinating and of great interest to any Territorial gold specialist. Beyond the importance of this particular variety is the importance of all Lettered Edge Humbert octagonal fifties as historical artifacts of what was arguably the greatest gold rush in history. The slugs are steeped in nostalgia and the stories from the Land of Gold are abundant, as evinced in Bowers' 1055-page monumental treatise on the subject, A California Gold Rush History. Colorful characters and torrid tales are plentiful. Take, for example, James King of William, a talented journalist who also had business interests in the banking industry. Unfortunately his banking ventures failed repeatedly, and his final years of life were dedicated to his own periodical, the Daily Evening Bulletin (Kagin, 1981). James King of William (his actual name was James King, as he added the suffix to distinguish himself from others of the same name), instigated a public outrage over substandard private gold coinage circulating in California. By exposing in print, rightly or wrongly, the inferiority of almost every private coiner, James King of William was a catalyst of the California economic depression of 1850-1851, according to Kagin in his reference on the subject. King sent numerous examples of private coinage to U.S. Assayer Augustus Humbert for assay, publishing the results in the Daily Evening Bulletin on March 27, 1851. The private coiners' pieces, from Baldwin, Dubosq, and Schultz, were worth from 0.8% less than their face value, in the case of Dubosq, to 1.8%-3% in the case of the Schultz coinage. The high dudgeon that ensued effectively ended the circulation of the private coinage and provided an impetus for the establishment of the State Assay Office, which produced rectangular ingots, and the U.S. Assay Office under the banner of Moffat & Co., with Humbert as assayer.
Some considered King a man of high morals and an advocate for the average citizen. Others were more cynical and felt that his actions were self-serving. Perhaps the truth lay somewhere in the middle. Whatever the case, King was assassinated on May 14, 1856 by one of his recent editorial victims, James Casey. The assassin was in turn put to death by an angry mob of King supporters on the same day as King's funeral.
The current example is of the highest caliber for the issue and, more importantly, the variety. Obviously, this slug is high within the Condition Census for the variety, which rarely appears at auction. The assigned grade is conservative, as the surfaces are relatively free of distracting abrasions. A few toning spots are noted for the sake of accuracy. Perhaps the slightly weak strike precluded a finer grade designation. Nonetheless, this superlative specimen would be a welcome addition to the finest of cabinets. Listed on page 353 of the 2008 Guide Book.
From The Pacific Rim Collection.
(NGC ID# ANH2, PCGS# 10199)

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Auction Dates
August, 2007
8th-12th
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