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1851 Humbert Fifty, 880 Thous., 50 Reverse
K-1, High R.6, AU Details
Important California Gold Rush Issue

1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 880 Thous. 50 Rev.--Obverse Damage--NCS. AU Details. Lettered Edge, With 50 on Reverse, K-1, High R.6. The Kagin-1 fifty dollar slug is probably the most famous and ultimately desirable of the various Humbert-U.S. Assay Office issues, simply because it was the first and most important of them. (At least, it is the first according to the Breen and Kagin listings.) Famed engraver Charles Cushing Wright engraved the "modular" obverse die with a D and C separated by spaces (for "Dollars" and "Cents"), and Augustus Humbert, also formerly of New York City, a former manufacturer of watchcases and newly appointed U.S. assayer, delivered the obverse and reverse dies to the new Assay Office in January 1851. The reverse die is credited to Humbert (Breen, 1988), although the designs clearly appear to have been a Humbert-Cushing collaboration. Examples are known both with (K-1, K-4) and without (K-2, High R.5) the added 50 valuation on the reverse. It seems likely that the pieces with 50 on the reverse were produced first and then the step of hand-stamping them was eliminated, since the obverse also bore the face value.
For students of the California Gold Rush coinage, Q. David Bowers' A California Gold Rush History is an indispensable (and leviathan) aid to its study. Bowers notes that the production of the K-1 and K-2 octagonal fifty dollar coins required the following manual processes, totaling 13 or 14 separate steps depending on whether the 50 on reverse was included (condensed here):

--The obverse and reverse were stamped from a pair of dies.
--The fineness (880 or 887 [K-4]) was hand-stamped on the obverse from three separate numeral punches.
--The value 50 was stamped on the obverse beside the D ("dollars"), from a single punch.
--In eight separate operations, each of the octagonal edges was stamped with a logotype punch. In no errors were produced, the edge read AUGUSTUS / HUMBERT / UNITED / STATES / ASSAYER / OF GOLD / CALIFORNIA / 1851.
--(Some pieces) The value 50 was hand-stamped on the reverse.

Apparently neither Cushing nor Wright when developing the dies knew the projected fineness or net value of the gold coins they would be called upon to ultimately produce from the dies, and accordingly took the modular approach that would enable any fineness or net value in dollars and cents to be hand-stamped--even though no other coins are known than of the even fifty dollars in value. In essence, the earliest U.S. Assay Office octagonal pieces were merely glorified ingots, and in fact ingots of varying odd denominations and finenesses are well known from various makers and assayers. They also form an important part of Gold Rush numismatic history.
The present example of the K-1 is highly reflective in the central obverse, and although the primitive impressions from the die make grade determination more subjective than usual, this piece does not appear to have significant wear. The noted damage is a small apparent puncture attempt near the top of the eagle's rock, smaller than a BB pellet. There are a couple of minor rim bumps, as usually seen on these heavy coins, but other surface impairments are unimportant, and they pale beside the vast importance of this piece. 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 exist today. Listed on page 361 of the 2009 Guide Book. (NGC ID# ANH2, PCGS# 10199)

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Auction Dates
Apr-May, 2009
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 13
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