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1851 Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev., K-4,
1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev.--ASSAYER
Inverted--VF35 PCGS. K-4, High R.5 for the variety, although
possibly unique as an edge error. Fascinating! Imagine the absolute
rarity of this issue irrespective of subvarieties. Now, interpose
an edge error that puts this slug in a class of its own; an
inverted ASSAYER logotype stamp on the edge. Before exploring the
significance of this anomaly, we must digress to the fundamental
purpose of the octagonal shape of the first ingots struck by the
U.S. Assay Office in San Francisco. To the best of our knowledge,
no official documentation exists that provides a rationale of the
eight-sided, equilateral shape of the first Humbert slugs. Although
never before documented, one plausible theory for such a shape is
that it provided a convenient means to stamp the edges. Since the
edge lettering was imparted by hand, the flat sides allowed each
slug to be soundly positioned, perhaps in a fixture of some sort.
The edge inscription on the Lettered Edge varieties reads AUGUSTUS
/ HUMBERT / UNITED / STATES / ASSAYER / OF GOLD/ CALIFORNIA / 1851,
and each edge was stamped by means of a logotype, as opposed to
individual punches as with the fineness stamp. The edge devices
were a functional necessity, in that they deterred unscrupulous
people from shaving gold slivers from the coins for financial gain.
A round design would have made the inclusion of edge lettering or
reeding on the slugs more complicated. Once Humbert settled into
the new Assay Office, he began to implement new designs with edge
reeding to replace the need for hand-applied edge lettering, which
was an obviously laborious task.
ASSAYER Inverted, Possibly Unique, VF35
Based on the above evidence and considering the possibility of human error, it is feasible that a punch could have inadvertently been reversed during preparation of the edge inscription. Such is the allure of early American coinage, and similar cases are plentiful throughout the history of our early mints, federal or provisional. It is apparent, based on a survey of extant examples, that the edge lettering was intended to be read with the reverse facing upward. Leading experts in the field of Territorial gold agree that examples of Lettered Edge Humbert octagonal fifties exist with an occasional inverted edge device. But how many survive in the hands of collectors today? The answer is apparently "very few." In fact, Kagin suggests in Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States that no inverted edge subvarieties are known for the 1851 K-4 issue. Kagin does, however, allude to a unique specimen of the K-2 variety with an inverted ASSAYER stamp, which he aptly designates as K-2a. In his Complete Encyclopedia, published seven years after Kagin's reference on the subject, Breen opines that the K-2a subvariety is "untraced." Bowers in A California Gold Rush History cites the Eliasberg coin (a K-2), which had HUMBERT inverted, and mentions that he, Bowers, has a specimen in his own collection with both 1851 and ASSAYER inverted. Another coin from the Zabriskie Collection (Henry Chapman, 1909) has OF GOLD doubled on the edges.
As for the current coin, the inverted ASSAYER stamp (the date 1851 is in the normal position) is undocumented in any reference to date. Is it unique? Quite possibly so, considering that less than 45 examples are known for the die variety alone. The majority of slugs examined of this variety have perfectly uniform edge lettering, a testament to the assayer's attentiveness. However, at one particular moment on a certain day in 1851 he was distracted, and thus the current example was created.
In a curious twist of numismatic fate, the Lettered Edge Humbert fifties bear a close association with the recently released Presidential dollars, the first regular-issue coin from the U.S. Mint with the date and other legends on the edge. Those coins, too, have suffered from numerous errors in the edge lettering, including doubling. (Because of the automated process of applying the edge lettering, individually inverted words would be an impossibility, one would think.)
This massive San Francisco provisional mint gold "slug" bears numerous contact marks and there is a rather large planchet flake out of the obverse rim at 4 o'clock. On the reverse there are several milling marks in the center where other large sized, milled coins came in contact with this piece. These marks, however, are fairly typical of large-sized Territorial gold coins, and they fail to detract from the allure of this extremely rare and possibly unique error Territorial piece.
Ex: Harmer Rooke's sale of November 1969, lot 596; Bowers' sale of May 1973, lot 1254J; Baltimore ANA Signature Sale (Heritage, 7/1993), lot 5867.
From The Pacific Rim Collection. (NGC ID# ANH4, PCGS# 10208)
View all of [The Pacific Rim Collection ]
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