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Glorious Choice AU 1851 Humbert Fifty
1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev. AU55 PCGS.
K-4, R.5. The 1851 Humbert fifty dollar gold coins were among
the first types struck of this largest denomination. The memorable
octagonal coins are the quintessence of this romantic era of Old
West-Gold Rush numismatic history for most collectors today. Among
the various monikers for the coins were quints (for quintuple
eagle), slugs, ingots, and adobes, among the appellations that have
survived to the present day.
Lettered Edge, 887 Thous. 50 Reverse, K-4
These pieces reflect the need for standard, preassayed gold of a known weight and fineness, more so than any requirement for circulating coinage. Fifty dollars was a tremendous amount of money in those days; the coins probably moved from hand to hand only in the absence of smaller gold coinage, which unfortunately was a huge and recurring problem.
Several of the California firms that went on to make gold coins, notably Moffat & Co., were known to produce rectangular gold ingots beforehand. Other companies are known only from their ingots, with no coinage surviving or hinted at.
The 1851 Humbert fifties reflect the evolution from ingot to coin, and in many ways, save for their octagonal shape, they more resemble ingots. The letters D and C below the eagle (for dollars and cents) were left blank, as was the space next to THOUS., for the fineness. Those elements were added by hand, in this case 50D (and 0 C) and 887 THOUS., with the optional elements hand-punched (incused) into the individual coins. (Note the straight guide lines to align the dollars and cents digits on this piece.) Although no examples are known today with odd dollars and cents figures, the dies were clearly produced with modularity in mind, so that they could handle various finenesses and net values.
Even more cumbersome was the manual process of adding AUGUSTUS HUMBERT UNITED STATES ASSAYER OF GOLD CALIFORNIA 1851 around the eight-sided edge. It is unsurprising that specimens exist with double punches, mispunches, inverted words on some sides, and the like.
In the case of the K-4, the 50 was also struck into the central reverse, again by hand. Unfortunately, the PCGS holder scarcely permits viewing of the edge; we cannot comment on that aspect of this piece. What we can say, however, is that this is a mighty attractive Choice AU example, with lots of luster remaining on both sides and few singular abrasions. The color is delightful orange-gold, with bits of deep orange. There are even some faintly prooflike areas around the peripheral letters on the obverse. A couple of edge bumps are par for the course on these coins. Listed on page 368 of the 2011 Guide Book. Population: 5 in 55, 5 finer (7/10). (NGC ID# ANH4, PCGS# 10208)
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