K-4 1851 Humbert Fifty, 887 Thous., 50 Rev., MS60
1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev.--AUGUSTUS
Inverted--MS60 NGC. Lettered Edge, K-4, High R.5, although
possibly unique as another undocumented Lettered Edge
error/subvariety. The Lettered Edge Humbert pieces are among the
most alluring and historic of a long line of Territorial gold
pieces, as they are the first and largest of the "regular issue"
California gold coins, and they stand at the beginning of a saga of
considerable progress in the production of those heavy, soft ingots
that characterized this period of the U.S. Assay Office coinage.
Augustus Humbert is known to have brought the "modular dies" with
DC on the obverse to San Francisco with him, arriving in January
1851. In essence, the earliest U.S. Assay Office octagonal pieces
were glorified ingots, shaped like coins but capable of being
hand-stamped with an odd value in dollars and cents should the need
arise. As Bowers' A California Gold Rush History puts it,
"In this way ingots of $50, $100, $200, or any other desired
denomination could be produced, differing from each other only by
size, weight, and fineness, but incorporating the same design
stamp. The reverse is of a geometric 'engine turned' design similar
to that used on a watch case, and reflects Augustus Humbert's skill
as a maker of such cases--one of the occupations he had followed in
New York City." In practice, however, only the fifty dollar ingots
were issued, as far as is now known.
Lettered Edge With AUGUSTUS Inverted
Possibly Unique Subvariety
Bowers details the 13-14 steps required to produce these first Lettered Edge fifties, here condensed:
--1. The obverse and reverse were stamped from a pair of dies.
--2-4. The fineness was hand-stamped on the obverse from three separate numeral punches.
--5. The value 50 was stamped on the obverse, from a single punch.
--6-13. In eight separate operations, each of the octagonal edges was stamped with a logotype punch.
--(14.) The value 50 was hand-stamped on the reverse (of some pieces).
With so many individual hand operations, it is unsurprising that there were occasional errors. What is surprising, however, it that so few errors are known, a fact that is likely a function of the overall rarity today of these large and heavy coins. Heritage is fortunate to have two different error Lettered Edge examples in the present sale from the same consignor, both of them likely unique examples, although other pieces are known that show similar inversions on some words or groups of words.
In the case of the present example the word AUGUSTUS is inverted, while all of the other words are in normal orientation (i.e. reading upside-down with relation to the obverse, and right-side up in relation to the reverse). Like the K-4 example in this sale with ASSAYER inverted, this appears to be a similarly undocumented piece in the literature. Even disregarding the error, the combination of superlative Mint State condition and the rarity of the entire variety combine to make this a special and memorable coin. The surfaces are an appealing light tan-gold color with a couple of areas of deeper amber-gold and orange-gold. Despite a few ticks and scrapes that apparently are responsible for the assigned MS60 grade, this piece is basically free of any major distractions, and its status as an error only adds to its already enormous allure. Listed on page 353 of the 2008 Guide Book.
From The Pacific Rim Collection. (NGC ID# ANH4, PCGS# 10208)
View all of [The Pacific Rim Collection ]
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