Marvelous Mint State 1851 Lettered Edge Humbert Fifty
1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev. MS61
NGC. K-4, High R.5. The K-1 and K-4 are the Lettered Edge
collectible varieties of 1851 octagonal Humbert fifties, with .880
and .887 fineness, respectively, both with 50 on the reverse. The
K-2 .880 fine variety lacks the 50 on reverse. (The fourth variety,
K-3, also .880 fine, is unique, featuring a 12-pointed star on the
reverse in place of 50.) Kagin's reference mentions an .887 fine
example similar to K-4 but lacking the 50 on the reverse, which he
labels "K-4a, unconfirmed."
887 Thous. With 50 Reverse, K-4, High R.5
This Mint State K-4 .887 fineness piece, certified MS61 by NGC, provides a memorable example of this monumentally historic issue, one that justly deserves a place in the pantheon of the finest and most desired numismatic rarities.
The K-2 was created from the same die as the rarer K-1, but lacks the hand-stamped 50 in the center reverse. Augustus Humbert brought the modular dies with him to San Francisco, arriving in 1851. These earliest pieces produced by the U.S. Assay Office (a forerunner of the San Francisco Mint, which would open in April 1854) were really nothing more than glorified ingots, albeit of a more regular shape. They were designed, however, to be hand-stamped with an odd value in dollars and cents should the need arise.
Bowers' A California Gold Rush History comments concerning the issue, "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."
The 14 steps needed to produce the first Lettered Edge, With 50 fifties included:
--1. The obverse and reverse were stamped from a pair of dies.
--2-4. The fineness, in this case 887 was hand-stamped on the obverse from three separate numeral punches. (Note that 887 is incuse, with the 7 noticeably higher than 88, while THOUS, in the die, is raised.)
--5. The value 50 was stamped on the obverse to the left of DC (for dollars and cents), from a single punch. (Again, 50 is incuse, while DC is raised.)
--6-13. In eight separate operations, each of the octagonal edges was stamped with a logotype punch, AUGUSTUS / HUMBERT / UNITED / STATES / ASSAYER / OF GOLD / CALIFORNIA / 1851.
--14. The value 50 was hand-stamped on the reverse. (It is incuse here, of course, and rotated from either normal coin or medal turn.)
In practice, only the fifty dollar ingots were issued, as far as is now known. One of the enduring mysteries of Territorial gold coinage is why Humbert brought such modular dies with him to California, then failed to produce any odd-denomination pieces. Perhaps he was unaware until his California arrival that numerous producers of true rectangular ingots, such as Moffat & Co., had been making odd-denomination pieces as early as 1849, leading Humbert and his partners to focus on a standardized value as more conducive to trade and future business prospects.
This piece offers marvelous, even, and regular apricot-gold coloration throughout. A couple of small pits in the surface near the obverse edge are likely as made, although we note a small post-strike scrape above the I in AMERICA, around 4 o'clock on the obverse. There are only minor blows to a couple of the corners, as commonly seen on many pieces, much less distracting than the average survivor. Full luster is evident throughout, along with tremendous eye appeal, and there are extremely few signs of relevant contact elsewhere. Listed on page 362 of the 2009 Guide Book. Census: 5 in 61, 8 finer (7/08). (NGC ID# ANH4, PCGS# 10208)
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