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1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev. MS62 NGC....

2007 Milwaukee, WI (ANA) Signature Coin Auction #444

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Auction Ended On: Aug 9, 2007
Item Activity: 5 Internet/mail/phone bidders
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Location: Milwaukee, WI
Lovely MS62 1851 Lettered Edge Humbert Fifty 1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev. MS62 NGC. Lettered Edge, With 50 on Reverse, K-4, High R.5. This piece comes from early in the rapid evolution of the Humbert-Assay Office varieties from a slow, labor-intensive manual production process requiring many steps to a fine-tuned, high-speed production that nearly equaled that of the Philadelphia Mint, which was the state of the coinage art at that time. Numerous examples of the Lettered Edge 1851 Humberts are found with inverted edge lettering, including examples in the present sale. Territorial gold expert Donald Kagin points out that other examples of the K-4 show no C in CALIFORNIA, and other similar errors occur.
Notwithstanding their interesting and historic nature, the coins at the time were viewed mostly as large nuisances, too unwieldy for the general needs of commerce. (Imagine today how handicapped American commerce would be if we went into our local supermarkets equipped only with a couple of gold American Eagles in our pockets or purses.) Today all of the California Gold Rush slugs are rare to extremely rare, for the most part, yet the 1851 Lettered Edge pieces are considerably rarer than their 1851 Reeded Edge counterparts. As of this writing, NGC has certified six examples of the 1851 Lettered Edge 880 THOUS. (With 50, K-1) and 18 pieces of the 1851 Lettered Edge 887 THOUS. (With 50, K-4). PCGS has certified nine coins of the K-1 and 22 pieces of the K-4. That makes a total of 15 K-1s and 40 K-4s--the Lettered Edge 1851 880 THOUS. and 887 THOUS., With 50--at both services combined. Compare that number with the Reeded Edge totals for the 880 and 887 THOUS., 190 and 228 coins at both services combined (including resubmissions), and one begins to realize just how truly rare and historic the 1851 Lettered Edge pieces are.
Kagin writes in an appendix to Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States, "Many of the private coins issued between 1849 and 1853 eventually were turned into the State and U.S. Assay Offices by their holders who feared great losses due to their overvalued status. The pieces were usually melted and recoined into 'official' ingots or $50 gold slugs. A number of the private issues also were shipped by express companies to the Philadelphia Mint, where they also were melted and recoined."
It has been pointed out elsewhere that the slugs not exported stayed in circulation for a few years, so that the circulated examples generally grade Very Fine or thereabouts. It is undoubtedly true, however, that most of the issues--Reeded Edge or Lettered Edge, likely in equal proportions to their original (and unknown) mintages--were melted in large quantities just like the private coinage, either in the Orient, for recoinage into smaller denominations or gold bars at a private mint or the Assay Offices, or were also turned into the San Francisco or Philadelphia mints in the 1850s, after fulfilling their limited utility in commerce.
The present example is one of seven pieces so graded at NGC, with one MS62 also at PCGS, and only a single MS63 at NGC is finer (6/07). A light ring of orange-gold patina covers the central obverse, and the reverse is an even greenish-gold color. The first 8 in 887 is lightly stamped, further evidence of its manual production. The few light ticks are consistent with the assigned grade, but the appeal is enormous on this beautiful, rare, and historic Mint State piece. Listed on page 353 of the 2008 Guide Book.
From The Pacific Rim Collection.
(PCGS# 10208)

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