Desirable 1851 Humbert Slug, 887 THOUS, Reverse With 501851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev. XF45 PCGS. K-4, R.5+. Gold was discovered in California by James Marshall in 1848, and less than a year later the California Gold Rush was under way. Smaller gold discoveries had taken place in previous years, especially in the Carolinas and Georgia two decades earlier, but none had received the notoriety of the California discovery. Along with the Gold Rush came abuses by bankers and dealers in the precious metal who were cheating the miners, other merchants, and the general public. Almost from the beginning, the public desired an official agency to counter the abuses that were played on them. Although local legislation was passed to form a State Assay Office, the only real solution was to establish a branch of the U.S. Mint in California. The idea of a new Mint was initially voted down by Congress, who instead, voted to establish a federal Assay Office in San Francisco.
The United States Assay Office of Gold was authorized to produce ingots and bars ranging in size from $50 to $10,000, of refined and uniform gold. Both ingots and bars were anticipated, the ingots being octagonal. The present piece is an example of one of these ingots, which became known as slugs. Donald Kagin quoted a newspaper article from the February 14, 1851 issue of Prices Current: "The larger ones of one and two hundred dollars are exactly similar to the $50 denominations except they are proportionately thicker. The reverse side bears an impression of rayed work, without any inscription. Upon the edge is the following: 'Augustus Humbert, U.S. Assayer--California Gold 1851.' Those of Five Hundred and One Thousand Dollars are in the form of parallelograms, about five inches in length, and one and three quarters in breadth and varying in thickness, the small being about three-tenths of an inch, and larger six tenths."
The dies for these ingots were prepared by Charles Cushing Wright. The obverse depicts the famous eagle and shield design that is displayed on this example. Around is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the eagle holds a ribbon inscribed LIBERTY. Two features are important. First, the scroll contains the raised letters THOUS, preceded by a space providing room to punch the specific fineness, in this case 887 fine, or approximately 21.3-karat gold. The second feature may be found at the bottom of the obverse, with the raised letters D and C, each also preceded by a space to hand-punch the denomination. All known slugs have the number 50 stamped before the D, representing 50 dollars, and the space before the C is blank. Although larger denominations were anticipated, only those of the 50 dollar denomination are known today. These official ingots of the U.S. Assay Office were not given legal tender status, although they clearly circulated as money.
The example that we are proud to offer here exhibits attractive yellow-gold color with a hint of green, and pleasing plum toning around the devices. The design on each side exhibits light wear, consistent with the grade, and the surfaces are lightly abraded, proving its actual use in commerce during the gold rush. A small edge bruise is noted at the corner located about 7 o'clock on the reverse. The current sale includes a remarkable offering of eight different 50 dollar gold slugs, all dating to the days of the California Gold Rush. Listed on page 349 of the 2007 Guide Book.
From The Long Beach Family Collection. (NGC ID# ANH4, PCGS# 10208)
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