Select Mint State 1851 Humbert Fifty Dollar
1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, Lettered Edge, 880 Thous. MS63
NGC. K-2, R.5. The difference between an ingot and a coin is
not always clear-cut. The S.S. Central America wreck of 1857
illustrates the two now-familiar extremes: the hefty assayers'
ingots, such as the "Eureka" ingot, clearly were not intended as
money, just as the rows upon rows of 1857-S double eagles recovered
from the ocean floor clearly were. Going back a few years, however,
were several issues in a "gray zone" that blurred the line between
ingots and coins.
Lettered Edge, 880 Thous., No 50, K-2
Both of the most prominent "money-ingots" were produced by assaying firm Moffat & Co., though they have significant differences as well as commonalities. The first Moffat & Co. issues to see use as currency were their small-format rectangle-face ingots of "20 3/4 Carat" fineness (equivalent to 864 or 865 fineness on a thousand-point scale) with the weight expressed in a dollar value at $20.67 to the troy ounce of pure gold, not the number of troy ounces.
While unique examples of Moffat & Co. ingots with face values of $9.43 and $14.25 are in the Smithsonian Institution's National Numismatic Collection, the $16.00 face value was issued in some quantity and survives in multiples today. The combination of a regular value and a trusted authority -- by mid-1849, Moffat & Co. had a solid reputation as assayers for the nascent gold rush economy -- made the $16.00 ingots functional money, not long after the first round private gold coins were produced by Norris, Gregg & Norris in Benicia City.
Round private coins from Moffat & Co. followed later in 1849 and in 1850, but the post-statehood 1851 issues bearing the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA officially were "ingots," not coins, with the octagonal shape chosen to make a distinction between traditionally round coins and these pieces. The earliest versions adhered to this quasi-fiction stringently, with both the fineness (880 thousands on two types, 887 thousands on another) and face value punched into the surface of the "ingot." The values in particular, expressed in "D" and "C" (dollar and cent terms) with spaces for each further convey the character of these pieces having the potential for variation from the fifty dollar baseline, though no such examples are known.
While later Moffat-and-Humbert collaborations enshrined regular denominations (the Reeded Edge versions of the octagonal fifty dollar "ingots" have the denomination FIFTY DOLLS. as an integral part of the design), they still existed in that uncomfortable space between coin and ingot, a contradiction that went unresolved in practice until the round Moffat-Humbert collaborations of 1852 and in theory until 1854 and the opening of the San Francisco Mint.
This is an uncommonly well-preserved example of the K-2 variety of Humbert fifty dollar with 880 fineness and no "50" on the reverse. Lustrous surfaces are largely apricot-gold but have significant reddish-violet aspects surrounding the lettering on the obverse. While the gold surfaces show their share of light abrasions and a planchet flaw interrupts the reverse pattern at 8 o'clock near the center, the high points do not show evidence of wear and the all-around eye appeal is strong. The NGC Census Report overstates the number of examples available in this fine grade because of resubmissions. Listed on page 376 of the 2013 Guide Book. (NGC ID# ANH3, PCGS# 10196)
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