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Condition Census K-13 1852 Assay Office Fifty Dollar
887 Thous., R.5, MS62

1852 $50 Assay Office Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. MS62 NGC. K-13, R.5. The newspaper Alta California (which began publication in January 1849 as Alta Californian) is among the most abundant sources of information regarding the use and circulation of gold dust, ingots, gold coinage from the various private minters, and the "official" pieces of the U.S. Assay Office. Dan Owens' useful reference, California Coiners and Assayers (2000) is chock-full of extended quotations from that newspaper and others, as original source material for the progress from the earliest private gold coinage, through the foundation of the State and U.S. Assay Offices, and up through the 1854 establishment of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco.
On March 4, 1851, the Alta California noted that "the standard fineness of U.S. coin is 900 thous. The average fineness of California gold has been ascertained to be 887 thous ..." The issuance of the octagonal fifty dollar "slugs" with a fineness of 887 meant that the gold dust and private gold pieces received for coining, or recoining as the case may be, would require minimal use of parting acids to alter the fineness. Parting acids, required to separate the gold from the silver in which it was alloyed, were in short supply in California, and accordingly adjustments of weight had to be made, rather than fineness, by scrupulous coiners.
While earlier U.S. Assay Office pieces had the fineness hand-stamped with individual number punches into the scroll above the eagle and the edges (not margins) were lettered by hand--sometimes leading to inverted letters, a couple of possibly unique examples of which appear in the present sale--the later pieces had the fineness engraved into the die in the same fashion as the other legends. The K-13 is one such variety, and the wording outside of the obverse circle reads UNITED STATES ASSAY OFFICE OF GOLD SAN FRANCISCO, with the date 1852 at bottom. Inside the obverse circle is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and FIFTY DOLLS. The reverse shows, as Kagin describes it, "engine turning but no target effect (concentric circles small) and the marginal line is even and thin."
The present rare piece is one of three MS62 coins of the K-13 variety so graded at NGC, with none finer, while PCGS has certified two pieces in MS63 (6/07). A few small contact marks are unsurprisingly found on the surfaces of this fairly soft and large gold coin, but none of them requires singular mention. The center obverse is fairly well struck, if not boldly so, while some of the peripheral legends are weak in places. A small rim irregularity is noted on the reverse at 5:45, likely as made. This coin, despite its rarity, is one of the more frequently encountered Territorial gold varieties, although it is seldom seen in so fine a grade. The average grade for examples certified at NGC and PCGS is about XF40, and as such this Condition Census piece represents a significant opportunity for some forthright bidder to begin or add to a world-class collection of these rare and historic pieces. Listed on page 355 of the 2008 Guide Book. Census: 3 in 62, 0 finer (6/07).
From The Pacific Rim Collection. (NGC ID# ANHG, PCGS# 10016)

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Auction Dates
August, 2007
8th-12th Wednesday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 5
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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