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1855 Wass Molitor Fifty, MS60
Possible Condition Census Example
Important, Historic Issue, K-9

1855 $50 Wass Molitor Fifty Dollar MS60 NGC. K-9, R.5. The Wass Molitor fifty dollar gold pieces are dramatic historical reminders of one of the most colorful events in our country's history, the California Gold Rush. The big coins were only produced for a short time in 1855, and they circulated widely. Most examples seen today are in lower circulated grades, and examples in Mint State condition are very rare. Current population data from the grading services reveals NGC has certified only three coins in MS60, with five finer, while the PCGS census includes no coin finer than AU58 (11/10). The present coin is a realistic candidate for Condition Census status.
Hungarian freedom fighters Samuel Wass and Agoston Molitor were relative late-comers to the coinage business in California. The two men had worked extensively in mining operations in Germany and Hungary before their country's war of independence. When the Austrians reasserted their control over the country, Wass and Molitor went into exile, and both men naturally followed the lure of the Gold Rush. Their practical experience in mining served them well when they opened an assay office in San Francisco in 1851. Immediately successful, the firm began producing five and ten dollar gold pieces in early 1852. Like Moffat & Co. before them, their gold issues were well-accepted, because their five dollar gold coins were found to contain $5.04 worth of gold bullion when assayed. Anticipating the opening of the San Francisco Mint, no Wass Molitor coins were struck in 1853 and 1854, but their important role as private coiners was not over.
The San Francisco Mint experienced many production difficulties in its early years of operation, and mintages were quite limited in 1854. In March 1855, a group of local bankers petitioned Wass, Molitor & Co. to resume operations to help meet the regional coinage demand. The firm immediately responded, issuing ten, twenty, and fifty dollar coins in 1855. The fifty dollar denomination used an obverse design that closely resembled the Liberty Head double eagles of the period, and its round shape was regarded as a tremendous improvement over the old octagonal slugs. The coins were quite successful as a medium of exchange, and they actually circulated far beyond the boundaries of California. One piece found its way into the collection of Englishman John G. Murdoch. When his collection was auctioned by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge in July 1903, lot 679 provided a good description of the Wass, Molitor & Co. fifty:

"Another, 1855; ROUND, bust to left, with 1855 below, within a circle of stars; rev. 50 DOLLARS, within an olive wreath, with 900 THOUS. on a scroll above, WASS MOLITOR & CO SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA, edge grained, extremely fine and excessively rare. [Pl. VII]"

The lot was purchased by one of the Chapman brothers for the enormous sum of 84 pounds (about $400). To put this in perspective, one of the finest known 1794 silver dollars, the coin that later appeared in the George Earle, Harry Bass, and Phillip Flanagan Collections, brought only 48 pounds at this sale (as lot 835). Successful auction appearances are the norm for the Wass Molitor fifties, with price record after price record being established down to the present day. When the fantastic former Garrett coin was auctioned in 2003, it realized $345,000.
The present coin is an attractive Mint State specimen, seldom encountered so fine. The design elements are well struck, with a touch of softness apparent on Liberty's hair and the lower left stars. The surfaces are a pleasing greenish-gold, with hints of orange. The fields retain ample mint luster and show few abrasions for such a large gold coin. Pedigree markers include some milling marks on Liberty's cheek, a minor rim bruise at 3 o'clock, and three horizontal abrasions on the reverse, above and below the 5. Certainly one of the finest survivors of this important, historic issue, this coin should find a home in one of the finest Territorial gold collections. Listed on page 377 of the 2011 Guide Book. (NGC ID# ANJU, PCGS# 10363)

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Auction Info

Auction Dates
January, 2011
5th-9th Wednesday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 6
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
Page Views: 1,635

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