Lustrous 1855 Wass, Molitor Fifty Dollar, K-9, MS61
1855 $50 Wass Molitor Fifty Dollar MS61 NGC. CAC. K-9, R.5.
Counts Samuel Wass and Agoston Molitor were fugitive patriots from
the nascent Hungarian independence movement, one that was brutally
crushed by Russian forces commanded by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.
The year 1848 was marked by many incipient revolutions in Europe,
most of which were soon quelled, but not before the deaths of tens
of thousands of people. The year became known as the Year of
Revolutions or the Spring of Nations. Uprisings occurred in the
Italian and German states, France, many parts of the Hapsburg
Empire, Hungary, Poland, and the Romanian principality of
Only One Finer Certified Example
A revolution of another kind was simultaneously taking place in the California Territory (soon to become a state, on Sept. 9, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850). The January 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, 40 miles east of Sacramento, began an enormous mass migration of fortune-seekers, both by land and by sea. The gold that began to flow in ever-increasing quantities from what for a time appeared to be El Dorado, the mythical Land of Gold, had the effect of increasing the price of silver as reckoned in gold dollars. Silver coins began to be valued more than their face value and to disappear from circulation, leading to their 1853 reduction in silver content.
Various private coiners moved into California to satisfy the desperate need for a medium of exchange that was portable, reliable, and equitable both to buyers and sellers. Of the first coin issuers in 1849, none survived the first wave to reissue coins the following year. (Moffat & Co. passed the reliability test, but in 1849 the firm issued only rectangular ingots, not gold coins. And only a single Norris, Gregg & Norris piece from 1850 is marked with the word STOCKTON.)
The years 1850 and 1851 were characterized by numerous private enterprises coming into and rapidly going back out of the business of making gold coinage. Only the Moffat & Co. and U.S. Assay Office/Humbert various issues gained a good reputation or much traction with the public.
It was 1852 before Wass and Molitor, trained in the metallurgical arts in Germany and their native Hungary, began producing their first gold coinage. Many of the "weak sisters" of California gold coinage--the Dubosqs, Schultzes, Dunbars, and Baldwins--had, either rightly or wrongly, been forced out of business by 1851 when their products were exposed as a little or a lot lightweight, whether through larceny, laxness, or lack of proper technique and equipment. Wass, Molitor's original 1852 production consisted of the expected coins: five dollar and ten dollar pieces, those most urgently needed for everyday commerce. Since the coins were of full weight and fineness, they were, with the Moffat and Humbert-Assay Office pieces, among those that circulated without difficulty.
Wass, Molitor issued no coins at all dated 1853 or 1854, but 1855's production, besides tens and twenties, included a curious throwback: The 1855 fifty dollar pieces, while round rather than octagonal, hearkened back to the 1851-1852 Humbert-U.S. Assay Office fifty dollar octagonal slugs, a hated infestation in the channels of ordinary commerce. The slugs were too large for ordinary purchases, and making change for one was a nightmare. Nonetheless, the round Wass, Molitor coins were an improvement over the octagonal pieces. The round fifties saw wide acceptance, and most circulated extensively.
Today the average grade of certified survivors is only Choice Very Fine. The present coin has excellent luster radiating from the orange-gold surfaces. There is a mentionable scrape through the first 5 in the date, and what appears to be a planchet defect, likely as made, on the obverse rim at 2 o'clock. Other abrasions are minor and not overly distracting. The reverse appears choice for the assigned grade. In MS61 this piece is the single finest graded of this rare issue at NGC, which has also certified only two pieces in MS60, making three Uncirculated pieces at that service. PCGS has certified a sole Mint State example, an MS63 (6/08). Listed on page 371 of the 2009 Guide Book. (NGC ID# ANJU, PCGS# 10363)
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