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    Justh & Hunter Gold Ingot
    Massive 327.97 Ounces
    S.S. Central America

    Justh & Hunter Gold Ingot. 327.97 Ounces. CAGB-372. 909 fineness. Little was known about the partnership of Justh & Hunter prior to the discovery of the wreck of the S.S. Central America, which has yielded more than 86 gold ingots stamped with their hallmark. Additional ingots continue to surface with recent recovery efforts, and the knowledge base also grows with every gold ingot salvaged from the sea. While researchers today continue to gather information about the company, Justh & Hunter undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the San Francisco assaying community in the mid-1850s.

    Diverse Backgrounds

    Like so many legendary Gold Rush personalities, Emanuel "Emil" Justh and Solomon Hillen Hunter came from diverse backgrounds. In fact, the two men represent the major waves of migration that occurred during the Gold Rush era: from Europe to America, and from the Atlantic states to the West Coast. Justh fled revolution in his native Hungary and immigrated to the United States in 1850, while Hunter was born into a well-established family in Maryland. His uncle, Solomon Hillen, Jr., was mayor of Baltimore from 1842 to 1845 after serving as a representative to the 26th Congress.

    Curiously, neither Justh nor Hunter had much experience in assaying, certainly not what one might think would be necessary to start a business in that line of work. Prior to settling in California, Justh had a background in lithography and Hunter was a merchant in the shipping industry in Baltimore. Justh gained what must have been invaluable knowledge while working as an assistant assayer during the San Francisco Mint's first year in operation, but S. H. Hunter's qualifications as an assayer are unclear. His apparent inexperience did not hamper Justh & Hunter's success.

    Reputation and Innovation

    Justh & Hunter began advertising in California newspapers in May 1855. They guaranteed all assays and promised to pay the difference "arising from the same with any of the U.S. Mints." Promotional material also included endorsements from San Francisco Mint Superintendent Dr. Louis Aiken Birdsall and Assayer Agoston Haraszthy, with whom Justh had worked from April 1854 until May 1855.

    Despite minimal field experience, Justh & Hunter quickly established themselves as a reputable and skilled duo. In February 1856, less than a year into their endeavor, the two men received high praise when The Mining Magazine published an article entitled, "Invention in the Process of Gold Refining." The author explained that the firm had adopted a revolutionary technique in refining gold:

    "Messrs. Justh and Hunter, assayers, have adopted in their assay office in San Francisco, a late Parisian invention of great convenience in gold-refining. This invention is the use of gas instead of the sand-bath in boiling the assays. ... Messrs. Justh and Hunter are, we believe, the first introducing this invention in the United States. It should at once be adopted in all the Mints, where it would save much labor, inconvenience, and expense."

    Another testament to Justh & Hunter's superior refining capability appeared in the Weekly California Express (Marysville, California) on January 29, 1859. The article listed the average fineness of deposits at the San Francisco Mint for 1858, noting that the second quarter average was significantly higher than the others. The reason was clear: "23.5 per cent of the deposits in May and June were bags of refined gold from the private refinery of Justh & Hunter." (By that time, though, the firm ceased to exist. Justh & Hunter ended their partnership on July 10, 1858.)

    Expansion to Marysville

    One year after opening their assay office on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, Emil Justh and Solomon H. Hunter expanded to a second location in Marysville, California, 125 miles northwest. There they occupied a 20 by 70-foot one-story brick building on the south side of 1st Street near the corner of D Street. Hunter was put in charge, while Justh remained at their original location.

    Marysville was home to a population of roughly 8,000 people, and had properties valued at a combined $3.3 million -- evidence of a booming Gold Rush economy. Another prominent assaying firm, Harris, Marchand, & Company, also had a location in Marysville. In 1857, $20 million in gold was shipped from that town alone to the Eastern states. Presumably, much of it was in the form of gold ingots like the one offered here.

    Recovery of the Bars

    Details regarding Justh & Hunter's operation were scant before Tommy Thompson (recently arrested after nearly three years on the lamb) and his crew discovered the wreckage of the S.S. Central America on September 11, 1988. Remarkably, the discovery came almost 131 years to the day after the sidewheel steamer perished in a hurricane with more than 500 people on board and approximately $2.6 million in gold coins and ingots. A total of 86 Justh & Hunter bars were initially recovered from the S.S. Central America, this piece included. All bars were separated into two series, those with serial numbers in the 4,000 range, and those in the 9,000 range. Dave Bowers writes in A California Gold Rush History:

    "The 4,000 series ingots have been tentatively ascribed to the San Francisco office of the firm and the 9,000 series to the Marysville facility. This assumption is based on the use of numbers on the reverse of the ingots in the 4,000 series being similar to the practice of Kellogg & Humbert in the same city (San Francisco). Unlike the situation with the two-office Harris, Marchand & Co. firm, the letter and numeral punches of Justh & Hunter were obtained from the same source and are identical in style and format (although the individual punches display some microscopic differences from use, etc.)"

    This 327.97-ounce bar falls into the aptly named "extremely large size" category (300.01 ounces to 500.00 ounces). It is the second-largest Justh & Hunter bar attributed to the Marysville office after a 464.65-ounce ingot, and had a value of $6,162.78 at the time it was cast. "Extremely large" characterizes not only the size, but also the sheer heft of this ingot. To translate, it is 20.49 pounds, and deceptively heavy (as are all ingots) although its physical size might not lead one to think so. It measures 62 mm x 180 mm x 49 mm. The top side is laid out with the imprints scattered widely across that side: NO. 9496 at the top / J&H hallmark left with 327.97 OZS. below / J&H hallmark right with 909 FINE. below / $6162.78 centered at the bottom.
    From The Arizona Treasure Collection.

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    View all of [The Arizona Treasure Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2017
    4th-9th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 18
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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