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    Norris, Gregg & Norris Half Eagle, MS63
    First California Territorial Gold Issue
    Reeded Edge, No Period After ALLOY, K-3

    1849 $5 Norris, Gregg, & Norris Five Dollar R.E. MS63 NGC. K-3, R.6. The partnership of Norris, Gregg & Norris was founded in New York City as a manufacturing and engineering concern specializing in metal pipes, fittings, boilers, etc., used in plumbing and steam-heating of public buildings. The partners were Thomas H. Norris, Charles Gregg, and Hiram A. Norris, and the firm relocated to the San Francisco area in 1849, following the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill the previous year. The firm began issuing private gold coinage shortly after its arrival, as evidenced by an article in the Alta California newspaper, dated May 31, 1849:

    "We have in our possession a Five Dollar gold coin, struck at Benicia City, although the imprint is San Francisco. In general appearance it resembles the United States coin of the same value, but it bears the private stamp of 'Norris, Grieg, & Norris', and is in other particulars widely different."

    This brief notice is the earliest mention in print of private coinage in California, and experts believe Norris, Gregg & Norris were the first private coiners in the area. While the article was useful in establishing the firm's priority in the field, it also introduced some misconceptions that puzzled numismatists for many years. The federal half eagles of the period do not resemble the Norris, Gregg & Norris coins at all, except in size and denomination. Perhaps these were the similarities referred to in the article, as the devices are "widely different" in all particulars. The article spells the middle partner's name as Grieg, and Augustus Humbert spelled it Grigg, but contemporary directories list the name as Gregg, the most likely spelling. Although the Alta California mentions the stamp of "Norris, Grieg & Norris", the coins are only stamped N.G. & N., puzzling early catalogers as to the identity of the issuers. The coins began appearing at auction at least as early as Woodward's Sixth Semi-Annual Sale, in March of 1865, yet the firm's identity remained an enigma until an example was discovered in the effects of Augustus Humbert many years later. The description of lot 709 of the Weeks-Humbert Collections (S.H. & H. Chapman, 5/1902) finally dispelled the mystery:

    "1849 $5 Eagle with shield, with 5 on breast. CALIFORNIA GOLD WITHOUT ALLOY. R. Twenty-two stars enclosing N.G. & N. (Norris, Grigg & Norris). SAN FRANCISCO 1849. Around FULL WEIGHT OF HALF EAGLE. Very fine. Dent on obv. The old piece of paper in which this was wrapped supplied the long sought for name of the firm issuing this coin."

    Norris, Gregg & Norris struck large numbers of these five-dollar coins in 1849, and assays at the Philadelphia Mint revealed that the coins were struck without any attempt to alloy the ore, which naturally contained a small amount of silver. The intrinsic value of the coins was reasonably close to the face value, and the coins were well-received by the public. Four die varieties are listed for the date in Donald Kagin's authoritative series reference. All four varieties employ the same obverse and reverse dies, but examples are known with plain and reeded edges; some coins show a period after ALLOY in the reverse legend, while others do not. The missing period is due to die wear and striking characteristics, rather than a difference in design. The present coin represents the rare K-3 variety, with a reeded edge and no period after ALLOY. Probably fewer than 30 examples of the K-3 are extant in all grades today, making it the rarest of the 1849 varieties.

    A single coin is known with an 1850 date and STOCKTON instead of SAN FRANCISCO in the legend, designated as K-5 in Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States, so Norris, Gregg & Norris must have relocated after 1849. The firm is mentioned in at least two articles in the Stockton Times in 1850. Norris, Gregg & Norris ceased operations at an unknown date, and it seems unlikely that many coins were struck at the Stockton location, due to the paucity of survivors. The engraver of the dies is unknown, but Albert Kuner once claimed to have prepared a set of dies for this firm. Since Kuner did not arrive in California until July of 1849, his claim has usually been discounted, as far as the 1849 issue is concerned, but he might have engraved the dies used at the Stockton facility.

    The coin offered here is the single-finest certified example of the Reeded Edge type seen by NGC and PCGS (8/14). The design elements are boldly rendered and the workmanship is high quality. The pleasing orange-gold surfaces show only minor signs of contact and the fields are brightly reflective in most areas. Eye appeal is extraordinary. We can find no auction record of a Norris, Gregg & Norris five dollar piece in MS63 (or better) certified condition, but the MS62 PCGS coin in lot 5416 of the Riverboat Collection (Heritage, 4/2014) realized $64,625. The advanced collector of Territorial gold should bid accordingly.
    Ex: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. (NGC ID# ANJE, PCGS# 10282)

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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2014
    14th-15th Friday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 16
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 3,038

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    17.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

    Truth Seeker: The Life of Eric P. Newman (softcover)
    A powerful and intimidating dealer of the 1960s, backed by important colleagues, was accused of selling fraudulent gold coins and ingots to unsuspecting numismatists. Who would go up against a man like that and, over the course of decades, prove the fraud? Who would expose a widely respected scholar as a thief, then doggedly pursue recovery of coins that the scholar had stolen from an embarrassed numismatic organization, all over the objections of influential collectors who had bought coins with clouded titles? Eric P. Newman would - and did. Reserve your copy today.
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