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    Spectacular Choice AU 1851 Humbert Fifty
    880 Thous. 50 Reverse, K-1, High R.6

    1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 880 Thous. 50 Rev. AU55 PCGS. Lettered Edge, .880 Thous., 50 Reverse. K-1, High R.6. The Lettered Edge Humbert fifty dollar slugs were the first type of this largest and most impressive Territorial gold coin. The New York-based diesinker and artist Charles Cushing Wright designed and engraved the obverse die. Wright, a founder of the National Academy of Design, was considered one of the foremost medallist-engravers of the early 19th century. He engraved three medals struck at the U.S. Mint by the American Art Union honoring prominent artists Washington Allston, Gilbert Stuart, and John Trumbull (Julian-PE-3, PE-33, PE-35); he also designed and engraved many other U.S. Mint medals featuring eminent American political and military figures and historic events.
    Former watchcase maker Augustus Humbert delivered the dies to the new Assay Office in January 1851. The octagonal shape is the most distinctive characteristic of the first fifty dollar slugs (a shape that would be commemorated more than six decades later in the Panama-Pacific fifty dollar gold commemoratives).
    The circular obverse die features a defiant eagle with a U.S. shield resting on a rock that symbolizes the U.S. Constitution. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles the border. A scroll between the eagle's wings reads THOUS, with a blank space intentionally left for the gold fineness to be imparted by three individual number punches. Below the eagle are a D and a C for dollars and cents, separated by enough space to allow for the dollar and cent amounts to be hand-stamped into each ingot.
    There are four major variations listed in the Kagin 1981 reference:
    --Lettered Edge. .880 Thous., 50 Reverse. K-1, High R.6. The present coin.
    --Lettered Edge, .880 Thous, No 50 on Reverse. K-2, R.5.
    --Lettered Edge, .880 Thous., 12-pointed star around concentric circles on reverse. K-3, Unique.
    --Lettered Edge, .887 Thous., 50 on Reverse. K-4, High R.5.
    --A fifth variety is unlisted in Kagin. Lettered Edge, .887 Thous., 12-pointed star around concentric circles on reverse as on K-3. (Heritage, 5/2004, lot 10585; Heritage, 7/2009, lot 2371).

    Of the four main Lettered Edge, varieties, the K-3 is uncollectible. The K-1 is considered the rarest of the three collectible varieties. In fact, numismatists believe that fewer than 18 examples of the K-1 exist today. PCGS has certified only eight examples of the K-1 in all grades. This compares to the 44 pieces for the K-2 and 26 for the K-4. Of those eight K-1 coins, the present piece is the sole AU55 certified at PCGS, making it third finest behind an MS61 and an MS63 (8/09).
    For an early Territorial gold coin, the present piece is quite spectacular. Despite the Choice AU grade, there is little trace of actual circulation, save for a few minor handling marks in the fields. The surfaces are predominantly yellow-gold, with tinges of reddish patina. The strike is sharp, with the sole exception of the upper portions of the shield, a phenomenon seen on nearly every example since it is a high point on the coin. There is a rim ding at one corner on the reverse, quite sharp, that protrudes upward into a tiny pinhole in the PCGS encasement. That is the only minor distraction on what is actually one of the nicer 1851 Humberts we have ever handled. The spectacular MS62 NGC K-1 example in the Pacific Rim Collection, which we handled more than two years ago (8/2007, lot 2106), brought $287,500. This coin, at least in terms of eye appeal if not technical grade, is closer to that piece than one might suspect.
    A final note: The 1851-52 octagonal slugs or fifty dollar gold pieces were issued under authority of the U.S. Congress, and the United States Assay Office was a provisional branch mint. Despite their traditional listings under Territorial gold, they are clearly, as Kagin says, "regular U.S. coinage" in which all U.S. collectors should have an interest. Listed on page 364 of the 2010 Guide Book. Population: 1 in 55, 2 finer (8/09).

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# ANH2, PCGS# 10199)

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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2009
    10th-13th Thursday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 20
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 6,940

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