Prooflike Mint State 1851 Humbert Lettered Edge Slug1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. 50 Rev.--ASSAYER Inverted--MS61 PCGS. Kagin-4, Breen-7700, High R.5. This is an important example of California gold rush history that is always highly prized and desired by collectors. Although usually called a "slug," and occasionally a "quintuple eagle," the official name for these large gold pieces was "ingot." In his Complete Encyclopedia, Walter Breen recorded one additional name, "The Californian," while the Guide Book also suggested the "Five-Eagle" name for these pieces.
Senator William McKendree Gwin began service in Congress representing California as its first Senator in September 1850 alongside John Charles Fremont. Gwin worked closely with Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who coincidentally was Fremont's father-in-law, to pass a bill authorizing a branch mint in San Francisco. The bill met substantial opposition from those who were concerned that the California mint would create undesired competition for the other mints, including that in Philadelphia. Accordingly, on September 30, 1850, a bill was passed creating an assay office in California, sanctioned by Congress and serving as a branch of the United States Government. The United States Assay Office of Gold was authorized to produce ingots no smaller than $50 and no larger than $10,000.
Although they were not intended as money, it was a practical matter that these large gold pieces would actually circulate in California commerce. In fact, President Millard Fillmore anticipated such use and authorized the Collector of Customs to receive all issues of the new Assay Office in payment of tariffs, effectively declaring that the slugs were to be used as monetary issues of the United States.
The New York watchmaker, Augustus Humbert, arrived in San Francisco on January 30, 1851. In his possession were master dies bearing the design created by Charles Cushing Wright for the obverse, and by Humbert himself for the reverse. The first ingots were struck by Humbert the very next day, with full-scale production beginning two weeks later.
The obverse features the defiant eagle design below a scroll inscribed 887 THOUS with the fineness in incuse numerals. In the eagle's mouth is a ribbon inscribed LIBERTY. Previously, the scroll contained another fineness, 880. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the outside is surrounded by a wide border on this massive octagonal gold coin. Below the eagle is are the raised letters D and C, preceded by another incuse 50 punched into the surface. The blank spaced were originally intended to allow for odd denominations rather than the usual 50 dollar denomination on all known examples. It is believed that the obverse design was prepared by the artist Charles Cushing Wright. On the reverse is the famous engine-turned design with an incuse 50 at the center. This figure on the reverse is inverted in relationship to the vertical or 360 degree "medal-turn" alignment. One of the most fascinating features of this slug is the edge, although it is only partially visible inside the PCGS holder. Each edge section of this eight-sided coin has different lettering as follows: AUGUSTUS / HUMBERT / UNITED / STATES / ASSAYER / OF GOLD / CALIFORNIA / 1851. On the first section, AUGUSTUS is inverted in relation to the remaining lettering. A few examples of this lettered edge variety are known with individual sections inverted relative to the remaining lettering. This is perhaps the only United States coinage issue with its date on the edge. We cannot think of any others.
A stunning example with fully brilliant greenish yellow-gold color and amazing eye appeal. This is without a doubt a coin that was carefully struck and lovingly preserved ever since. The fields on the obverse are fully reflective and prooflike, with every design element boldly rendered. On the ribbon, the 887 is incuse, and has replaced a previous 880 that was also hand-punched into the coin's surface. The reverse has the attractive engine-turned design which creates rays from the center with a nearly holographic appearance. Outside the reverse design, along the border, may be seen additional hints of prooflike reflectivity. Perhaps this example was intended as a special presentation coin or proof as our consignor has suggested. Perhaps it is one of those first pieces struck on January 31, 1851; samples of the $50 ingots soon to be produced in large quantities. Listed on page 296 of the 2005 Guide Book.
From the Great Western Collection of Private Gold Coinage.(#10208) (NGC ID# ANH4, PCGS# 10208)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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