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    Description

    1851 Augustus Humbert Fifty Dollar, MS63
    Lettered Edge, 880 Thous., K-2
    Iconic Western Gold Relic

    1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, Lettered Edge, 880 Thous. MS63 PCGS. K-2, R.5. Ex: Simpson. The octagonal ingots or "slugs" first produced in 1851 by the firm of Moffat & Co., operating as the United State Assay Office of Gold in San Francisco, rank among the most iconic coins ever issued in this country. They were so emblematic of the California Gold Rush, even 100 years ago, that they served as inspiration for the equally famous 1915-S Panama-Pacific fifty dollar commemorative gold pieces. Today, they remain celebrated and sought-after souvenirs.

    These Western slugs were originally devised as a means of providing the local economy with a coinage that could be used to pay taxes and duties at the local Custom House. Although the shortage of circulating gold and silver coins during the early years of the California Gold Rush was partially remedied by the establishment of numerous private coiners and assayers, only federal monies could be used to pay taxes and duties. These massive fifties, which were struck by authority of the United States government, were among the few coins in the channels of commerce that could serve that purpose.

    However, the U.S. Assay Office fifties proved problematic. They were far too large a denomination to have a meaningful use in everyday transactions. According to Dave Bowers, writing in America's Greatest Treasure Ship: The S.S. Central America (2019):

    "In January 1852 over 50 San Francisco merchants petitioned the city's only coiner, Moffat & Co., the 'pet' of the Treasury Department, to issue $300,000 worth of coins of smaller denominations, $5 to $20, 'to relieve the business community of its present embarrassment.' Later in the year $10 and $20 coins were minted with the U.S. Assay Office of Gold imprint. There were problems, and on September 4, 1852, the Treasury Department revoked permission for the Custom House to receive Moffat and related pieces ... ."



    Octagonal fifties were struck in 1851 and 1852 only. Several varieties exist, including those in 880 and 887 pure gold, with lettered and reeded edges, and with and without 50 at the central reverse, among other differences. This K-2 variety features a lettered edge inscribed AUGUSTUS HUMBERT UNITED STATES ASSAYER OF GOLD, CALIFORNIA 1851. No 50 is present within the central reverse engine turning. The banner above the eagle reads 880 THOUS.

    The vast majority of survivors of these and similar Humbert fifties are found in grades ranging from VF to high AU. Mint State examples are significantly rarer, unsurprisingly so. These coins were desperately need for circulation, even if they were somewhat ill-suited to the task because of their inconvenient size. This Select Uncirculated 1851 880 Thous., Lettered Edge fifty without 50 on the reverse ranks among the finest of its kind with just a couple of higher submissions in MS64 at NGC. Bright, partially lustrous, yellow-gold surfaces feature semireflective fields and razor-sharp design detail. Abrasions and rim bumps are all relatively minor. Listed on page 402 of the 2021 Guide Book. Population: 4 in 63 (2 in 63+), 0 finer (8/20).

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# ANH3, PCGS# 10196)


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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2020
    17th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 28
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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