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    1851 Humbert Fifty Dollar, K-5, MS61
    Well-Preserved and Lustrous

    1851 $50 RE Humbert Fifty Dollar, Reeded Edge, 880 Thous. MS61 NGC. K-5, Low R.5. No 50 on Reverse. Excellent luster on yellow-gold surfaces and a nicely bold strike are highlights of this Mint State 1851 Reeded Edge Humbert fifty dollar, an example of the most iconic coinage to issue from the historic California Gold Rush that began in 1849. Note how boldly the peripheral obverse legend, AUGUSTUS / HUMBERT / UNITED / STATES / ASSAYER / OF GOLD / CALIFORNIA / 1851, is stamped onto this coin. Even other Mint State examples we have offered in the past seldom show such sharpness throughout the entire eight sides of the octagon. This piece does show quite a few scattered marks, most of them likely from long-term bag storage, and one small planchet flaw appears in the inner circle on the obverse, just below the L in GOLD.

    The Humbert/U.S. Assay Office fifty dollar gold coins were part blessing, part curse. They were an a semiofficial issue, but they were too large and cumbersome for small transactions, and making change for them was a nightmare. They began their long journey to the present after two waves of California private-gold coiners had already come and gone. Names such as Norris, Gregg, and Norris -- apparently the first to strike California gold coins in California (although Templeton Reid apparently struck some trials in Georgia) -- Dubosq, Schultz, Miners Bank, Pacific Company, J.S. Ormsby, and the highly debased Mormon coinage had already come and gone by the time the U.S. Congress, in late 1850, authorized Augustus Humbert to become U.S. gold assayer for California. Most of those early coiners' products fell victim to a lack of trust on the part of the populace, the victims of what was likely a combination of greed, incompetence, and good intentions coupled with primitive technology and a lack of proper equipment and supplies to strike credible and durable gold coinage.

    The sole surviving entity from those first two waves of private coiners was Moffat & Co., with which Humbert associated himself in the task of making the semiofficial fifty dollar gold pieces in 1851 and 1852, becoming an unofficial or provisional branch mint of the United States Mint in California.

    As mentioned, this piece is covered with marks that are extensive but mostly in the small to medium category; a single dig through the H in THOUS., on the ribbon, is among the few larger marks. A series of four triangular reeding marks in the right obverse field, under the eagle's wing, is another. Note how well-preserved that even the vertices of the octagon are, however; most of them are free of mentionable rim bumps. Listed on page 385 of the 2016 Guide Book. Census: 8 in 61, 5 finer (3/16). (NGC ID# ANH8, PCGS# 10211)

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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    Apr-May, 2016
    27th-1st Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 20
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,174

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