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    Description

    1852 Wass, Molitor & Co. Five Dollar Gold, MS60
    Very Rare Underrated Small Head Issue
    Finest Known Example

    1852 $5 Wass Molitor Five Dollar, Small Head MS60 PCGS. K-1, R.7. The 1852 Wass, Molitor & Co. five dollar gold piece, with the Small Head obverse, is one of the most most rare and enigmatic coins in the Territorial gold series. When Edgar Adams wrote his landmark reference Private Gold Coinage of California 1849-1855, he classified the 1852 Wass, Molitor five dollar gold piece as Adams 49 and noted:

    "Five Dollars. Obverse, Head of Liberty to left, surrounded by thirteen stars. On the coronet the letters WM & CO., while below is the date 1852. Reverse, An eagle bearing a shield upon its breast, with three arrows and an olive branch in its talons, and surrounded by the legend IN CALIFORNIA GOLD.

    "There is only one type of the Five Dollar piece, which is quite similar in general design to the regular United States Five Dollar coin, but there are a number of trifling die varieties."


    Either Adams was not aware of the distinctive Large and Small Head die varieties, or he considered their differences unimportant. The two varieties are easily distinguished when seen side-by-side, but the Small Head type is very rare and we suspect Adams never had the chance to compare the issues together. Moreover, it is impossible to tell from his description which variety he was describing as Adams 49, since both Large and Small Head varieties employ the same reverse and use similar motifs on the obverse. Early 20th century numismatists must have lumped both varieties together when discussing or cataloging the 1852 Wass, Molitor $5.

    Probably the first collector to notice that the issue came in two varieties was H.O. Granberg, who exhibited an example of both varieties at the 1914 ANS Exhibition. His Small Head piece was listed first and described as Adams 49. His Large Head example followed in the listing, but the cataloger transcribed the date incorrectly as "1849", possibly because he had just referred to the Small Head coin as Adams 49. The description of the Large Head Wass, Molitor five dollar read:

    "Obv. Similar to above, but cruder work, head larger and small o in Co. on coronet. Rev. Similar to above. Gold."


    It would be many years before numismatists began classifying the two varieties separately, and it is often impossible to identify which variety a cataloger was describing in early auction appearances. Wayte Raymond followed Adams in his Standard Catalogue of United States Coins, listing only one variety and illustrating it with a photo of the Large Head type. It was only when Donald Kagin published Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States in 1981 that knowledge of the two varieties became widespread.

    Although Kagin listed the varieties separately in his Appendix VII, and illustrated both, he offered little information about the very rare Small Head variety, which he classified as K-1, in the main body of his work. Kagin noted simply that Wass, Molitor & Co. "began issuing $5 specimens on January 6, 1852." The coins were well-received (presumably both varieties), as they contained $5.04 worth of gold, the highest intrinsic value of any privately coined five dollar piece. This high intrinsic value undoubtedly encouraged the public to turn the coins in to the San Francisco Mint for recoinage when that facility opened in 1854. The issue, which contemporary newspaper reports indicate was quite substantial, suffered heavy attrition in this manner, and the K-1 variety is very rare in all grades today. PCGS lists 11 certification events in its Population Report, with this MS60 coin the finest, while NGC has certified just one coin, a VF specimen (3/14). Our roster below enumerates 13 distinct examples of the K-1 variety, with a number of additional appearances that may or may not represent the same coins. A single example, designated K-1a, was struck from the Small Head dies on a thicker planchet that was intended for the Wass, Molitor $10 issue.

    While the Wass, Molitor & Co. five dollar coins were admirable in their adherence to strict standards of value, they were typically not well-made. Kagin notes, "These coins are among the poorest struck of all private coins." The present MS60 example is easily the finest known, exhibiting well-detailed design elements that show just a touch of softness on Liberty's curls and coronet. The pleasing yellow-gold surfaces show a few minor contact marks, but the fields are remarkably clean by Territorial gold standards. Both sides retain much of their original mint luster. This coin offers outstanding eye appeal, the highest available technical quality, and intense historic interest. A must-have example for the advanced Territorial gold collector. Listed on page 389 of the 2014 Guide Book. Population: 1 in 60, 0 finer (3/14).

    Roster of 1852 Wass, Molitor & Co. Small Head Five Dollar Gold Pieces, K-1
    1. MS60 PCGS. Haig Koshkarian Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 3/2004), lot 1092, realized $39,100; the present coin. Kagin plate coin.
    2. AU55 PCGS. Denver Signature (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5786, as AU55 NGC; realized $28,750; crossed to PCGS and offered in a string of internet auctions in 2006-2007.
    3. XF45 PCGS. Louis Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate; Eliasberg Collection, Part I (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 356; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5632, realized $35,250.
    4. XF40 PCGS. Jascha Heifetz Collection (Superior, 10/1989), lot 5552; Spring Quartette Sale (Bowers and Merena, 3/1992), lot 2362; ANA Signature Sale (Heritage, 7/1993), lot 5876, as XF45 uncertified.
    5. VF30. Colonel James W. Ellsworth; Wayte Raymond and John Work Garrett via Knoedler Galleries in 1923; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part II (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1980), lot 942. Breen plate coin.
    6. VF. Nathan M. Kaufman Collection (RARCOA, 8/1978), lot 52.
    7. VF20. Jascha Heifetz Collection (Superior, 10/1989), lot 5553.
    8. VF. H.L. Hill of San Francisco; purchased by James A. Stack on June 26, 1936; Stack-Teich Collection (Stack's, 1/1990), lot 331.
    9. VF. Numisma '95 (RARCOA-Akers, 11/1995), lot 2662.
    10. Fine+. Kenyon Vickers Painter; ANA Convention Auction (Jess Peters, 8/1973), lot 1012.
    11. Fine. Dalton Family Collection (Stack's, 12/1975), lot 1009; Coles Collection (Stack's, 10/1983), lot 256.
    12. AU Details NCS. Estate of Samuel Mills Damon (Doyle New York, 3/2006), lot 2646.
    13. Grade unknown. Celina Coin Company; Josiah K. Lilly; Smithsonian Institution.

    Roster of 1852 Wass, Molitor & Co. Small Head Five Dollar Gold Pieces, K-1a
    1. AU50 PCGS. Samuel Berngard Collection (Stack's, 7/2008), lot 2244, realized $40,350. This piece, believed to be unique, was struck on a thicker planchet intended for the Wass, Molitor $10 coins. The issue is listed separately in Donald Kagin's Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States, but this coin appears in the PCGS population data for the K-1 issue.

    Additional Appearances
    A. Grade unknown. DeWitt Smith; Virgil Brand in 1908 (Brand Journal number 47409).
    B. Grade unknown. H.O. Granberg, exhibited at the 1914 ANS Exhibition; Waldo Newcomer; B. Max Mehl, circa 1931.
    C. Fine-VF. Dr. George Alfred Lawrence Collection (Thomas Elder, 6/1929), lot 1405.
    D. Extremely Fine, original mint luster. William Forester Dunham Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 2376. Mehl considered this specimen finest-known, possibly an early appearance of the coin in number 1 above.
    E. XF45 PCGS. Central States Bullet Sale (Heritage, 4/1994), lot 1504.
    F. Grade unknown. A specimen owned by the Union Bank of California
    G. Grade Unknown. Offered in Joel Rettew's FPL's for Spring 1976 and Winter 1976; Auction Sale (Early American History, 6/2001), lot 1475.
    H. Very Fine+. ANA Convention Auction (Jess Peters, 8/1973), lot 1011.
    I. Choice About Uncirculated. John A. Beck Collection ( Abner Kreisberg, 1/1975), lot 717.
    From The Riverboat Collection. (NGC ID# ANJK, PCGS# 10339)


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

    View all of [The Riverboat Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2014
    23rd-27th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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