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    1852 Assay Office Fifty, 900 Thous., K-14, AU55
    Last of the Iconic Octagonal Gold Rush 'Slugs'

    1852 $50 Assay Office Fifty Dollar, 900 Thous. AU55 NGC. K-14, High R.5. The 1852 Assay Office fifty dollar gold pieces bearing the 900 thousandths fineness stamp were actually struck in 1853, the last variety of the denomination struck in California before the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854, and in fits and starts slowly began producing sufficient gold for the coin-starved, thriving California economy.

    Earlier variants of the iconic fifty dollar "slugs" or "ingots" or "quintuple eagles" struck in 1851 and 1852 had included 887 thousandths and 880 thousandths, some with lettered edges and some with reeded edges, some bearing a legend beginning AUGUSTUS HUMBERT and some beginning UNITED STATES ASSAY OFFICE OF GOLD, and there were other minor variations as well.

    All of these fifty dollar gold coinage types were struck by Moffat & Co. with Augustus Humbert functioning as U.S. assayer, or by its successor entity, the United States Assay Office of Gold with Humbert as assayer under partners Curtis, Perry, and Ward. The Assay Office also struck ten and twenty dollar gold coins in 1853 of 884 thousandths fineness.

    All of these lower-fineness (but correspondingly heavier) gold coins were made irrelevant when the U.S. Congress passed a law on August 31, 1852, prohibiting the acceptance at Customs offices of gold coinage in any fineness except 900 thousandths, the federal standard. The politicians in Washington, blithely ignorant of the needs and wants of commerce in faraway California, feared that the use of semiofficial (but nominally substandard) gold coinage in international trade might damage the reputation of the United States.

    The National Intelligencer newspaper, published in Washington, D.C., commented on September 14, 1852: "Perhaps a more unnecessarily severe and wanton injury has never been committed upon an entire community by the National Legislature, than this enactment, comprised in two lines, has inflicted upon the people of California." It required an emergency issue of 23,800 examples of 900 fine fifty dollar gold pieces, using the 1852-dated dies but, as mentioned, struck in early 1853. Those were the last fifty dollar octagonal coins struck under the Humbert/Moffat/U.S. Assay offices auspices, and they are among the rarest types, given their small production. Smaller-denomination gold coins of the required purity soon filled the void, making the cumbersome, larger coins a pesky and unwieldy nuisance. Many were undoubtedly melted to provide the San Francisco Mint with bullion for official coinage in the following year.

    The surfaces of this lightly circulated Choice AU coin are quite attractive, showing minimal contact marks and a great wealth of detail remaining on the wheat-gold surfaces. Finding a nicer example will require a long, difficult, and expensive hunt. Listed on page 387 of the 2015 Guide Book. Census: 9 in 55, 22 finer (12/14).

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# ANHH, PCGS# 10019)

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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2015
    7th-12th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 11
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,134

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