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    1852 U.S. Assay Office Fifty Dollar, K-18, AU55
    Piquant Early-California Octagonal Coinage
    From the Provisional U.S. Branch Mint

    1852 $50 Assay Office Fifty Dollar, 900 Thous. AU55 PCGS. K-14, High R.5. Despite the 1852 date they bear, these large octagonal gold coins were struck on an emergency basis in January and February 1853 to the extent of 23,800 pieces in all, a plea from local merchants. But shortly after the final Assay Office fifty dollar coins were struck -- the 900 fineness K-14 variety as seen here -- the shortage of smaller-denomination gold coins in West Coast circulation began to ameliorate.

    The U.S. Assay Office, later in February or early March, obtained new high-speed coin presses that enabled the facility, in the space of eight months inclusive from March 1853 to October 1853, to turn out 2.5 million examples of the K-18 twenty dollar gold pieces of 900 fineness, from 30 different dies destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Smaller-denomination gold coins, including 1852-dated tens and twenties from Moffat & Co., also eventually helped with the shortage, one exacerbated by the discrediting of some early gold coin issues (and their coiners) via the yellow journalism of James King of William.

    The 900 fine Assay Office fifties were struck after the facility was able to refine gold to sufficient purity to adhere to the national standard. But even though the U.S. Assay Office was a provisional branch mint, once the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854 and could reliably refine gold through a stable supply of parting acids -- a short time later -- the old fifty dollar octagonal "ingots" or "slugs" (for so they were thought to be, rather than true coins) were largely melted in favor of smaller, handier gold coinage of the federal style. This proved to be an unfortunate holocaust for these odd and piquant coins, among the most colorful and impressive (few) survivors of the early California Gold Rush.

    Seldom is an example offered boasting either the technical grade or the marvelous eye appeal of this Choice AU PCGS coin. Certified in a green-label holder, this piece displays deep reddish-orange color dominating both sides. A straight planchet crack runs partway through the surface on each side, a flaw that likely was in the blank before the dies ever struck this piece, not enough to disqualify it from grading (or to threaten its stability, certainly), but an anomaly that we have not seen before on these pieces, and one that adds to the intrigue of the coin. The reverse also shows a small wedge-shaped edge defect nearby. The surfaces range from orange-gold in the centers to deep crimson-red near parts of the rim. A few scattered ticks are as expected, but they completely fail to dim the viewer's enthusiasm for this high-end Gold Rush memento. Listed on page 383 of the 2014 Guide Book. Population: 4 in 55, 10 finer (11/13).
    From The Klamath Mountain Collection, Part II.

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

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

    View all of [The Klamath Mountain Collection, Part II ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2014
    8th-12th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 11
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,248

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    We also followed the bidding online yesterday here in Salt Lake for the other 3 coins - great fun. Prices realized met or exceeded our expectations.
    Thomas M.,
    Salt Lake City, UT
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