1855 Kellogg & Co. Fifty Dollar, K-4, PR63
1855 $50 Kellogg & Co. Fifty Dollar PR63 NGC. Adams-54,
Breen-7921, Kagin-4, High R.6. Any fifty dollar gold coin is an
impressive numismatic item. The massive presence of these beautiful
pieces captures the attention and holds the respect of any viewer.
The Kellogg fifty dollar slug probably owes its existence to its
potential as an advertisement, rather than to any commercial need
for such a coin, but numismatic history is much richer for its
'King of Territorial Gold Coins'
14 Examples Traced
The Kellogg firm was operating at full speed turning out their twenty dollar gold coins in 1855. With this denomination well established and serving admirably in the local economy, it is unlikely there was any pressing need for the fifty dollar piece. While Edgar Adams pays lip service to the idea that a larger denomination was desired by local merchants to facilitate counting of large sums, the fact that only two dozen or so pieces were minted indicates actual demand was not great. Instead, the small mintage of presentation pieces was a statement about the quality of Kellogg's products and the ability of the firm to match Wass, Molitor & Co. in the production of large denomination gold coins.
John Glover Kellogg arrived in San Francisco on October 12, 1849. He was originally from Auburn, New York and came West to seek his fortune at the height of the gold rush. He initially took a position with Moffat & Co., and remained with that firm during their operation as the United States Assay Office of Gold. When Moffat & Co. closed down in late 1853, prior to transitioning their facility to the new San Francisco Mint, Kellogg established a partnership with assayer G.F. Richter. The new firm of Kellogg & Richter was located at No. 106 Montgomery Street, in the basement of J.P. Haven's building. Initially, the firm acted only as an assay office, but California merchants and bankers petitioned them on January 14, 1854 to produce coins for the local economy. The intention seems to be for Kellogg & Richter to fill the gap between the closing of Moffat & Co. and the opening of the San Francisco Mint. Kellogg & Richter embraced the opportunity enthusiastically, and their first twenty dollar gold coin was minted on February 9, 1854. The coins were immediately popular with the public, and the California economy easily absorbed all the coinage the Kellogg firm could produce. Since production was modest at the new Mint in 1854, Kellogg continued producing his private coinage through 1855. By late 1854, Kellogg had dissolved his partnership with Richter and taken a new partner, Augustus Humbert. Humbert had popularized the dramatic eagle design used on the back of the Kellogg fifty dollar slug when he was a principal of the United States Assay Office of Gold. Ferdinand Gruner was the engraver of the slug. The Wass, Molitor & Co. firm was Kellogg's main competition in the private coinage industry, and they were famous for their giant fifty dollar slugs. Kellogg undoubtedly produced his artistically superior slug to demonstrate his firm's ability to keep pace with the competition at all levels of the private coinage trade.
The present specimen is an extremely attractive example of this spectacular issue. An exemplary strike complements the reflective fields to produce stunning eye appeal. Every detail of Gruner's intricate design is fully realized, and enticing Lemon-yellow patina radiates from the proof surfaces. A few handling marks and rim bruises are unavoidable with such a large coin, and are consistent with the grade. PCGS has graded only one coin in PR63, with two higher. NGC has certified two examples (including the present coin) in PR63, with three finer (9/18).
No mintage records were kept for this issue. Experts believe perhaps 20-25 coins were produced, all as presentation pieces, with 12-15 examples extant today. We have compiled a roster of all specimens known to us below. The California Historical Society has justly called the Kellogg fifty the "King of Territorial Gold Coins." Listed on page 407 of the 2019 Guide Book.
Roster of 1855 Proof Kellogg & Co. Fifty Dollars
This roster was compiled from many sources, expanding on previous efforts by Walter Breen and DeWitt Smith, with extensive contributions by Mark Borckardt and Dave Stone of Heritage Auctions, numismatic researchers P. Scott Rubin and Karl Moulton, and pioneer gold specialist Don Kagin. It is believed that 14 examples of this famous rarity survive, but some earlier appearances are unaccounted for. The associated number from Walter Breen's roster has been included where applicable. Grades of the coins in private hands are listed per the most recent auction appearance. Population data indicates many of the coins that were not certified at their last public offering have since been submitted for third party grading, and some of the certified coins have undoubtedly been resubmitted or crossed over.
1. PR64 Cameo PCGS. Breen #1. Augustus Humbert; Humbert's heirs; Capt. Andrew C. Zabriskie; Zabriskie Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1909), lot 341; Col. James W. Ellsworth; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part II (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1980), lot 910; Kagin's; Paul Padget; Donald Kagin and Stuart Levine; private collection; Riverboat Collection (Heritage, 4/2014), lot 5448, realized $763,750. In the Garrett catalog, it was noted: "It is believed to be the finest known example of its kind." Walter Breen recorded the Garrett piece as later appearing in Auction '85. However, the coin in that auction was actually the unique 1854 Kellogg twenty dollar proof from the Garrett Collection.
2. PR64 PCGS. Breen #11. British private collection; Greater New York Convention (Stack's, 5/1984), lot 784; Robert Hughes; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/1995), lot 498; 2007 FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3893, realized $747,500. In the 1984 catalog, Stack's noted: "From information conveyed to us, this coin has recently come from England along with a few less important Territorial and Federal gold coins."
3. PR63 NGC. Breen #2. Kellogg family; possibly sold privately by Thomas Elder around 1916; New York collector, possibly F.C.C. Boyd; "J.F. Bell" in 1945; Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 967; Don Keefer; F.K. Saab; Gibson Sale (Stack's, 11/1974), lot 189; Auction '79 (Stack's, 7/1979), lot 996; Jerome S. Coles Collection (Stack's, 10/1983), lot 239; 68th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2003), lot 2292; 72nd Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2007), lot 4017; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 4228. The present coin.
4. PR63 PCGS. Not in Breen. Smith & Son (3/1941); Frank Heim (6/2000); Don Kagin; Q. David Bowers; Don Kagin; Elite Coin Auction (Superior, 1/2005), lot 953; Western collector; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2007), lot 2119; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2008), lot 3448.
5. Choice Brilliant Proof. Not in Breen. Buddy Ebsen Collection (Superior, 5/1987), lot 3140. This piece appears to be an example that matches none of the others and was unlisted in the Breen Census.
6. PR62 PCGS. Breen #3. George W. Rice; Virgil M. Brand; William F. Dunham (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 2369; W.D. Waltman Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1945), lot 37; Chicago ANA (James Kelly, 8/1956), lot 1850; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr. Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 1149; Harlan White; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/1997), lot 7898; Donald Kagin; Craig Smith; Paul S. Mory Collection (Bowers and Merena, 6/2000), lot 1053; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2002), lot 857; Midwest collection.
7. PR62 NGC. Breen #7. N.M. Kaufman Collection (RARCOA, 8/1978), lot 66; Auction '80 (Paramount, 8/1980), lot 982; Auction '84 (RARCOA, 7/1984), lot 2000; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/1992), lot 2583; RARCOA; Donald Kagin; private collection.
8. PR62. Breen #9. Augustus Humbert; Humbert's heirs; Capt. Andrew C. Zabriskie; Henry Chapman; John Story Jenks; Reuting Collection; Arthur C. Nygren (B. Max Mehl, 11/1914), lot 82; Henry Chapman (per Mehl in the Waltman catalog); George Alfred Lawrence (Thomas Elder, 6/1929), lot 1365; John H. Clapp; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 366; East Coast collection.
9. PR62. Breen #4. Augustus Humbert; Humbert's heirs; Capt. Andrew C. Zabriskie; Henry Chapman; George H. Earle Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 3782; purchased by B. Max Mehl and sold to Fred T. Huddart; Judge C.W. Slack (B. Max Mehl, 5/1925), lot 29; Col. E.H.R. Green; Josiah Lilly Collection; Smithsonian Institution. Walter Breen recorded this specimen as once the property of Amon Carter, Sr. and Jr., although such a listing is doubtful. Additional intermediaries handled this coin on a consignment basis. Both Smithsonian pieces have recently been examined and graded by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
10. PR62. Breen #5. H.O. Granberg (consigned to the 1914 ANS Exhibition); William H. Woodin (exhibited by Edgar Adams at the 1916 ANA Convention); Waldo C. Newcomer; Willis duPont; Smithsonian Institution. This piece was stolen from duPont in October 1967 and recovered in July or August 1978, as reported in Coin World, August 9, 1978. Illustrated at www.americanhistory.si.edu and plate-matched to Mehl's Newcomer plates.
11. PR60 PCGS. East Coast estate / Boston ANA Platinum Night (Heritage, 8/2010), lot 3692.
12. PR53 PCGS. Breen #10. J.W. Schmandt (Stack's, 2/1957), lot 1028; Dan Brown; John H. Murrell; Henry H. Clifford; ANA (Kagin, 8/1983), lot 3630; Auction '88 (Superior, 7/1988), lot 491; Auction '90 (Superior, 8/1990), lot 1406; Orlando (Superior, 8/1992); private collection; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5626.
13. Impaired Proof. Breen #6. Augustus Humbert; Humbert's heirs; Capt. Andrew C. Zabriskie; Henry Chapman; John A. Beck; John A. Beck, Part I (Quality Sales, 1/1975), lot 729; Dr. Ketterman; Arnold and Romisa Collections (Bowers and Merena, 9/1984), lot 330; Hoke S. Green Collection (Bowers and Merena, 6/1985), lot 24; Ambassador J. William Middendorf II Collection (Christie's, 3/1994), lot 375; Morrison/ Licht Collection (Stack's, 3/2005), lot 1320; Donald Kagin; private collection. Described as a "Brilliant Proof with some hairlines and minor friction."
14. XF Details NCS. Breen #8. C.W. Cowell (B. Max Mehl, 1911); Waldo Newcomer (exhibited at the 1916 ANA Convention); Charles Williams (per Mehl in the Waltman catalog); New York Metropolitan Sale (Stack's, 4/1962), lot 2814; John Rowe; Abner Kreisberg (1968); Public Auction (Quality Sales Corp., 11/1972), lot 1410A; Jack Klauson; 1973 ANA (Jess Peters, 8/1973), lot 1030; Walter Breen Gold Sale #1 (Pine Tree, 3/1974), lot 455; West Coast collection; Christie's (3/1990); Morrison/ Licht Collection (Stack's, 3/2005), lot 1321; Donald Kagin; private collection. In 1972, Abner Kreisberg and Jerry Cohen commented: "The usual surface abrasions and scratches have all been removed and quite a bit of luster is still adhering. Extremely Fine."
These citations represent earlier appearances of coins we are unable to positively link to the pedigree chains above. They may constitute duplicate appearances of examples above, or they may be different individual coins.
A. DeWitt Smith, of Lee, Massachusetts, by 1905; obtained by Virgil Brand when he purchased the DeWitt Smith Collection intact.
B. Augustus Humbert; Humbert's heirs; Capt. Andrew C. Zabriskie; Henry Chapman; William R. Weeks and Augustus Humbert Collections (Henry Chapman, 5/1902), lot 716; Virgil Brand.
C. Two specimens retained by the heirs of John Glover Kellogg.
D. A specimen said to be in the possession of J.W. Scott in the 19th century.
From The Marcello Collection. (NGC ID# ANJ3, PCGS# 10228)
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