1855 Kellogg & Co. Fifty Dollar Gold Piece, PR64 Cameo
1855 $50 Kellogg & Co. Fifty Dollar PR64 Cameo PCGS. K-4,
R.7. Prominent Fort Worth coin dealer B. Max Mehl referred to
the Kellogg & Co. fifty dollar gold piece as "the most
beautiful of all Pioneer gold coins and one of the rarest." Only 14
examples of the Kellogg $50 are known to present-day collectors and
the coin offered here has been called the finest known since its
first public offering in 1909. Territorial gold issues in Heritage
auctions have been making headlines in recent times, with Eric P.
Newman's incredible MS68 NGC 1852 Humbert $10 realizing $1,057,500
in our April 2013 Central States Signature Auction and the
remarkable SP63 PCGS 1852 Moffat $10 realizing $940,000 in the
January 2014 FUN Signature Auction. We are proud to continue this
tradition of spectacular Territorial gold offerings with the
present coin, which is sure to be of the greatest interest to all
students of the series.
'The Most Beautiful of All Pioneer Gold'
Finest Known, Ex: Humbert, Zabriskie, Garrett
The origins of the 1855 Kellogg & Co. fifty dollar gold piece are shrouded in mystery, as none were released into circulation at the time of striking and knowledge of the issue was quite limited in the 19th century. In 1912, Edgar Adams noted the following in Private Gold Coinage of California 1849-1855:
"Although the California newspapers in 1855 mention the Fifty Dollar piece of Wass, Molitor & Co., yet they do not contain the slightest reference to that of Kellogg & Co. (that could be found), which would seem to indicate that the coinage of that denomination did not go beyond the experimental stage, and that the thirteen known pieces now located were scarcely more than trial pieces."
All known examples of the Kellogg $50 were struck in proof format, lending credence to the idea that the coins were intended to serve as presentation pieces for influential officials and businessmen. Kellogg & Co. was considering issuing a fifty dollar coin to compete with the round fifty dollar pieces of Wass, Molitor & Co. in 1855 and these remarkable proofs would have been very impressive show-pieces. No coins were ever struck for circulation, and most of the proof examples were retained by the principles of the firm, rather than distributed to local VIPs. It seems the idea of a fifty dollar coinage was abandoned almost immediately, despite the popularity of the Wass, Molitor issue and the earlier fifty dollar slugs from the U.S. Assay Office. Even though the establishment of the San Francisco Mint in 1854 signaled the end of private coinage in California, it took several years for that institution to produce enough coins to satisfy the needs of the local economy. Kellogg & Co., under the partnership of John Glover Kellogg and Augustus Humbert, continued in operation until 1860, but no coins were issued by the firm after 1855.
The original mintage for the 1855 Kellogg $50 was not recorded, and the initial distribution of the pieces is unknown. Kellogg's heirs were still in possession of three examples many years after his death in 1886. Augustus Humbert retained at least six specimens until his death in 1873. Most likely the original mintage was divided between the two partners, who parceled out a few examples to interested parties before their deaths and left the remainder of the issue to their heirs, but other scenarios are possible. Adams was aware of 13 examples by 1912, and a 14th specimen recently surfaced and was offered in lot 3692 of the Boston Signature Auction (Heritage, 8/2010). Since so many of the coins were preserved by the original owners and distributed only to numismatists, it seems unlikely that attrition has claimed many examples over the years, although some show evidence of mishandling.
This coin was one of the six retained by Augustus Humbert; he left his collection to his brother, Pierre, who held it intact until he died in 1901. Pierre's executors allowed Captain Andrew Zabriskie to purchase most, or possibly all, of Humbert's collection shortly afterward, as revealed by Henry Chapman in his introduction to the catalog of the Zabriskie Collection (H. Chapman, 6/1909):
"Capt. Zabriskie some years ago had the good fortune to purchase from his executors the collection of coins left by Mr. Humbert, the California Assayer, and from which collection he derived many of the most remarkable Pioneer Gold Coins, which, added to his collection that had been forming for many years, makes his Pioneer Gold the best ever offered at public sale."
Zabriskie's collection was indeed one of the greatest offerings of Territorial gold ever assembled, and it also contained the magnificent 1852 Humbert $10 that would later pass to "Col." Green and Eric P. Newman. Chapman described the present coin in lot 341 of the catalog:
"1855 $50. Head of Liberty L., with KELLOGG & CO. on diadem; on truncation of neck F. GRUNER, the die sinker, who was also a jeweler in San Francisco; around border, 13 stars and beneath head 1855. R. Defiant eagle facing left, head turned to right, his left talon supports a U.S. shield and three arrows, while the right talon holds prostrate on the ground the olive branch of Peace, a plain ribband [sic] starts from the left side of the shield, extends through the eagle's beak and terminates in right field, above on a double scroll 1909 GRS. 887 THOUS. Around border SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA. FIFTY DOLLS. Edge milled. Round. Brilliant proof; a slight striae in the gold still shows, as if an attempt to polish the planchet before striking with a gritty cloth. Sharp beautiful specimen. The finest known, as Capt. Zabriskie had his choice of the six which Mr. Humbert had preserved. So far as I am aware, it is possible about 10 are known, in fact, this is the number it is said were coined. A magnificent coin, and of extreme rarity. See plate."
The lot realized a staggering $1250 to Col. James Ellsworth. Chapman's estimate of the surviving population was a bit off. He probably only knew about the three coins still owned by Kellogg's descendants, a piece in the possession of coin dealer J.W. Scott, and the six coins acquired by Zabriskie, which were marketed through the Chapman brothers over the years. A roster of all known 1855 Kellogg fifty dollar gold pieces is listed below.
This coin remained in Ellsworth's collection for 14 years, after which he sold his holdings in a blockbuster private transaction through Knoedler Galleries in 1923. The buyers were noted New York coin dealer Wayte Raymond and super-collector John Work Garrett of Baltimore. Garrett received the Territorial and Colonial segments of the collection, while Raymond kept the federal issues. The present coin was a highlight of the famous Garrett Collection until it was dispersed in a series of four auctions by Bowers and Ruddy from 1979-1981. The Kellogg $50 was offered in lot 910 of the Garrett Collection, Part II in March 1980, where it realized $300,000. After a few dealer intermediaries, the coin passed to the present consignor via Stuart Levine. It has not been offered publicly in more than 34 years.
The present coin is a magnificent PR64 Cameo specimen, with razor-sharp definition on all design elements and deeply reflective yellow-gold surfaces that show a number of die striations on both sides. The frosty devices contrast noticeably with the mirrored fields, giving the coin a dramatic black-on-gold cameo flash when it is tilted in the light. A few minor contact marks are present, but the surfaces are remarkably clean for such a large gold coin. A short vertical scratch in the obverse field near star 4 serves as a pedigree marker. This coin possesses intense historic interest, terrific eye appeal, the highest available technical quality, and an illustrious pedigree. In the words of the cataloger of the Garrett Collection, "Certainly a more significant Kellogg & Co. coin does not, or could not, exist." Listed on page 391 of the 2014 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 Donald 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; the present coin. In the Garrett catalog, the description 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; Stuart Levine; 2007 FUN Signature Auction (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 PCGS. Not in Breen. Smith & Son (3/1941); Frank Heim (6/2000); Don Kagin; Q. David Bowers; Donald Kagin; Elite Coin Auction (Superior, 1/2005), lot 953; Western collector; ANA Signature Auction (Heritage, 8/2007), lot 2119; FUN Signature Auction (Heritage, 1/2008), lot 3448.
4. PR63 PCGS. 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 Auction (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 4228.
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 Auction (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 Auction (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 (Henry Chapman, 4/1924), 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 Auction (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's, 8/1983), lot 3630; Auction '88 (Superior, 7/1988), lot 491; Auction '90 (Superior, 8/1990), lot 1406; Orlando Sale (Superior, 8/1992); private collection; FUN Signature Auction (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 Riverboat Collection. (NGC ID# ANJ3, PCGS# 10228)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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