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1851 Humbert Fifty Dollar, MS61
1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, Lettered Edge, 887 Thous., 50
Reverse, MS61 PCGS. K-4, R.5. Ex: Simpson. San Francisco's
preeminent newspaper, the Alta California, published the
following announcement on January 22, 1851:
Lettered Edge, 887 Thous., K-4
Historic Government-Backed Western Issue
"United States Assayer's Office.
We give notice that on or about the 1st February ensuing, we will be prepared to receive Gold Dust for Smelting and Assaying, and forming the same into ingots and bars, in accordance with our recent contract with the Secretary of the Treasury, authorized by an act of Congress, approved 30th Sept., 1850, under the supervision of the United States Assayer, Augustus Humbert, Esq., who will cause the United States stamp to be affixed to the same. Moffat & Co."
The "ingots" mentioned in the paper were actually these massive fifty dollar gold coins. Although not an official branch mint, the United States Assay Office of Gold had the full backing of the federal government in issuing these pieces, which were receivable for payments at the Custom House. A notice in the Alta California just eight days later assured residents:
"We can further state that the most eminent lawyers in the United States, and also men in the most eminent positions have given it as their unqualified opinion after mature deliberation and investigation of the question, that these ingots and bars will be a legal tender, that they are a coin of the United States government as is the dollar and the eagle, being like them issued by act of Congress, and bearing the stamp of government."
As such, Assay Office fifties served a key role in the economic development of the Western frontier, supplying the region with much-needed coinage. They are often collected alongside regular United States gold issues.
This is an example of the K-4 variety. The lettered edge is stamped AUGUSTUS / HUMBERT / UNITED / STATES / ASSAYER / OF GOLD, / CALIFORNIA / 1851, the 877 purity is punched by hand on the banner above the eagle, and 50 is centered within the reverse engine turning, surrounded by sun-like star pattern with 24 points.
Far above the typical problem-ridden VF-XF survivor and approaching the finest known, this MS61 representative is remarkably attractive for the type. Coloration is a deep shade of red-gold with bluish accents on each side. There are small abrasions around the rims, as always, but the corners on the reverse remain crisp. Strong detail appears on the eagle, shield, and engine turning -- the hallmark of New York watchmaker Augustus Humbert. Listed on page 402 of the 2021 Guide Book. Population: 5 in 61, 2 finer (6/20).
Ex: Pre-Long Beach Elite Coin Auction (Superior Galleries, 5/2004), lot 2873.
Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# ANH5, PCGS# 10208)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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