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    Description

    1849 Mormon Twenty Dollar, K-4, MS62
    Rare Territorial Gold Issue
    Recently Discovered Example
    Tied for Finest Certified

    1849 $20 Mormon Twenty Dollar MS62 PCGS. K-4, R.6. The 1849 Mormon twenty dollar gold piece is one of the rarest and most historically important issues in the territorial gold series. The Mormon twenties were the first coins of that denomination issued for circulation in the United States, beating their federal counterparts, which were first distributed in March of 1850, by a full six months. Primarily intended for local use, the Mormon twenties quickly spread beyond the Salt Lake City area, and played an important role in regional commerce. However, like many early territorial issues, they fell out of favor quickly and were widely melted for recoinage at an early date. As a result, the issue is quite elusive in all grades today and Mint State specimens are virtually unobtainable. Heritage Auctions is pleased to offer this recently discovered MS62 PCGS example, which is tied for finest-certified honors with a single coin at NGC, in just its first auction appearance.

    Design of the Mormon Twenty Dollar
    The obverse features the all-seeing eye of Jehovah below a three pointed Phrygian cap, or mitre, as the central device. This was the emblem of the Mormon priesthood. The legend THE.LORD.HOLINESS.TO. was around the periphery.

    The reverse pictured two clasped hands above the date in the center, with G.S.L.C.P.G. (Great Salt Lake City Pure Gold) and TWENTY DOLLARS around. The coins had a reeded edge.

    Mormon Miners Begin the California Gold Rush
    The Mormon Battalion, a group of about 500 volunteers, enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight in the Mexican war in the summer of 1846. The Mormon Battalion was the only military unit in U.S. history organized on a strictly religious basis. At the time, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were seeking aid from the U.S. government to support their westward migration to the Rocky Mountain-Salt Lake City area. The battalion was formed at Mount Pisgah, Iowa Territory and made a grueling, 2,100 mile march to the Mexican province of Alta California in the winter of 1846-1847, under the command of Colonel Stephen W. Kearney. The unit arrived in San Diego in January 1847. They performed occupation duties and constructed Fort Moore in Los Angeles while serving there over the next five months. They were discharged at Los Angeles on July 16, 1847.

    Members of the battalion began making their way to the newly established Mormon settlements around Salt Lake City after their discharge, the earliest arriving there on July 29, 1847. Some members wintered over in California, including James Marshall, who sought employment working at Sutter's Mill, on the American River in California Territory. There, on January 24, 1848, Marshall made his famous gold discovery, an event of unparalleled importance for the national economy and one that would launch the California Gold Rush, one of the biggest migrations in U.S. history.

    Sam Brannon, another former member of the Mormon Battalion, spread the news of the discovery, riding through the streets of San Francisco shouting excitedly about the find. Several other Mormon veterans staked valuable claims in the area, the most successful encompassing the rich deposits on Mormon Island, downstream from Sutter's Mill on the American River, at Coloma. However, most of the Mormon miners were only in it for the short haul. They stayed through the winter, piling up as much gold dust and nuggets as they could excavate, and continued on to Salt Lake City the following spring.

    The Mormon Coinage
    The lack of circulating specie in the local economy plagued the Mormon community around Salt Lake City in the 1847-1848 time frame. When the veterans of the Mormon Battalion returned, their California gold dust helped alleviate that problem, but the raw dust was difficult to accurately weigh during transactions and the fine particles were prone to wastage and loss over time. At first, Dr. Willard Richards tried to weigh the dust into paper packets, with values from $1 to $20. This helped considerably, but it was no substitute for a real circulating coinage.

    Walter Breen describes the beginning of Mormon coinage in his Encyclopedia:

    "When Mormon miners began bringing gold dust back in quantity to Deseret ('Honeybee') Territory (the Salt Lake City area), Brigham Young conceived the idea of creating a distinctive local coinage. On Nov. 25, 1848, Young and John Taylor conferred with John Mobourn Kay, formerly connected with one of the Birmingham (England) private mints, to determine procedures for smelting and coining California gold ores. Between them they determined the devices and inscriptions. Kay and Alfred B. Lambson forged the die blanks; Robert L. Campbell and Kay engraved them."



    The Deseret Mint was established on South Temple Avenue and the first deposit of gold dust (14.5 ounces, credited at $232) was made by Mormon Battalion veteran William T. Follett on December 10, 1848. The first coins produced on December 12, 1848 were ten dollar pieces, with the dies dated 1849 in realistic anticipation of the coinage continuing into the new year.

    Unfortunately, the all-important crucibles used in smelting the ore quickly broke and coinage was suspended until they could be replaced. Coinage resumed on September 12, 1849, including all four primary federal denominations ($2 ½, $5, $10, and $20). The first coins were minted from naturally alloyed California gold, causing them to wear quickly. Don Kagin reports that $600 worth of silver was purchased in November of 1849 to alloy the gold and make the coins more durable. The Mormons struck large mintages of two and a half and five dollar coins, but the production of tens and twenties was much smaller.

    The Mormon coinage was readily accepted initially, but it quickly fell into disfavor, along with most contemporary territorial issues. James King of William initiated a newspaper campaign against the local California coinage in March 1851, publishing the unsatisfactory results of several assays conducted by Augustus Heaton on the coinage of several private minters. Trust in the Mormon coinage was completely obliterated when examples were assayed at the Philadelphia Mint. Jacob Eckfeldt and William E. Dubois reported the results in their New Varieties of Gold and Silver Coins (1850):

    "The Mormon coins have just been received, through a gentleman who came overland from Great Salt Lake in eighty-one days. ... In fineness they are about .899 thous., with little variation; and they contain only the native silver alloy. The weights are more irregular, and the values very deficient. The 20-dollar piece weighs from 436 to 453 grains, value $16.90 to $17.53."



    Afterward, the Mormon coins were still accepted in the local community, but they could only be exchanged at a steep discount in other areas. The twenty dollar coins were almost all melted down for recoinage when the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854, making the issue rare in all grades today.

    Physical Description
    The present coin was found in a safe deposit box in 2016 and we know nothing of its prior history. This spectacular MS62 specimen is arguably the finest-known example of this rare territorial gold issue. It is numerically tied with the MS62 NGC coin that appeared in lot 5456 of the Riverboat Collection (Heritage, 4/2014), but this coin has more even color and the pleasing orange-gold surfaces show fewer minor contact marks. The clasped hands on the reverse display some of the typical softness of this issue, but there is clear separation between the fingers, and the thumb is completely, if lightly, outlined. The other devices are sharply rendered and the date shows just a trace of softness on the 8. Both sides retain much of their original mint luster and the overall presentation is most attractive. This coin combines the finest-known technical quality, outstanding eye appeal, and intense historic interest. There has been no public offering of any 1849 Mormon twenty since we offered the Riverboat specimen almost six years ago and it may be many years before a comparable specimen becomes available. We expect intense competition from series specialists when this lot is called. This coin is pictured on PCGS CoinFacts and listed on page 413 of the 2021 Guide Book. Population: 1 in 62, 0 finer (11/20).

    Roster of High-Grade 1849 Mormon Twenty Dollar Gold Pieces
    This roster of high-grade specimens was compiled by numismatic researcher Wayne Burt. We believe at least 24 separate examples of the 1849 Mormon twenty are extant in all grades.
    1. MS62 PCGS. Discovered in a safe deposit box in 2016. The present coin.
    2. MS62 NGC. John Glover Kellogg; Kellogg heirs; Public Auction Sale (Thomas Elder, 10/1916), lot 741, realized $450; Virgil Brand (Brand Journal number 81206); Brand Estate; Armin Brand (priced at $600 on 3/1/1942); B.G. Johnson; Jacob Shapiro (a.k.a. J.F. Bell); J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 1020, realized $900; Major Alfred Walter; 60th Public Auction (New Netherlands, 12/1968), lot 593, realized $8,000; Henry Clifford; Kagin Collection; Stuart Levine; Riverboat Collection (Heritage, 4/2014), lot 5456, realized $558,125. Note: In the Bell catalog, Stack's identified this coin as the Wayte Raymond-George Alfred Lawrence-"Col." E.H.R. Green specimen, but that attribution is incorrect, as pointed out in New Netherlands' 60th Sale. Plate coin in Donald Kagin's Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States.
    3. MS61, estimated grade per David Hall. Mint Cabinet; National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
    4. AU53 PCGS. Judge Charles W. Slack; Slack Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1925), lot 51, realized $475; unknown intermediaries; Dr. Russell H. Renz; Royal Sale (Mehl, 3/1948), lot 3923; James A. Stack; Stack-Teich Collections (Stack's, 1/1990), lot 332, realized $41,250.
    5. AU50 PCGS. Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie; Zabriskie Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1909), lot 457, Col. James W. Ellsworth; John Work Garrett, via Wayte Raymond and Knoedler Galleries in 1923; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part II (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1980), lot 954, realized $50,000; Charles Kramer; Kramer Collection (Stack's- Superior, 11/1988), lot 943, realized $45,100.
    6. AU50 NGC. Stocker Estate; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 9/2012), lot 2251, realized $253,000.
    7. AU50 estimated grade. Smith & Son; Stack's; Josiah K. Lilly; Lilly Estate; Smithsonian Institution.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 6HVY, PCGS# 10274)


    View Certification Details from PCGS

    Auction Info

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    January, 2021
    20th-24th Wednesday-Sunday
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