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    1851 Humbert Lettered Edge Fifty Dollar, MS61
    Rare 880 Thous. K-2 Variety
    Splendid Mint State Example

    1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, Lettered Edge, 880 Thous. MS61 NGC. Kagin-2, Without '50' On Reverse, R.5. First Type, 50 D_C below eagle, no 50 on reverse. Before 1846, California was considered a remote area -- sparsely populated, with a few ranches and areas of subsistence farming, but largely ignored economically by the rest of the country. Barter was an important means of exchange, and foreign coinage provided the only significant source of "hard money." Gold and silver coins from Mexico and Peru were favored.

    War with Mexico brought volunteer soldiers to California from Utah and other points East, and the discovery of gold in 1848 soon launched a flood of adventurers and pioneers from throughout the world to Northern California. Soon gold dust became the means of exchange -- but officially, it was not accepted for duties, taxes, sale of public lands, debts, or any sums due to the United States.

    While the State Assay Office of California and numerous private coiners provided a patchwork, partial solution to some of the financial infrastructure needed to support a burgeoning California population and economy, it was not until 1850 that the Federal government took action. A compromise bill providing for the United States Assay Office in San Francisco passed Congress after vigorous infighting. New York watchmaker Augustus Humbert was appointed United States Assayer. He arrived in San Francisco on January 30, 1851, and the first coins of his office were produced the very next day. Production of octagonal $50 gold ingots began on February 14.

    This Mint State octagonal fifty is one of the few early ingots dated 1851 -- with lettered edge -- to survive that frantic period of Gold Rush history. The dies brought by Humbert to his new position as Assayer featured an eagle standing upon a rock within a beaded circle with UNTIED STATES OF AMERICA around, within a wide octagonal border; the reverse was an elaborate engine-turned design, with a small target in the center. Individual line punches were required to finish the struck ingots, imprinting AUGUSTUS / HUMBERT / UNITED / STATES / ASSAYER / OF GOLD / CALIFORNIA / 1851 on the eight-panel edge of the ingot. Numeral punches included 880 for the fineness (the numbers imprinted individually on the scroll before THOUS), and 50 for the denomination, imprinted below the eagle.

    Bright, greenish-gold color blankets the lustrous surfaces of this MS61 example. There are remarkably few marks or signs of contact for such a big, heavy coin. The corners and edges are sharp and without damage, and only a few tiny ticks are seen on the engine-turned reverse. As always, the eagle is a bit soft above the shield from a lack of adequate striking pressure. The eye appeal is exceptional.

    Only a few dozen of these lettered-edge pieces survive in Uncirculated, unimpaired condition. Most saw an immediate entrance into the West Coast economy, or were later melted for bullion in 1854 by the San Francisco Mint. Listed on page 397 of the 2019 Guide Book. (NGC ID# ANH3, PCGS# 10196)

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

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    Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel
    1551 North Thoreau Drive
    Schaumburg, IL 60173

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