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    1851 Lettered Edge Humbert Fifty, MS63
    Rare K-2 880 Thous. Variety
    Seldom Offered Finer

    1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, Lettered Edge, 880 Thous. MS63 NGC. CAC. First type, 50 D C underneath eagle, no 50 in center reverse. The Lettered Edge fifty dollar octagonal pieces struck under the auspices of Augustus Humbert, official assayer at the Moffat & Co. provisional U.S. branch mint in San Francisco, are the most iconic and memorable numismatic mementos of the history-making California Gold Rush.
    All of the Lettered Edge and slightly later Reeded Edge Humbert-U.S. Assay Office octagonal fifty dollar coins date from a compact but event-filled period of the California Gold Rush, the period from 1851 to late 1852-early 1853, when the last of these coins were struck. Two waves of private coiners -- one in 1849, a second wave in 1850 -- had come and gone, falling victim variously to primitive conditions for performing accurate assays and striking coins; bad (and inaccurate) publicity -- perhaps yellow journalism; the loss of public trust, sometimes justified, more often not; conflicts of interest, at least, on the part of assayer Humbert; as well as various levels of incompetence, greed, and outright fraud.

    The first Lettered Edge octagonal coins were labor-intensive in the extreme; in fact, merely calling them "Lettered Edge" underemphasizes the large number of details that had to be applied by hand to each example of the type. Q. David Bowers' California Gold Rush History rather nicely summarizes the various operations:

    --1. The obverse and reverse were stamped from a pair of dies.
    --2-4. The fineness -- in this case 880 -- was hand-stamped on the obverse scroll from individual numeral punches. (Note that the 880 is incuse, with the first 8 markedly lower than the second, the 0 is tilted slightly to the right, and THOUS -- in the die -- is raised.)
    --5. The value 50 was stamped on the obverse to the left of DC (for dollars and cents), from a single punch. (Again, 50 is incuse, while the D and C are raised.)
    --6-13. In eight separate operations, each of the octagonal edges was stamped with a logotype punch, AUGUSTUS / HUMBERT / UNITED / STATES / ASSAYER / OF GOLD / CALIFORNIA / 1851. (Unfortunately, the Lettered Edge is hidden from view in the present holder.)
    --14 (optional). The value 50 was (sometimes) hand-stamped on the reverse.

    The present K-2 1851 Lettered Edge Humbert fifty, of 880 thousandths fineness, is certified MS63 by NGC, a coin of simply stunning quality. The fact that it is one of the Lettered Edge types, rather than the more-often-seen Reeded Edge coins, makes it that much more impressive. It is true that the Lettered Edge types without the 50 in the center reverse are seen more frequently than the With 50 types, but more relevant is that these coins are seldom seen in Mint State, and the appearance of any Mint State Lettered Edge Humbert at public auction is an event of extreme importance in the numismatic community. Rather than the 50 on reverse, the K-2 and similar varieties show a small concentric circle of small triangular shapes, numbering 24 in all. (The high quality of the present piece is a great aid in counting these bits.)

    The surfaces of this piece are a remarkably consistent orange-gold throughout, showing fewer small marks even than we might expect at this high grade level. Mint luster is quite apparent on each side -- how many Humbert-Assay fifties show that? Both the strike and preservation are of impeccable quality; clearly, someone considered this piece as far more than a mere "ingot" or "slug." A small tick appears in the left obverse field below the U in UNITED. On the reverse, a couple of tiny scrapes appear near the central element -- but frankly, we have never seen this interesting, engine-turned reverse in a superior state of preservation.

    Only four times previously have we offered examples of the K-2 variety in the MS63 grade (and none with the CAC approval), and we know of no finer auctions of certified pieces. An MS63 NGC example brought $149,500 in our Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 6/2005), lot 8278 (more than nine years ago now). A nice greenish-gold example, also graded MS63 NGC, realized $264,500 in our Milwaukee ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2007), lot 2107. An MS63 PCGS coin in our Boston ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2010), lot 3677 -- the former Eliasberg Collection coin, which was featured on the cover of the May 1996 Eliasberg Collection sale -- brought $546,250. Finally, another MS63 NGC coin in our FUN Signature from this past January, lot 5991, garnered $352,500.

    Even in this incredible Platinum Night offering of Territorial gold, this piece is a remarkably nice offering. Listed on page 380 of the 2014 Guide Book. Census: 4 in 63, 3 finer (3/14).
    From The Charles G. Wright Family Collection.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# ANH3, PCGS# 10196)

    View all of [The Charles G. Wright Family Collection ]

    View Certification Details from NGC

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2014
    23rd-27th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 13
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,522

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