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    1851 Humbert Fifty Dollar, MS62+
    Lettered Edge, 887 Thous., K-4
    Ex: Amon Carter, Among the Finest

    1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, Lettered Edge, 887 Thous., 50 Reverse, MS62+ PCGS. K-4, R.5. Ex: Simpson. The 1851 Lettered Edge Humbert fifty dollar gold piece is an icon of American numismatics, a symbol of the California Gold Rush and the Western frontier, and a coin of virtually unsurpassed historical, economic, and social importance. While that kind of statement would be hyperbolic for most other issues, we believe it is entirely fitting for this massive octagonal "slug."

    The story of how these Humbert fifties came to pass has been told and retold in books, articles, and catalogs, but it bears repeating. In the years following the discovery of gold at John Sutter's Mill in 1848, thousands of migrants flooded San Francisco and the surrounding areas in search of fortune. While gold was plentiful, usable coinage was not. Economic growth was hampered by the inconveniences caused by discrepancies in gold dust purity and variations in scales and measurements. While a number of private assayers and coiners stepped in to fill the void, most of the private coinage found in circulation was substandard.

    Moffat & Co. was an exception, being the most highly regarded private minter in San Francisco at the time, and producing coins of a caliber nearly equal to that of their federal counterparts. The firm ran ads in local newspapers with testimonies from local merchants and New York bankers attesting to John L. Moffat's "superior skill and abilities as an Assayer and Metallurgist" and his "incorruptible integrity and trustworthiness." So, when the United States government decided to contract with a private California refiner to operate a federal assaying and coining business that would have the backing of Uncle Sam, Moffat & Co. was the obvious choice. The agreement was reached on September 30, 1850, and New York watchcase maker Augustus Humbert was appointed as assayer, arriving in San Francisco in late January 1851. Production of these fifty dollar gold pieces, which were among the few coins accepted for the payment of duties at taxes at the San Francisco Custom House, began almost immediately from dies prepared by C.C. Wright.

    While the Humbert fifties saw considerable use in Western commerce, their extraordinary size and face value made them inconvenient for the kinds of everyday transactions that demanded coins. Edgar Adams explained in Private Gold Coinage of California, 1849-55, Its History and its Issues: "The scarcity of gold coins of small denominations and the predominance of the fifty-dollar ingots caused so much annoyance that one newspaper referred to the octagonal pieces as little less troublesome than the plagues of Egypt... ." These coins were subjected to heavy melting. Most of the pieces that avoided that fate survive in degrees of circulated condition, generally VF to AU, and often with distracting problems.

    The Bob Simpson K-4 Humbert fifty stands as one of the finest known representatives of this storied issue. In 1984, when it was offered as part of the outstanding Amon G. Carter, Jr. Collection, the cataloger called it "lustrous with prooflike surfaces on the obverse. A sensational example with some pale coppery toning. Certainly one of the finest examples extant of a lettered edge slug, regardless of variety." We wholeheartedly echo those sentiments. Both sides feature rich yellow-gold color with reddish accents across the flashy, moderately contrasted obverse. Humbert's engine-turned reverse is razor-sharp, as are the eagle and shield. Quality is absolutely outstanding. Listed on page 402 of the 2021 Guide Book. Population: 2 in 62 (1 in 62+), 0 finer (11/20).
    Ex: Amon G. Carter, Jr. Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 1120; Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 11/2010), lot 4703.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# ANH5, PCGS# 10208)


    View all of [Important Selections from The Bob R. Simpson Collection, Part III ]

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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2021
    20th-24th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 45
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