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    Description

    Rare Mint State 1852 Humbert Octagonal 'Slug' Fifty
    887 Thous., MS61

    1852 $50 RE Humbert Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. MS61 NGC. Reeded Edge, K-11, R.5. Moffat & Co. principal John L. Moffat wrote on April 14, 1851 to Treasury Secretary Corwin, asking for permission to make coins of smaller denomination than the ubiquitous fifty dollar slugs. For a number of reasons, the private coinage of smaller denominations was fast disappearing from circulation. The reply, received in August from Acting Secretary William Hodge, refused the request: "In reference to the suggestion made in your letter of the 14th of April, giving the results of the assaying and stamping of gold ingots during the month of March, that authority should be given to assay and stamp ingots of denomination and values under fifty dollars, I have to state that it is not deemed expedient at this time to authorize the assay and stamping of ingots of less denomination or value than $50."
    This cavalier response was typical of the attentiveness with which Washington bureaucrats addressed the coinage and monetary needs of the far-flung West Coast during the Gold Rush era. Those in power "back East" apparently either paid little heed or, more likely, little understood and cared how the shortage of lower-denomination gold pieces, accurately assayed and universally accepted, could make commerce so difficult. All indications are that the powers that be in Washington were more focused on potential tarnish on the United States' image overseas than on the needs of a few Western pioneers.
    Bowers' A California Gold Rush History quotes the Picayune of October 21, 1851, commenting on the paucity of circulating coinage, an excerpt that contains a number of numismatically significant insights:

    "The scarcity of gold and silver not only in our city but throughout the State has for some time been a growing evil, and such a one as not only embarrasses our heavy moneyed men but annoys all classes and confuses business of every kind.
    Since the suspension of small gold coinage by Moffat & Co. this scarcity has been pressing more and more upon the community, as the great proportion of our current gold coin of the $5 and $10 denominations came from their mint. This currency, together with that afforded by Mexican and the various South American doubloons, has been of almost inestimable value in the conducting of business. Immense quantities of these coins have been melted up into ingots [Humbert $50s] or shipped to foreign countries, which has resulted in a complete derangement of the currency of this state and the substitution of another circulating medium which, as it has happened, is not one at all adapted to the ordinary wants of the community."

    It is safe to assume that immense quantities of the Humbert and U.S. Assay Office fifties were also shipped overseas. Like the Saint-Gaudens twenty and Morgan silver dollar series decades later, the surviving populations of the gold slugs bear little or no resemblance to the original production data. Although Moffat & Co. was granted permission in December 1851 to coin tens and twenties, the order was rescinded the very next day, apparently because a bill introduced into Congress would authorize a San Francisco Mint that would eventually open--in 1854.
    By early 1852 the U.S. Assay Office of Gold under Curtis, Perry & Ward was producing ten dollar coins with a Liberty Head on the obverse and the familiar eagle on the reverse, bearing the Moffat & Co. imprint. These unauthorized coins competed with fives and tens produced by Wass, Molitor & Co. In February 1852 the Assay Office received official permission to coin tens and twenties, which the firm accordingly produced using overdated 1852/1 dies that had been prepared in 1851. Those coins were manufactured alongside the fifty dollar U.S. Assay Office pieces, and for the first time since the Gold Rush began, by March 1852 coins were "seen in general commerce, though hardly plentiful" (Bowers).
    This piece offers consistent, warm amber-gold coloration with few mentionable post-strike impairments. The peripheral legend is a bit soft, as usually seen on these coins, and while the upper eagle details--the wings and head--are boldly struck, there is notable weakness on the eagle's breast, the shield, and the rock on which the bird rests, perhaps a result of the faster rates at which these coins were struck in 1852. Lovely original mint luster bathes both sides. This variety, like all of the Humbert-Assay Office fifties, is rare in any condition, and doubly rare in Mint State. Listed on page 353 of the 2008 Guide Book.
    From The Pacific Rim Collection.


    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# ANGU, PCGS# 10217)


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

    View all of [The Pacific Rim Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    August, 2007
    8th-10th Wednesday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 11
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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