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    Majestic 1855 Kellogg & Co. Fifty Dollar Gold; Tied For Finest Known

    1855 $50 Kellogg & Co. Fifty Dollar PR64 PCGS. K-4, Breen-7921, High R.6. This is a remarkable example with extraordinary greenish-gold surfaces. Both sides have deeply mirrored fields with hints of satiny mint frost on the devices. All of the design elements on each side are especially sharp, including the hair details and stars on the obverse, and the feather and claw details on the reverse. A few faint hairlines and tiny contact marks are evident on each side, keeping this specimen out of the Gem grade level. A tiny planchet flake next to the right center of the final 5 in the date provides pedigree identification. Of all 13 pieces currently recorded, this example and the Garrett specimen have each been certified as PR64 by PCGS, and these two coins are the finest known examples.

    The obverse features a central motif of Liberty wearing a coronet, virtually identical to the U.S. double eagles of the time, except the coronet is inscribed KELLOGG & CO. rather than LIBERTY as on the federal issues. Around the circumference are placed 13 evenly spaced six-point stars, with 1855 below the bust. Frederick Gruner prepared the dies and he signed the obverse F. GRUNER on Liberty's bust truncation. The first 5 in the date is recut, as are stars 4, 6, and 10. Each of the 13 individual stars on the obverse were made by repeated punches from a single diamond-shaped punch. Not only is proof surface seen between the individual elements, but that space is on the same plane as the surrounding field. Equally important, the amount of field space between each element is variable from one star to the next.

    The reverse design has an eagle and shield motif at the center, with a blank ribbon in its beak. The claws grasp a branch and three arrows, supporting a shield. The eagle is standing on a base that appears to be a field of grass. In the field above the eagle is a scroll inscribed 1309 GRS 887 THOUS. Along the border is the lettering SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA and FIFTY DOLLS. The reverse has several fine die cracks, mostly through the peripheral field, yet rather surprising for a coin of such limited production. At first glance, the weight as shown on the coin appears as 1809 grains. However, a simple calculation will show that 1309 is the correct figure, as the higher 1809 grains would equal nearly four ounces!

    In the early 19th century, gold mining efforts in the U.S. were concentrated in the Southeastern part of the country, specifically Western North Carolina and Northern Georgia. During the 1830s and 1840s, the Bechtler family operated a private coinage practice in that part of the country, the first large scale producer of private gold coinage. Gold was discovered in California a few years later, and a number of individuals and firms operated assay offices that produced ingots and private gold coins. Among these was the operation of John Glover Kellogg. For more than a decade, Kellogg operated with various partners, including G.F. Richter, J. Hewston, and Augustus Humbert.

    The most plentiful issues of the earlier gold rush years were produced by the United States Assay Office operated by Augustus Humbert as assayer. Eventually, a branch of the U.S. Mint was authorized in San Francisco, and began operations in 1854. In that year, a limited coinage commenced, although the earliest San Francisco Mint coinage was sporadic and hardly met local business needs. Area merchants urged Kellogg to produce gold coinage to help meet demand, and the firm minted large quantities of $20 pieces, under the auspices of Kellogg & Richter.

    There is no doubt that Kellogg also intended to produce a $50 gold piece for commerce, as evidenced by the dozen known examples of this variety. But why did production stop with a few proof examples? Perhaps a larger coinage was contemplated, but the private enterprise may have been preempted by larger government production. In Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States, author Donald H. Kagin noted:

    "There are several significant differences between this series [1852-1856] of private gold coins and the previous one. All private gold issuances during this series were the direct result of petitions from the community. This series of private coinage is also characterized by the minters' scrupulous avoidance of any debasement of their products. They also ceased their coinage when the need that precipitated the petitions had been fulfilled."

    The following roster derives from a variety of sources, expanded from the listing in Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, and updated through the courtesy of Dr. Donald H. Kagin, a specialist in private gold coinage whose assistance is most appreciated. It is believed that just 12 or 13 examples of this famous rarity are known. The numbers assigned to each specimen rank them according to grade, with the associated number from Walter Breen's roster included. At one time or another, most of the known examples have been described as the finest known.

    1. PR64 PCGS. The specimen offered here. Breen #11. British private collection; Stack's (5/1984), lot 784; Robert Hughes; Bowers and Merena (8/1995), lot 498. In their 1984 catalog, Stack's noted: "From information conveyed to us, this coin has recently come from England along with a few less important Territorial and Federal gold coins."

    2. PR64 PCGS. Breen #1. Augustus Humbert; Capt. Andrew C. Zabriskie; Col. James W. Ellsworth; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1980), lot 910; Kagin's; Paul Padget; Donald Kagin and Stuart Levine; private collection. In the Garrett catalog, it was noted: "It is believed to be the finest known example of its kind." However, that catalog was written several years before the present example became known to the numismatic community.

    Note: Walter Breen recorded the Garrett piece as later appearing in Auction '85. However, the coin in that auction was the unique 1854 Kellogg $20 proof from the Garrett Collection.

    3. PR63 PCGS. Not in Breen. Smith & Son (3/1941); Frank Heim (6/2000); Don Kagin; Q. David Bowers; Don Kagin; Superior (1/2005), lot 953; Western collector.

    4. Choice Proof. Not in Breen. Superior (5/1987), lot 3140. This piece appears to be a new example that does not match any of the others, and was not listed in the Breen Census.

    5. PR62 PCGS. Breen #3. George W. Rice; DeWitt Smith; Virgil M. Brand; William F. Dunham (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 2369; W.D. Waltman Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1945), lot 37; Amon Carter Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 1149; Harlan White; Heritage (8/1997), lot 7898; Donald Kagin; Craig Smith; Bowers and Merena (6/2000), lot 1053; Bowers and Merena (1/2002), lot 857; Midwest collection.

    6. PR62 NGC. Breen #7. N.M. Kaufman Collection (RARCOA, 8/1978), lot 66; Auction '80 (Paramount, 8/1980), lot 982; Auction '84 (RARCOA, 7/1984), lot 2000; Heritage (8/1992), lot 2583; RARCOA; Donald Kagin; private collection.

    7. PR62. Breen #9. John Story Jenks; Reuting Collection; Arthur C. Nygren (B. Max Mehl, 11/1914), lot 82; George Alfred Lawrence (Thomas Elder, 6/1929), lot 1365; John H. Clapp; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 366; East Coast collection.

    8. PR62. Breen #4. Fred Huddart; George H. Earle; Judge C.W. Slack (B. Max Mehl, 5/1925), lot 29; Col. E.H.R. Green; Josiah Lilly Collection; Smithsonian Institution. Walter Breen recorded this specimen as once the property of Amon Carter, Sr. and Jr., although such a listing is doubtful. Additional intermediaries handled this coin on a consignment basis. Both Smithsonian pieces have recently been examined and graded by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.

    9. PR62. Breen #5. H.O Granberg; William H. Woodin; Waldo C. Newcomer; Willis duPont; Smithsonian Institution. This piece was stolen from duPont in October 1967 and recovered in July or August 1978, as reported in Coin World, August 9, 1978. Illustrated at

    10. PR58 PCGS. Breen #2. Kellogg family; "J.F. Bell;" Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 967; Don Keefer; F.K. Saab; Gibson Sale (Stack's, 11/1974), lot 189; Stack's (Auction '79), lot 996; Stack's (10/1983), lot 239; Stack's (10/2003), lot 2292. In the earlier sales, Stack's described this piece as a "Brilliant Proof," upgrading the description to "Gem Brilliant Proof" in their 2003 catalog, although it was later certified as PR58.

    11. PR53 PCGS. Breen #10. J.W. Schmandt (Stack's, 1954); Dan Brown; John H. Murrell; Henry H. Clifford; Kagin's (1983 ANA Sale), lot 3630; Superior (Auction '88), lot 491; Superior (Auction '90), lot 1406; Superior (8/1992); private collection.

    12. Impaired Proof. Breen #6. John A. Beck, part I (Quality Sales, 1/1975), lot 729; Dr. Ketterman; Arnold and Romisa Collections (Bowers and Merena, 9/1984), lot 330; Bowers and Merena (6/1985), lot 24; Christies (3/1994), lot 375; Stack's (3/2005), lot 1320; Donald Kagin; private collection. Described as a "Brilliant Proof with some hairlines and minor friction."

    13. XF Details NCS. Breen #8. C.W. Cowell (B. Max Mehl, 1911); Waldo Newcomer; Amon Carter, Sr.; 1962 N.Y. Metropolitan Sale (Stack's, 4/1962), lot 2814; John Rowe; Abner Kreisberg (1968); Quality Sales Corp. (11/1972), lot 1410A; Jack Klauson; 1973 ANA Sale (Jess Peters), lot 1030; Pine Tree (3/1974), lot 455; West Coast collection; Christies (3/1990); Stack's (3/2005), lot 1321; Donald Kagin; private collection. In 1972, Abner Kreisberg and Jerry Cohen commented: "The usual surface abrasions and scratches have all been removed and quite a bit of luster is still adhering. Extremely Fine."

    Listed on page 359 of the 2007 Guide Book.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 6JAT, PCGS# 10228)

    View Certification Details from PCGS

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2007
    3rd-6th Wednesday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 13
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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