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    Rare Mint State Wass, Molitor Fifty Dollar Gold Piece

    1855 $50 Wass Molitor Fifty Dollar MS60 NGC. K-9, R.5. The surviving gold coins manufactured during the short boom period of the late 1840s and early 1850s in California mostly prove that they were both needed for commerce in their locales, and much used. Shallowness of detail can be argued to have been caused by poor manufacture in many cases, but almost all coins of the period were heavily circulated and often roughly handled, with lots of bruises. Just imagine the bar counters they were flung down on, the rough wooden floors and town sidewalks they bounced off, and the contents of miners' pockets where they met with foreign objects that marred their faces!
    We may well ask ourselves, when contemplating these gold coins of the western pioneers, who were the men who populated the West, and who was it that made this money for their use? Mostly they were hardy adventurers. Nobody of faint heart crossed the great American plains and mountains, or voyaged by ship a thousand miles, to gold country. Nobody of slight physical ability trudged through the gold fields, and up and down mountain streams working sluices. Nobody seeking comfort or easy income set up shop or a banking business in early California. The pioneers were vigorous individuals.
    Among them, typically, were new immigrants. Among the immigrants were two Hungarians named Samuel C. Wass and Agoston (or Augustus) P. Molitor. They were not so much miners as businessmen and they came to California because there, unlike the situation back home, where their fortunes had been confiscated, they could succeed. It was why almost all had come to this place. Wass arrived in California late in 1850, Molitor in 1851. Edgar Adams and Don Kagin both relate that Wass and Molitor met after exploring the gold fields and, in October 1851, set up an assay office together in San Francisco. By 1852 they began minting the ore into five dollar and ten dollar coins. By 1855 they were making twenties and fifties, with great success Adams tells us, because their products were of good quality and because miners bringing in nuggets and gold dust could have them made into coins within 48 hours of depositing the ore.
    As Wass, Molitor's gold coins gained more and more acceptance, the firm turned to replacing the unpopular octagonal Assay Office slugs, which had sharp edges that pierced pockets, with a round fifty. Now that smaller denominations relieved the big-coin change problem, their round fifties gained wide acceptance, and many thousands were produced in 1855. The coins circulated far and wide, but many also perished when melted by the branch mint at San Francisco in subsequent years, to be remade into federal coinage. They had been minted so fast and in such a short period of time that most were not well detailed. And in commercial use they were so successful that few survived in excellent condition. The Gold Rush soon ended, along with the fortunes of most private coiners. Wass left his partner some time late in 1855, just after striking the last of these fifties. His days in the assay business had ended as quickly as they had begun. The remnant of his minting business ended in financial disaster. Molitor lost his fortune by 1858 but was back in business by 1859 with his brother Titus and his son Stephen, who had worked the Fraser River gold rush of 1857-58 in Victoria, British Columbia. They continued until 1864 in San Francisco, but the elder Molitor moved to San Diego in 1865 for the Julian gold rush there, before venturing off to other boom towns, and then disappearing into history.
    In his reference Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States, Don Kagin wrote what is generally known about the striking characteristics of these rare Territorial gold pieces: "These coins are among the poorest struck of all private coins." That is a sweeping statement, but few Wass, Molitor coins exist today to contradict it. This coin has the strongest strike we can remember on any Wass, Molitor. The hair curls on Liberty are boldly defined with individual strands discernible, and there is just the slightest softness on the highest portion of each strand. None of the usually seen weakness is evident in the center of the reverse. The bright yellow-gold color shows just a hint of the usual green patina, color that is consistent with the appearance of California gold. As expected from a gold coin of this size and weight, there are numerous abrasions on each side. Several shallow ones are located on the face of Liberty, but the only one that is of individual significance is on the chin of Liberty. In the same general area, in the field just to the left of Liberty's chin are a short series of pinscratches. On the reverse, a shallow planchet void is located just above the wreath directly below the R in DOLLARS, and helps identify this important, high grade rarity.
    From The Pacific Rim Collection.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# ANJU, PCGS# 10363)

    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: 10
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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