1851 $50 LE Humbert Fifty Dollar, Lettered Edge, 887 Thous. 50 Rev. PCGS AU58 CAC. K.4, High R.5.
The United States Assay Office was established by an act of Congress on September 30, 1850, and the firm of Moffat & Company secured the contract for coining operations. The United States Assay office under Moffat & Co. was a precursor to the San Francisco Mint. The New York watch-case maker Augustus Humbert was named Assayer for Gold in California during the Gold rush era of 1849, and Charles Cushing Wright engraved the first dies, which Humbert brought with him when he arrived in California on January 30, 1851. Later dies were engraved locally by Albert Kuner.
Coinage operations commenced immediately, and fifty dollar ingots were being produced by February 14. The new ingots were of great use and benefit to the local economy because their weight and fineness were accurate, and they were accepted for customs duties. The new issues soon put most of the private mints in the area out of business, as their coins were perceived as being light weight and of low intrinsic value, proving the Assay office to be a mixed blessing. The Territorial California Gold pieces were produced in large quantities and provided the impression of official "made in California" gold money. On the flip side, there were a number of smaller denomination gold coins that were already circulating by private issuers, and Humbert's discrediting Assays, distributed mainstream by James King of William, ultimately led to a ban on such coins by the California Legislature and disrupted commerce.
The early Humbert $50 issues in the now-famous "Octagonal" format had lettering around their edges: AUGUSTUS/HUMBERT/UNITED/STATES/ASSAYER/OF GOLD,/CALIFORNIA/1851. This example has the denomination both on obverse and reverse, on the latter side as a simple "50" in the middle. Surfaces are deep orange-gold, indicative of the copper inherent in the coin's .887-fine gold alloy. While the coin has its share of corner bumps and rim and margin abrasions, the luster is broad and inviting with tiny prooflike pools within the lettering, making for an all-around extremely pleasing piece. This coin was previously certified by NGC as an MS60 and now resides in a PCGS AU58 holder with a CAC sticker for premium quality. MS60 Suggested Retail price is $245K by Collectors Universe.
*#31 of Top 100 Greatest U.S. Coins (3rd. Edition, Garrett/Guth)
*Mintage: No mintage figures available
*Denomination: $50 "Ingot"
*Weight: 2.75 Troy oz.
*Fineness: .887 Thousands
*Design: Octagonal/Lettered Edge/50 on Reverse
*Grading Service: PCGS
*Grade: AU58 CAC
*Rarity: High 5
*Population: 2/3 Finer by PCGS
The coin offered here represents the very scarce K-4 variety, High 5 Rarity, with a lettered edge, a fineness of 887 THOUS., and the number 50 in the center of the reverse. The reverse design was "engine turned", similar to the design on many watch cases of the era. There are reports that a possible variety K-4a, resembling K-4 in all other respects, but with no 50 on the reverse. The existence of this variety is unconfirmed. The present coin is one of the Top 5 known to exist with a population of 2 with 3 finer by PCGS, 1-PCGS MS61, and 2-PCGS MS62's.
AU55+: CU @ $160,000 (AU55+CAC Sold @ $287K-8/11, Sold @ $230K-8/12)
AU58: CU @ $195,000 (N/A)
MS60: CU @ $245,000 (N/A)
MS61: CU @ $275,000 (Sold @ $241,500-7/05)
LBCAC Retail Price @ $235,000
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