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June 11, 2014

Treasure And History Collide In One $50 Coin

In the early 1800s, money was gold.  At that time, America’s largest gold coin was the $10 gold piece with our patriotic eagle on the reverse. The name for the coin became known as the “Eagle.” A $50 piece of currency is five times the size, and is called a “Quintuple Eagle”.  Such a $50 Ingot or Slug as shown here, was used in large transactions, and was the coin of choice, since people shunned paper money and in fact paper money was illegal… ” Read on…

1852 $50 GOLD California Assay 887 “Quintuple Eagle" Ingot, graded by PCGS

1852 $50 GOLD California Assay 887 “Quintuple Eagle” Ingot, graded by PCGS

In the early 1800s, money was gold.  At that time, America’s largest gold coin was the $10 gold piece with our patriotic eagle on the reverse. The name for the coin became known as the “Eagle.” A $50 piece of currency is five times the size, and is called a “Quintuple Eagle”.  Such a $50 Ingot or Slug as shown here, was used in large transactions, and was the coin of choice, since people shunned paper money and in fact paper money was illegal… ” Read on…

The year was 1852, President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed a new constitution for the French Second Republic; the first British public toilet for women was opened in Bedford Street, London; F.W. Woolworth, American merchant and businessman was born and in California… Augustus Humbert was the United States Assayer of San Francisco.
California gold had been discovered just four years earlier in 1848 and by 1852, the public had become dissatisfied with having just a state assay office and were determined to have a United States Mint Branch which could mint real coins in varying denominations. Throughout 1849 and 1850, several proposals were introduced in the California Legislature and United States Congress providing for the establishment of a branch mint in California. Although there were some attempts to pass a bill establishing a branch in San Francisco, those were deemed as threats to the Philadelphia mint by delegates from Pennsylvania and delegates from Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana which had their own state branch mint interests.
September 30, 1850, a compromise bill was passed providing for a United States Assay Office to be established in San Francisco. This Office would have the authority to assay gold and stamp it with an appropriate seal to show its value. The California delegation agreed to the compromise bill only after being convinced that a branch mint would be authorized for California at the next session of Congress. The original bill provided for issuances in denominations of $50 to $10,000. The following are attributes detailing specifics of the approved coinage:
“They are to be struck of refined gold, of uniform fineness, and with appropriate legends and devices, similar to those upon our smaller coins, with their value conspicuously marked, and the inscriptions LIBERTY and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” “C. C. Wright” written in the upper right-hand corner. Wright was a contract engraver to the U.S. Mint at this time, and designer of the first U. S. Assay Office $50 gold coins. On the Ingots (octagonal-shaped coins) and on the bars, The Stamp will represent an Eagle in an attitude of defiance with the usual United Stated Shield resting upon a rock representing the Constitution – In the claws of the Eagle are the Olive Branch and the Arrows.
The words, “United States of America,” as in the coins of the U. S. Mint, surround the Eagle – In a scroll held in the beak the word “Liberty” – immediately over the Eagle the word “Thousandths” with a space to stamp the “degree of fineness” Around the edges of the Octagon the words Augustus Humbert United States Assayer of Gold California 1851.
The reverse side of the Octagon ingots will present an embossed surface known to mechanics as “Engine Turning” and similar to the web-like engraving of the vignette of Bank notes. The Die that produced this effect cannot be easily imitated and the machine that executes or engraves the Die is the only one in the United States.”
The new issues under the auspices of the U. S. Assayer were generally received by merchants and eventually proved very successful, for the local price of gold rose two dollars to eighteen dollars – a level almost equal to gold received at the Philadelphia Mint.
Moffat & Company petitioned for and received the contract for coining the new issues of the U. S. Assay Office and, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Corwin, Moffat made the dubious statement that his company alone was then (September 30, 1850) operating a mint in California. Augustus Humbert, a watchmaker in New York, was appointed United States Assayer with a salary of $5,000 a year, while sculptor and medalist Charles C. Wright was commissioned to engrave in New York the original dies which Humbert was to bring with him to California.
Humbert arrived in San Francisco with the dies on January 30, 1851, and the first coins of his office were produced on January 31. The unique $50 octagonal shape soon became a symbol of California coinage and was known as a “slug.” Their reverse is an example of what machinists call engine-turning – a design of several concentric circles used on watches of that period.
Reactions to these first pieces were mixed. A wealth of comments, both pro and con, appeared in virtually every newspaper in the area. Many of them pointed out that several immediate benefits resulted from the issuance of these Assay Office ingots. The new “government” issues forced most of the inferior privately issued gold pieces out of circulation, although the private coiners did not cease operations until March. The Mormon and Pacific Company coins especially were received at their true intrinsic value and remelted into $50 slugs. This sufficiently cleansed the business world of debased coins formerly tolerated because of necessity.
The $50 octagonal “slug,” called an adobe in local trade, as perhaps these pieces resembled bricks in a way, was a mainstay of California commerce in the days of the Gold Rush. Such pieces were used in large transactions, being the coin of choice, since people shunned paper money and in fact paper money was illegal in the state (under the Constitution of 1850) for this very reason; also, lesser denomination gold coins were often unobtainable. Such octagonal $50 pieces were last minted in 1852, but were continued in use for much of the rest of the decade. Many were sent to the Philadelphia Mint and other Mints in the East and South, where they were melted into bullion, then recoined into federal denominations. Some pieces figured prominently in the S.S. Central America tragedy, a ship lost at sea in 1857 which carried a small supply of such pieces, apparently destined for Philadelphia. It is likely that by 1860 most slugs disappeared, as by this time the San Francisco Mint had been in operation since 1854, and regular issue double eagles were plentiful in commerce.
Fast forward to modern times and how appropriate and fortunate that POT OF GOLD has the pleasure to consign one of the surviving 1852 $50 Gold Assay “Quintuple Eagle” Ingots, graded by one of the premier coin grading companies, PCGS as GENUINE.
Check out this coin in an upcoming auction in July 2014 (Lot #399) and as always…HAPPY BIDDING!

{Multiple Sources: www.coinfacts.com; http://www.pcgscoinfacts.com; http://coins.ha.com}

~Mark A. (Antiques & Collectibles Research and Evaluation Specialist, Pot Of Gold Auctions)

 

1 Comment »

  1. In my country, Chile, in the north zone, there is a wreck from 19th century.
    In this wrecked steamer there is about 10 to 50 Humbert coins.
    This story is comprobable.
    Kind regards,
    Mario GUISANDE
    Naval Historian

    Comment by Mario GUISANDE — August 31, 2015 @ 7:10 pm

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