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Lot 3464

Image Information

Type Coin
Title Lot 3464
Date 1852
Side obverse
Grade 58
Service NGC
Service Catalog # 10016
Denomination $50
Description 1852 $50 Assay Office Fifty Dollar, 887 Thous. AU58+ NGC. CAC. K-13, Low R.5. Perhaps no other issue is so evocative of the heady days of the California Gold Rush as the majestic octagonal fifty dollar gold pieces issued in 1851 and 1852, first by Moffat & Co. and then by their direct-successor firm, the United Assay Office of Gold. These octagonal coins are immediately recognizable, even to casual collectors who can identify no other private coinage issue of the era. Heritage Auctions is pleased to offer this rare near-Mint example of the popular K-13 variety from the fabulous collection of the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. The firm of Moffat & Co. was officially disbanded on February 14, 1852, with the retirement of founding partner John Little Moffat. The company was reorganized under the leadership of the remaining partners, Joseph R. Curtis, Philo H. Perry, and Samuel H. Ward, with the new name of the United States Assay Office of Gold. Augustus Humbert retained his position as United States Assayer, and the company was authorized to continue the government contract to produce gold coinage in California. The Assay Office continued to issue octagonal fifty dollar gold pieces, as they had in 1851, just changing the wording around the outer obverse border to reflect the title of the new firm. This version of the Assay Office fifty dollar issue is designated K-13 in Donald Kagin's Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States. A good description of the design was provided in lot 1878 of the Matthew Adams Stickney Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1907): {blockquote}"1852 $50. Eagle standing to left on rocks, supports U.S. shield and three arrows in his right talon, while the left holds a bundle of arrows, around UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FIFTY DOLLARS. Above eagle on scroll 887 THOUS. Outside this central device and following the angles of the edge is UNITED STATES ASSAY OFFICE OF GOLD SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA. 1852. R. Engine turned only. Border beaded; edge milled. Extremely fine. Very light scratches or nicks. A brilliant example of this very rare coin. Octagonal. See plate."{/blockquote} The coin, which was probably in a similar grade to the coin offered here, sold to an unidentified bidder for the strong price of $180. The current prices realized record for a K-13 example is $115,000, brought by the MS62 NGC coin in lot 2116 of the Milwaukee Signature (Heritage, 8/2007). The Assay Office continued to issue the K-13 fifty dollar "slugs" until Congressional legislation blindsided the California economy in the summer of 1852. On August 31, 1852, Congress passed a law prohibiting the acceptance of gold coins of less than .900 fineness for customs dues. Because parting acids for refining, and copper for alloying, the native California gold were always in short supply in the Western United States, California coiners had never succeeded in issuing coins of the federally required .900 fineness. The older Assay Office fifty dollar pieces had been either .880, .884, or .887 fine, compensating for their lower fineness by being heavier than a federal fifty dollar coin would have been, if such a coin had been struck. The new law essentially deprived California of all legal tender coinage, and precipitated a financial crisis that continued into the next year. By January of 1853, the Assay Office was able to issue new coins of several denominations with the required .900 fineness, but the issues had to be alloyed with silver, rather than copper, as there was no reliable supply of that metal in the area. Most of the gold for the new issues came from the older, lower fineness gold coins, which were promptly turned in for recoinage. As a result, most of the K-13 pieces in circulation were melted and the issue was seldom encountered after 1853. The Assay Office issued a total of 23,800 fifty dollar gold pieces of the new fineness (known as the K-14 variety today), by the end of February 1853, at least partially solving the coin shortage in the region. A dependable, federally sanctioned, medium of exchange continued to be elusive until the San Francisco Mint was established in 1854. The present coin is an attractive high-end near-Mint example, with lightly abraded orange-gold surfaces that radiate vibrant mint luster on both sides. This piece is free of the large rim bruises and deep scratches that typically plague the issue. The design elements are well-detailed, with just a touch of the always-seen softness on the central obverse. All letters in the legend remain legible and the date is bold, adding to the considerable eye appeal. This coin will be a prize for an advanced collector of California gold. Census: 17 in 58, 1 in 58+, 8 finer (8/14). Ex: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. Realized $73437.50. Description courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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