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Lot 3470

Image Information

Type Coin
Title Lot 3470
Date 1853
Side obverse
Grade 58
Service NGC
Service Catalog # 10255
Denomination $20
Description 1853 $20 Moffat & Co. Twenty Dollar AU58+ NGC. CAC. K-19, High R.5. The firm of Moffat & Co. was dissolved on February 14, 1852, when John Little Moffat sold his interest to his partners Joseph R. Curtis, Philo H. Perry, and Samuel H. Ward. The company was immediately reorganized as the United States Assay Office of Gold, and was authorized to continue the government contract to issue gold coinage in California, but the partners retained the right to use the old company name, per the final agreement with Moffat. The U.S. Assay Office continued to issue gold coinage in the following years, expanding their facilities and updating their equipment until their establishment was nearly on par with the official government mints of the era. The U.S. Assay Office officially continued operations until December 14, 1853, after which time they sold their offices and equipment to the United States government. The San Francisco Mint began operations in their old (expanded) offices on Commercial Street on April 15, 1854. In view of this timeline, the appearance of a Moffat & Co. twenty dollar gold piece dated 1853 was a puzzle to early students of the series, like Edgar Adams, author of Private Gold Coinage of California, 1849-55. Adams believed John Little Moffat struck these coins under the name of his old firm in July of 1853, long after he separated from the Assay Office. He noted, however, that the remaining partners had the right to use the name Moffat & Co., and "the assumption that John L. Moffat continued in the assay business after the date of his separation from the United States Assay Office may be wrong; and if so, then the $20 piece of 1853 (No. 26) may have been issued by the firm of Curtis, Perry & Ward." The true explanation for the 1853-dated coins was found in an announcement in the San Francisco Herald of July 26, 1853, discovered by Donald Kagin many years later. One of the three partners in the Assay Office, Samuel Ward, died in April of 1853 and the surviving partners considered ending their arrangement with the government and commencing operations under the name of their old firm, which they retained the right to use under the articles of dissolution. The announcement in the Herald advertised the new firm was going to issue both ten and twenty dollar coins under the old Moffat & Co. name, and gold bars under the imprint of "CURTIS, PERRY & WARD, AUGUSTUS HUMBERT, ASSAYER." The surviving partners soon reconsidered their break with the government (as confirmed by an announcement in the Alta California of August 19, 1853) and continued to operate as the Assay Office for the remainder of the year. Of the issues contemplated by the "resurrected" firm of Moffat & Co., only the twenty dollar coins were struck. The coins were produced in substantial numbers, but they were minted for only a short time and most were later melted for recoinage. The issue is very scarce today in all grades and Mint State examples are very rare. The design of the twenty dollar coins was remarkably similar to the federal double eagles of the 1850s. A typical specimen was described in lot 1875 of the Matthew Stickney Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1907): {blockquote}"1853 $20. Head of Liberty with MOFFAT & CO on diadem, 13 stars around, 1853 beneath. R. Eagle, displayed with shield on breast, scroll at either side and a circle, stars and glory above eagle. SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA TWENTY D. Border beaded, edge milled. Very fine. Slight nicks. See plate."{/blockquote} The lot realized a strong price of $45 to an unknown buyer. More recent sales include the extraordinary MS62 NGC coin in lot 5431 of the Riverboat Collection (Heritage, 4/2014), which realized $82,250. The present coin is a high-end near-Mint example with sharply detailed design elements and retains virtually all of the original mint luster. Eye appeal is outstanding. Only six finer coins have been certified by NGC and PCGS combined (8/14) Ex: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. Realized $41125.00. Description courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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