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Lot 3473


Image Information

Type Coin
Title Lot 3473
Date 1855
Side obverse
Grade 61
Service NGC
Service Catalog # 10363
Denomination $50
Description 1855 $50 Wass Molitor Fifty Dollar MS61 NGC. K-9, R.5. The firm of Wass, Molitor & Co. was established by two Hungarian patriots who were forced to flee their country after the revolution of 1848 was repressed by Austria. Both Agoston Molitor and Count Samuel C. Wass attended the prestigious School of Mines of Germany, and both had acquired much practical experience working in mines in their own country before relocating to California. In October of 1851 the two men established an assay office on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. They acquired high-quality equipment from London and the United States, and their business practices were scrupulously honest, gaining the firm a reputation as one of the finest assaying concerns in California. The California economy was in crisis in late 1851, as all the private mints that operated in the period from 1849 to 1851 had been shut down and the United States Assay Office of Gold was only authorized to issue coins of the fifty dollar denomination. The resulting shortage of smaller coins made conducting everyday business transactions almost impossible. Urgently requested to issue private gold coinage by merchants and bankers in San Francisco, Wass, Molitor & Co. issued coins of the five and ten dollar denominations in 1852. The coins were of full weight and value and were well-received by the public, but the company stopped issuing coins after 1852, when the worst of the crisis was past. Unfortunately, a similar situation arose in March of 1855, when the newly established San Francisco Mint was forced to suspend operations, due to a shortage of parting acids and other problems. Once again, local businessmen appealed to Wass, Molitor & Co. to issue coinage on an emergency basis and the firm responded by producing a large number of coins in ten, twenty, and fifty dollar denominations. Unlike the earlier crisis in 1852, the larger denominations were needed as much as the smaller coins, because the Assay Office had sold their facilities to the new federal mint and the massive fifty dollar slugs were no longer circulating. An article in the San Francisco Herald of March 1, 1854 explained the need for such coins in California: {blockquote}"In a country like our own, where the currency is purely metallic, it is of great importance to have coins issued of a size which will admit of rapid and easy counting, both in receiving and paying money; and the experience of all our businessmen goes to show that in the absence of bank notes the Fifty Dollar piece is the most convenient coin for such a purpose."{/blockquote} At the peak of their output in 1855, Wass, Molitor & Co. produced twenty and fifty dollar pieces at the rate of $38,000 per day in face value, according to local newspaper reports. The fifty dollar pieces circulated readily in other parts of the country and in foreign trade, as well as the regional economy. According to Donald Kagin, the round shape of the coins and the availability of smaller denominations by the same issuer contributed to their easy acceptance. Wass, Molitor & Co. ceased coinage operations shortly after their 1855 issues were distributed. The first auction appearance of the present coin that we can trace with certainty is lot 1198 of the James B. Wilson Collection (Thomas Elder, 10/1908): {blockquote}"1855 $50. Round. Obv. Head of Liberty to left; around 13 stars, below '1855.' Rev. Olive wreath enclosing '50 Dollars,' above this on label '900 Thous.' outside of wreath, above 'San Francisco, California,' below 'Wass, Molitor & Co.' edge milled. The piece has several of the minutest ticks, otherwise an uncirculated specimen. This piece I regard as much superior to the one in my XVII. sale which old numismatists pronounced the best they had ever seen. Extremely rare. Plate."{/blockquote} As Elder's description suggests, the Wass, Molitor fifty dollar coins are seldom encountered in high grade, and the two leading grading services have combined to certify only six examples in Mint State between them (8/14). The auction prices realized record for the issue is held by the marvelous MS63 NGC example in lot 5446 of the Riverboat Collection (Heritage, 4/2014), which brought $411,250. The present coin was a highlight of the famous Waldo Newcomer Collection, after its appearance in Elder's Wilson sale, and probably passed through the collection of "Col." E.H.R. Green before Eric P. Newman acquired it, although specific documentation is not available on that point. It is an attractive MS61 piece, with sharply detailed design elements in most areas and just a touch of softness on the peripheral letters on the reverse. The lustrous orange-gold surfaces show a few scattered contact marks, but the fields are remarkably clean for such a large gold coin. This example combines intense historic interest, condition rarity, and outstanding visual appeal in one irresistible package. Census: 3 in 61, 2 finer (8/14). Ex: James B. Wilson; Wilson Collection (Thomas Elder, 10/1908), lot 1198, Waldo Newcomer, plate matched to the Newcomer plates; possibly "Col." E.H.R. Green; Eric P. Newman; Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. Realized $164500.00. Description courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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