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Lot 3474

Image Information

Type Coin
Title Lot 3474
Date 1849
Side obverse
Grade 61
Service NGC
Service Catalog # 10262
Denomination $5
Description 1849 $5 Mormon Five Dollar MS61 NGC. K-2, R.5. Soldiers from the Mormon Battalion, returning home after the Mexican War, stopped in California in 1848 and were among the first to discover gold in the region. Their find at Mormon Island in the American River, just downstream from Sutter's Mill, near present-day Coloma, was among the richest deposits of ore found in the early Gold Rush era, yielding several million dollars in gold dust and nuggets. Despite their rich find, the Mormons did not succumb to gold fever, and continued homeward with their holdings, rather than lingering for the coming boom in California. Arriving in Salt Lake City by late 1848, the soldiers found the local economy was almost devoid of circulating coinage. Initially, Dr. Willard Richards, an official of the Mormon Church, weighed out the raw gold dust and issued it in paper packets containing amounts from one dollar to twenty dollars of the precious metal. This stopgap measure was soon replaced by a plan to issue real coinage sponsored by the Mormon Church. Designs were prepared by November 1848, and deposits of gold dust were accepted starting on December 10, with William T. Follett making the first deposit of 14.5 ounces, for which he received a credit for $232. According to contemporary sources, 46 ten dollar gold pieces were struck in December 1848 by John Moburn Kay, an Englishman who had been employed at his uncle's foundry in Lancashire, England before immigrating to America. This Mormon private coinage was the first in the region, predating the earliest California issues by at least five months, according to Donald Kagin. The design of the coins was formulated by Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Kay, and it is believed they were all dated 1849. Problems soon developed with the equipment, which was built by local craftsmen, and the crucibles for melting the raw gold were broken. Coinage was suspended on December 22, 1848, until new equipment could be ordered and brought in through church agents in St. Louis and Iowa. By September 1849, a new mint was ready and dies for $2.50, $5, and $20 coins were prepared. Apparently the old $10 dies were still serviceable. The Mormon coinage was initially intended for local use, but the coins soon spread to neighboring communities, as Salt Lake City had become an important stop for settlers and miners moving west to California. By 1850, examples had reached New Orleans and Philadelphia, where assays showed the coins were all of lower weight and fineness than their federally issued counterparts. Reports of the low intrinsic value of the Mormon coinage spread widely, and most merchants outside the Mormon community refused the issues, or accepted them only at steep discounts. The coins still circulated as a kind of fiat currency in Salt Lake City, due to pressure from the Mormon Church. Five dollar coins of a different design were issued in 1850 and, although most of the mint's equipment was auctioned on August 12, 1850, John M. Kay continued to issue coins on a limited basis through 1851. A final attempt at Mormon coinage followed in 1860, when five dollar pieces using the handsome lion design, with legends in the Deseret alphabet, were issued. Although most of the Mormon issues were melted in later years, the coins did circulate for some time in the Salt Lake City area. As a result, most examples seen today are well-worn. The designs were simple and in low relief, and none of the issues were properly assayed for coinage, so the soft gold wore down easily. All the 1849 issues employed the same basic design, with a few minor differences between the denominations. A good description of the design for the five dollar piece was provided in the description for lot 459 of the Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1909): {blockquote}"1849 $5. Eye of Providence. HOLINESS TO THE LORD. R. Clasped hands, below which 1849, around G.S.L.C.P.G. (Great Salt Lake City, Pure Gold), FIVE DOLLARS. Fine. Strong impression. Rare. See plate."{/blockquote} The only prominent feature Chapman neglected to mention was the bishop's mitre above the eye. The lot sold for a respectable price of $47.50. The current auction price realized record for an 1849 Mormon Five dollar piece is $92,000, brought by the uncertified Choice AU coin in Stack's Archangel Collection in November of 2006. The coin offered here is one of the finest survivors, with relatively sharp design elements that show an unusual amount of detail on the clasped hands and the 8 in the date, features that are usually softly impressed. The pleasing yellow-gold surfaces show a few scattered contact marks, including a thin scratch in the obverse field, below L, which serves as a pedigree marker. NGC has graded five coins in MS61, with none finer, while PCGS has graded no examples finer than MS60 (8/14). Ex: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. Realized $58750.00. Description courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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