Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Sale 72

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Lot 1932

1851 U.S. Assay Office $50 "Slug", 880 THOUS. Reeded Edge. NGC graded EF-45. Untoned with nice details, clear date, some minor weakness on some of the outer legend at top. A few light marks under the eagle's left wing.

While the governments response to the need for an adequate coinage was slow and never satisfactory during the California Gold Rush of the late-1840s and early 1850s, two institutions were established (the State Assay Office of California and the United States Assay Office) that did provide an unconventional and partly successful attempt to supply a frontier area with an acceptable quantity of an "official" circulating medium.

The private coinage proscription was not enforced by the public or government because the State Assay Office failed to mint enough ingots for the local demand. Ironically, an institution that was designed to replace the need for private gold minting actually preserved it (i.e., Moffat & Co.'s undebased coins from the first period continued in circulation) and in fact stimulated its resurgence (i.e., the second period of private gold coinage).

The lettering is historic Assay Office 1851 $50 Gold Slug includes in its inscription around the border UNITED STATES ASSAY OFFICE OF GOLD SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA. This is the 880 THOUS variety, made of necessity as considerable additional refining effort would have been needed to have brought the alloy up to the federal standard of 900 (which was accomplished, but later). The reverse is of the so-called engine-turned design, popularly attributed to Augustus Humbert who once made watch cases, presumably with engine turning as well.

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 wild and woolly days. Such pieces were used in large transactions, being the coin of choice, as paper money was illegal in the state (under the Constitution of 1850), and lesser denomination gold coins were not plentiful. With little in the way of literary license one can imagine that this piece did its duty in saloons, bordellos, and gambling halls.

Such octagonal $50 pieces were last minted in 1851 & 1852, but were continued in use for much of the rest of the decade. Many were sent to the Philadelphia Mint, where they were melted into bullion, then recoined into federal denominations. The S.S. Central America, lost at sea in 1857, 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 (PCGS # 10211) .
Estimated Value $20,000 - 22,000.

Realized $31,050

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