Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Sale 48

Lot 1731

1851 U.S. Assay Office $50 "slug", 887 THOUS. Reeded edge. NGC graded AU-55. A most attractive "slug" with natural rose color toning resting within the center legends. Slightly less well struck at the outer margin but most of the legend still readable, including a full date.

A compromise of sorts too place with a coinage act of Sept. 30, 1850, establishing not a branch mint, which the California business community had requested from the U.S. government, but a federal Assay Office of Gold in San Francisco, authorizing issue of ingots of $50 to $10,000 value, "to be struck of refined gold, of uniform fineness, and with appropriate legends and devices, similar to those on our smaller coins with their value conspicuously marked, and the inscriptions LIBERTY and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." This weasel wording concealed what the California authorities and Mint Director R. M. Patterson well knew: The ingots would circulate as money, with inscriptions conforming to the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, differing primarily in denomination from normal federal coins.

As a stopgap, the $50 slugs served their purpose. Hundreds of thousands of them were produced, but subsequently a huge percentage of the issue was turned in to the federal Mints and melted. Pop 13; 28 finer (PCGS # 10214) .

Native California ores ranged from about 850/1000 to 925/1000 gold, according to the Breen encyclopedia, the rest 75-150/1000 silver. Federal gold coins had to contain 900/100 gold, not over 50/1000 silver, the rest copper, pursuant to the Act of Jan. 18, 1837. To bring California gold to the federal standard required copper (very scarce) and parting acids (concentrated nitric, sulfuric, and hydrochloric acids), which were not locally made, and could not be safely shipped either overland or via Panama or Cape Horn.

The new Mint Director, George N. Eckert, wrote to Treasury Secretary Corwin that some 150,000 lbs. of parting acids would be necessary for each year's operations in San Francisco. In practice, substandard gold was brought to stated fineness (880, 884, 887, or 900) by adding measured weights of proofing pieces (small bars of 999 + Fine gold) to each melt, and deducting their cost from the value of the finished coins; but parting acids were necessary to make proofing pieces. Calling the new coins "ingots" and the new provisional branch mint "U.S. Assay Office of Gold" was a neat solution, evading any possible legal penalties. But the Philadelphia Mint officials treated Augustus Humbert as a branch-mint superintendent, requiring him to report monthly gold and unparted ingot manufactures on the same kinds of forms used by all branch mints; they supervised manufacture of master dies and hubs for the ingots.
Estimated Value $35,000 - 40,000.

Realized $36,800

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