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Research Coins: Feature Auction

 
651221
Sale: Triton VII, Lot: 1221. Estimate $7500. 
Closing Date: Monday, 12 January 2004. 
Sold For $7500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

UNITED STATES, California. AV 50 Dollars (85.02 gm). Issue of Augustus Humbert. Dated 1851. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FIFTY DOLLARS around heraldic eagle, scroll with 880 THOUS above, AUGUSTUS HUMBERT UNITED STATES ASSAYER OF GOLD CALIFORNIA around octagonal edge / Machine scrollwork. Reeded edge. Breen 7706; Friedberg 36; KM32.1 (this coin illustrated in the 1984 and several subsequent editions). VF, usual heavy rim bumps. [See color enlargement on plate 21] ($7500)

From the Charles E. Weber Collection.

This is one of the most famous gold coins struck in the United States and an emblem of the California Gold Rush. With the discovery of gold in 1848, thousands of fortune seekers poured into the territory. An abundance of raw gold on the local market, combined with a lack of facilities to refine it, and an increasing population, lead to rampant inflation and rich opportunities for shady dealings by merchants and bullion traders. A popular clamor arose for the establishment of a mint in California. In 1850 the newly constituted state legislature authorized the opening of a US Assay Office in San Francisco under Augustus Humbert, with the authority to strike "ingots" of $50 value. This wording was proposed to evade restrictions on coining by private parties. The striking of the $50 "slugs" did not relieve the inflation, because much of the available gold was being used to strike them, and a dreadful shortage of small change resulted. Humbert's operation faced strong opposition from those parties losing their profitable exchange operations and those who continued to campaign for a proper US mint. In 1853 Humbert's Assay Office was absorbed into the new US Mint at San Francisco.