By James McCartney, Numismatist & Cataloger – Stack’s Bowers ……
Stack’s Bowers Galleries is pleased to offer in Rarities Night of our November 2017 Baltimore Auction a lovely Choice VF half eagle issued privately by California assayers Baldwin & Company.
Beginning as jewelers and watchmakers in San Francisco, the firm of Baldwin & Company, led by partners George C. Baldwin and Thomas S. Holman, entered the private coining business on March 15, 1850, after taking over F.D. Kohler & Company’s operations. It was not until May that Baldwin & Co. posted a notice advertising their assay, refining and coining business. In short order, they were producing prodigious quantities of $5 and $10 gold pieces. The dies were finely produced and were almost certainly the work of noted engraver Albert Kuner.
By early 1851, the San Francisco Herald reported that Baldwin & Co.’s output nearly matched that of the United States Assay Office of Gold.
The $5 coin closely resembles the federal half eagle, but the 1850 $10 bears Kuner’s famed “Vaquero” obverse with a mounted cowboy swinging a lasso. In 1851, the firm added $20 gold pieces to their repertoire and circulation continued, with most merchants accepting the coins at par.
This all came to an end when famous newspaper editor James King of William submitted samples of each denomination to Augustus Humbert for assay. Humbert reported that the Baldwin pieces were underweight: the $20 piece had $19.40 of gold, the $10 only $9.40, while the $5 coin fared better with a valuation of $4.91. Even though some weight discrepancies could reasonably be expected, the assay and the subsequent news reports had a deleterious effect on Baldwin’s business. Branded a “short-weight gold swindle”, the pieces were driven from circulation, as businesses refused to accept them except at a steep discount.
Although Baldwin tried to counter the accusations with a more favorable assay from Kohler, the damage had been done and on April 15, 1851, Baldwin closed up shop and left California on the steamship Panama. As a result, not only did almost all of the Baldwin & Co. coins end up in the melting pot, so too did most of the other private coiners’ products.
Now, Baldwin & Co. coins are prized by numismatists attracted to pioneer California gold. Very few exist in any grade and undamaged specimens, as here, are especially elusive. The offered example is remarkably handsome with bright brassy-gold color throughout. Struck from a terminal state of the dies, a large cud occupies the upper right obverse border from one to two o’clock, accompanying a network of die cracks around the peripheries on both sides. The surfaces are uniformly worn but have no singularly distracting abrasions. Bold and attractive, this is a desirable VF piece.
This handsome relic of the California Gold Rush will be offered in Rarities Night of our November 2017 Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo, appearing alongside such treasures as a Mint State 1792 Silver Center cent from the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation and a Choice Mint State 1796 Stars quarter eagle from the Murray Hill Collection. Call us today at 1-800-458-4646 to secure your copy of this exciting catalog.