By James McCartney – Senior Numismatist, Stack’s Bowers ……
Among the most evocative of all the Gold Rush issues, the huge octagonal $50 gold pieces nicknamed “slugs” have been favorites of numismatists for generations. Tokens and medals made in imitation of these iconic pieces have been produced throughout the 20th century, and even the popular Panama-Pacific Exposition octagonal $50 commemoratives were based loosely on the slugs of Augustus Humbert and the United States Assay Office of Gold.
Featured in our November 2019 Baltimore Auction is an impressive 1851 Augustus Humbert $50 slug certified VF-30 (PCGS). Pale yellow surfaces support areas of darker honey-gold patina at the peripheries. The surfaces are uniformly worn but still bold, with mint-made imperfections in the planchet surrounding the denomination at the lower obverse.
The earliest of the $50 pieces were produced in 1851 under Augustus Humbert’s name at a non-federal .880 fine standard which quickly rose to .887 fine, as offered here. Soon after in 1852, Humbert’s name was entirely removed and the slugs were then struck under the name of the United States Assay Office of Gold, maintaining the .887 standard. Things proceeded well for the Assay Office and even smaller denomination coins were struck. An unexpected blow came in the form of legislation passed in August 1852 that suddenly forbade the Customs Office from accepting any gold coin not struck at the federally-mandated .900 purity.
The $50 slugs continued to be used in commerce until the state’s petitions for a branch mint were finally heard and the San Francisco Mint began operations in 1854. Once the mint was up and running, thousands of Assay Office $50 pieces ended up in their melting pots to be made into officially sanctioned coins.
Today, perhaps a few hundred slugs are extant in all grades and types, many of which have been harshly cleaned or damaged over the past 168 years. Wholesome examples like that featured in our November 2019 Baltimore auction are exceedingly rare and are enthusiastically sought as ideal examples of a classic design.
This VF-30 (PCGS) example will be a highlight of our Official Auction of the 2019 Whitman Coin & Collectibles Winter Expo and we expect strong interest from collectors of territorial gold. The sale will be available for viewing and bidding on our website www.StacksBowers.com, or you may contact our offices to secure a printed catalog. To speak with a numismatic representative, please call 800-458-4646 or email [email protected]. Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our auctions via your Android or Apple device.