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HomeAuctionsRare 1852 .887 Humbert Gold $50 Coin Slug Offered by GreatCollections

Rare 1852 .887 Humbert Gold $50 Coin Slug Offered by GreatCollections

Rare 1852 .887 Humbert Gold $50 Coin Slug Offered by GreatCollections
1852 Humber 887 fine $50 gold. Image: GreatCollections / CoinWeek.

This week, GreatCollections is offering collectors a rarely encountered opportunity to purchase a fascinating piece of mid-19th-century territorial gold. This 1852 .887 Humbert gold $50 piece is immediately recognizable by its octagonal shape and unique design. Graded as AU 50 by PCGS, this piece saw limited circulation in the heady days of the western gold rush. Interested collectors should note that bidding for this historical piece of American frontier history ends on Sunday, February 12, 2023, at 7:43 PM Pacific Time (10:43 PM Eastern). At the time of publication, the opening bid stands at $46,000 USD.

In the period between when gold was discovered in the West and when California became a state, there were a number of private companies and individuals who struck gold pseudo-coinage (tokens) from locally sourced metal. There wasn’t a problem with the legal status of these tokens, but there was an issue with the natural composition of the metal being mined. Unlike official U.S. gold coinage, which was a 90/10 alloy of pure gold and copper, this gold was on average 88.7% fine, with 11.3% silver but no copper. Therefore, any coins minted before 1850 in California did not contain enough gold.

Shortly after California was granted statehood, United States Mint Director Robert Patterson began working with senators T. Butler King and Thomas Corwin to create a United States Assay Office in the west. That year (1850), Augustus Humbert was appointed to the office of U.S. assayer in California. A German-born immigrant living in New York, Humbert quickly traveled across the continent to begin work with contractors of Moffatt & Co. in California. Responsible for determining, or assaying, the quality of gold used in territorial coinage, Humbert was to put his name on each “coin”.

These octagonal ingots (also called “slugs”), certified by the U.S. Government through Augustus Humbert, eased commerce by enabling banks or local businesses to accept them at a 1:1 ratio with any standard U.S. gold coinage. Starting in 1851, the San Francisco Assay Office struck $50 gold pieces at a fineness of 88% pure gold. This, however, was quickly raised to a purity of .887. These new slugs proudly read ‘887 THOUS’, referring to the metal purity. Unfortunately, an upset came partway through 1852 when a law was passed that banned U.S. customs offices from accepting payment in gold coins of any purity lower than 90%. As a result, Humbert and the moneyers at the San Francisco Assay Office upped the fineness of their metal and began issuing pieces that read ‘900 THOUS’.

While there is a combined record of 118 grading events, this surely represents a large number of resubmissions. These territorial gold pieces are seldom seen, their scarcity due to both the relatively limited number produced and the fact that many were melted down when the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854.

This particular piece shows the typical rim dents, scratches, and wear that were picked up by high-quality gold coins in circulation. The eagle’s breast and outermost legend are quite worn. Despite this honest wear, and perhaps partly because of it, this piece is quite lively and would make a great addition to any collection.

Humbert Gold $50 Design

The obverse of the octagonal 1852 .887 Humbert gold $50 piece depicts a large bald eagle perched on a rocky outcropping holding the federal shield in its talons and a ribbon bearing the legend “LIBERTY” in its beak. Between the eagle’s outstretched wing tips is the fineness, and around it is the country of manufacture (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) and the denomination (FIFTY DOLLS.). In the outermost ring is the additional legend UNITED STATES ASSAY OFFICE OF GOLD – SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA and the date (1852).

As a semi-uniface piece, the reverse of this type is decorated by a simple yet beautiful circular guilloché pattern radiating from the center and bounded by a secondary ring near the piece’s edge.

The edge of the 1852 .887 Humbert gold $50 piece is reeded.

Bidding ends on Sunday, February 12, 2023, at 7:43 PM Pacific Time (10:43 PM Eastern).

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To search through GreatCollection’s archive of over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past eight years, please visit the GreatCollections Auction Archives.

Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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