The firm of Moffat & Co. was dissolved on February 14, 1852, when John Little Moffat sold his interest to his three partners, Joseph R. Curtis, Philo H. Perry, and Samuel H. Ward. The remaining partners immediately established their new firm as the United States Assay Office of Gold and continued the federal contract to issue gold coinage in California. Augustus Humbert remained in his position as United States Assayer, and Customs Collector T. Butler King was authorized by Secretary of the Treasury Thomas Corwin to accept the firm’s coins for customs payments.

The summer passed uneventfully, but an economic bombshell was dropped when a federal law prohibiting the acceptance of gold coins under .900 fineness for customs dues was passed on August 31, 1852. Since the U.S. Assay Office coins were only .880, .884, and .887 fine, this virtually deprived the region of all legal tender currency.

1852 $50 Assay Office Fifty Dollar, 900 Thous. MS64 PCGS Secure. CAC
1852 $50 Assay Office Fifty Dollar, 900 Thous. MS64 PCGS Secure. CAC

Although the Assay Office coins were of lesser fineness than their federal counterparts, they compensated by being heavier. The intrinsic value of the coins met, or even exceeded, their face value, but Congress feared that the lesser fineness might damage the credibility of the United States if they were used in international trade.

In this emergency situation, local merchants and businessmen petitioned Curtis, Perry, and Ward to issue coins of the new fineness, which Customs Collector King took it upon himself to accept for customs payments. The Assay Office complied, issuing coins of the new fineness in several denominations, with most of the gold coming from the lesser fineness coins which were turned in for recoinage. A total of 13,800 fifty dollar slugs of the K-14 variety were issued in January 1853, followed by 10,000 more in February 1853, all bearing the old 1852 date and the new fineness 900 THOUS. on the ribbon. The coins were accepted by King and circulated widely in the channels of commerce, both in California and abroad, until the opening of the San Francisco Mint in 1854 gave the people of California a dependable federally sanctioned medium of exchange.

In Heritage’s December 4 – 7 Houston Money Show US Coins Signature Auction they are offering a stellar example of this issue, the only MS64 coin of this variety certified by PCGS. It is likely that the coin was preserved by U.S. Assayer Augustus Humbert himself at the time of issue, although this cannot be proven with absolute certainty. The coin has certainly never been in circulation, and Humbert who kept an extensive collection of private gold coinage until his death, is the most likely candidate for its preservation.

This remarkable Choice example exhibits much sharper detail than is usually seen on this issue, with all letters in the legend plainly legible and fine definition on the eagle’s feathers. These large gold coins are typically found with excessive bagmarks, but this piece shows only minor signs of contact in the fields, and displays none of the large edge bumps that often plague this issue. The most remarkable visual characteristic of this coin is its vibrant mint luster, which radiates intensely from both sides, with a few hints of prooflike reflectivity in selected areas. The vivid orange-gold surfaces add to the extraordinary eye appeal.

This coin combines the highest available technical quality and eye appeal with unmatched historic interest and an illustrious pedigree. There is simply no comparable example for the finest collection of Territorial gold.

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