1851 HUMBERT $50 880 K-5
NGC XF45In 1851, the San Francisco Assay Office operated as a provisional U.S. Mint before the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854. Former watchmaker, Augustus Humbert received Congressional approval as the government assayer, arriving in San Francisco early in 1851. The U.S. Assay Office was an officially sanctioned operation which produced this $50 gold piece, commonly referred to as a ''Slug'' because its large size could knock a man out.
This is the second generation of $50 ''slugs.'' This ''new and improved'' version of the $50 slug eliminated some of the time-consuming operations involved with the production of the earliest versions. The improvements eliminated seven single steps in production like adding elements to the die instead of having to be punched in by hand, and reeding replaced former edge lettering to prevent clipping or shaving.
The inscription ''880 Thous,'' tells us that this slug is 88% gold with 12% alloy. Perhaps as much as half of the alloy is silver, imparting the distinct green-gold appearance to this impressive Humbert slug. This K-5 variety represents under survivors, as many of the $50 Slugs were melted down over the years after becoming victims of their high face value. The Humbert and U.S. Assay Office slugs were official government coinage issues, unlike other private California gold issues, and they should be collected as part of the federal gold series.
Augustus Humbert, the official Assayer of the United States, opened the west coast Assay Office in 1851, to act as a provisional U.S. Mint before the first San Francisco Mint was approved. Humbert minted these historic $50 octagonal gold ingots weighing nearly 2.75 troy ounces of California Gold Rush Gold that were first issued on February 14, 1851. These were not technically ''coins'' but they were called ''Slugs'' because these heavy pieces could knock a man out in a fight!
Miners could deposit gold dust and would receive fair value in the form of a $50 gold slug. These Assay pieces were the preferred tender which effectively removed private gold coins from circulation. Unfortunately, most were unceremoniously melted and re-coined into double eagles at the new San Francisco Mint and very few were preserved today. The Humbert and U.S. Assay Office slugs were official government coinage issues, unlike other private California gold issues, and they should be collected as part of the federal gold series.
The operations of the United States Assay Office in 1851 and 1852 represent an important chapter in the coinage history of the California Gold Rush and, indeed, the nation as a whole. This rare piece, from Humbert's first year as assayer in California, offers the advanced collector an opportunity to own an impressive memento of the United States' frontier history. The iconic Humbert octagonal $50 slugs have become more symbolic of the Gold Rush era than any other issue in the minds of collectors. Their unique octagonal shape has made them some of most desirable ''oddities'' in the numismatic marketplace. They have earned a place in the famed book by Jeff Garrett, ''The 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.''