The Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, 1851

The Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, 1851 was known to have many names, some of which are 1851 Augustus Humbert $50 Gold Ingot Slug, 1851 $50 Augustus Humbert Gold and $50 gold “Slug”. It is indeed an extraordinary coin, thanks to its composition, weight, odd shape and beauty. It won’t even fit on a coin collector’s beginner’s coin album. The coin’s octagonal shape is one oddity that makes it a unique and desirable coin in the numismatic marketplace.

Technically speaking, the Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, 1851 created were actually ingots because of their value which $50 and their heavyweight. These were later called and famously known as slugs thanks to its size.

The 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug has a rich historical heritage and is remarkably one of the most spectacular coins every expert numismatists and coin dealers would love to see in their lifetime. It is, in fact, one of the rarest coins that were minted in the US. If you’re one of the serious coin collectors who wants the most collectible coin to add to your collection, investing on this 1951 gold slug is for you.

The History of the Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, 1851

The California Gold Rush of 1849

The historic gold rush that occurred in California gave birth to the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug. When New Jersey carpenter named James W. Marshall made the huge discovery of Gold on January 24, 1848, the news spread like wildfire. He was actually working for John Sutter and was building a water-powered sawmill when he found the gold flakes in the American River.

A few days after Marshall’s historic discovery, California officially became part of the United States and the Mexican American War finally ended after the signing of Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Because of the discovery of Gold, many men fled to California in the hopes of obtaining gold. Many women were left behind by the men and were forced to work, run business and care for their children all by themselves. The population of California grew immensely from 20,000 to an estimate of 100,000. This resulted in California’s fast-paced admission as the 31st state of the US.

The United States Assay Office under Augustus Humbert

After the 1849 California Gold Rush, the need for minted coins grew.  California was rapidly growing. There is an abundance of gold, and some people are using these gold in exchange for goods or services. However, California is yet to have an official currency. Californians demanded a Mint to be based in California in order to mint coins of legal tender in lower denominations. A number of proposals were made from the duration of 1849 to 1850 aiming to make a California Mint a possibility.

Two senators, Senator William Gwin of California and Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri made countless of letters and several speeches in support of the establishment of a Mint in San Francisco.

Gwin wrote in a letter that about 250 thousands of ounces of dust or an estimate of 4 million dollars monthly are obtained from California mines. He claims that whenever half of the extracted gold were sent abroad, California loses about 2 dollars per ounce since these were sold at $16 per ounce abroad compared to $18 at the US Mint.

The efforts of Benton and Gwin were opposed by the New York delegate who felt they are also entitled to their own mint. The Pennsylvania delegation furiously opposed both New York and California Mints as it would be a threat to their Mint established in Philadelphia. Similarly, Lousiana, Georgia and North Carolina were not thrilled with the pending US Mint branch competition.

The delegation of California agreed with the establishment of the US Assay Office in San Francisco after being convinced that during the next Congressional session, California will be authorized with a Mint. On September 30, 1850, a compromise bill was passed, approving the establishment of the United States Assay Office in San Francisco. This was approved after California was named an official state of the US by 1849. The United States Assay Office was only a provisional minting facility established by the US government to accommodate the company who will be minting the coins.

Originally, the first bill proposed that denominations of 50 to 10,000 dollar denominations will be issued. The coins will be struck of processed gold, their value will be marked clearly and will have a uniform firmness. These coins will include the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and LIBERTY and will have the same appropriate legends and devices like that of smaller coins. It is believed that the proposed and planned denominations are $50, $100, $200, $500, and $1,000 ingots.

The United States Assay Office are authorized to weight and test the Gold purity and stamp to show its real gold value with an appropriate seal. The creation of the gold ingots will be given to a qualified company and the contract was awarded to Moffat & Co. They immediately ceased operation to accommodate the minting of the new gold coin. They sent an email statement on or before the 1st of February, they will be ready to receive the gold dust that will be used in creating the ingots and bars.”

Charles C. Wright, a sculptor, and medalist were commissioned to engrave the original dies used to create the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug in New York. Augustus Humbert, a New York watchmaker was assigned to be the US Assayer and was said to receive a salary of $5,000 annually.

Minting and Usage of the Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug

Humbert bought the original dies made by Wright on January 30, 1851, and passed them to the Moffat & Co. The company was able to produce the octagonal 50 dollars slug starting February 14.

The first coins produced had a bunch of nicknames such as slug, Californian, quintuple eagle, and adobe. Slug stuck and was commonly used by the public and coin collectors and even numismatists of today. They were produced in February 1851 and were later released on February 21, 1851. After the first issue of the Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, Albert Kuner engraved the succeeding issues.

Despite the fact that Moffat & Co. produced the 1851 octagonal 50 dollars slug, this coin never had a mint mark or the name of the company that made them. The final result was an octagonally shaped ingot that has nice corners, surface and a strike considered above average. All the letterings in 1851 octagonal 50 dollars slug are all readable except AUGUSTUS.

Moffat & Co. received many backlashes after they were accused of charging citizen way excessively than deemed appropriate. Moffat answered to the accusation by stating the Philadelphia has a lower labor price than in California which is why their charge is higher.

The controversies surrounding Moffat & Co did not stop there. Banks blamed the company for being compelled to increase their offers when it comes to gold dust which in turn lowered their chance of making a profit. The charges were deemed vague and soon vanished after the shortage of denominations lover than $50 arose. Many more controversies arrived, but in the end, Moffat & Co was able to produce coins of lower denominations – the $5 and $10.

The slug received both positive and negative comments in newspapers. Businessmen, bankers and the public gave the coin a warm welcome. Many gold pieces with inferior quality that were privately issued were forced out for the use of the public. Pacific and Mormon Company coins greatly benefitted from the issued on the “slugs.” They were finally accepted at their true value and were melted again as slugs.

However, the 1851 U.S. Assay Office-Humbert $50 “slug” proved to be a better currency when paying duties at the San Francisco Port instead of everyday usage. This happened after President Filmore authorized T. Butler King, a Customs Collector to accept the gold ingots and bars in the House of Customs. The problem is, not everyone needs to pay Duties. The public clearly wanted and need coins of smaller denominations for daily commerce.

On December 14, 1853, Humbert left his position as the US Assayer. It was during this time that the building of the United States Assay Office was closed and the building and equipment were sold to the United States Mint.

Hundreds of thousands of these coins were struck in 1851. Unfortunately, these are also taken up and melted in 1854 when the San Francisco Mint opened for business.

Kellogg, the attorney who acquired the contract for the United States Assay Office made a new firm with the partnership of Richter. The Kellogg & Co started to produce $6 million $20 gold coins. Richter retired a year later and was replaced by Humbert. Humbert and Kellogg were so successful they were also able to produce a number of circulated cold coins as the Mint was unable to keep up with the demand.

Debate on the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug

One of the most talked about political conspiracy was that the $50 gold slug may or may not really be officially issued coin of the United States. Since it was accepted as a legal payment for Duties in the San Francisco Customs Office, it was considered a legal tender. However, a crisis arose in the western financial market after politicians demonetize the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug. The politicians at that time changed the status of the slug.

However, when records of the United States Assay Office were found, they were filed together with the Mint director’s records adjoining the Branch Mints’ reports. Regularly issued coins were filed the way the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug was filed. This only meant that the Federal Government in 1851 did consider the slugs as a regular issued gold coin

The Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, 1851’s Coin Specification

Image courtesy of , 1852 $50 Assay Office slug, size by Bonnie Mattie, CC BY 4.0

The obverse of the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug features an Eagle standing on a rock, with its wings spread out. It was clutching arrows and an olive branch using its claws. The Arrows signify power while the olive branch stands for peace. The Eagle clutches a scroll that has the motto “Liberty” on its beak. The Shield of the constitutions rests just beneath the Eagle. Above the Eagle, a cartouche was engraved bearing the gold coin’s degree of fineness. The words United States of America and FIFTY DOLLS are placed in the circle of the obverse. Around the edges of the $50 gold slug lies the words Augustus Humbert United States Assayer of Gold California 1851.

There were two descriptions of the obverse reported by Alta California. On February 14, 1851, Alta reported that the obverse bears the mark “887 fine in the flag with 50 followed by the letters D.C. However, on February 21, 1851, the Alta California reports that the Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, 1851 bears the FIFTY mark followed by the word DOLLS. Such wording was used in the succeeding slugs with non-lettered edges. There are no known coins that meet the description exists today.

As for the reverse side of the coin, it features a spiral pattern famously called as an engine turning. It is believed that Humbert used this design as his own personal touch. Being a watchmaker in the past, he used the engine turning design as a style popular among watches during is time. The surface was embossed with a die that is hard to imitate and the machine used is a one of a kind in the US. The edges of the slug were reeded.

It’s safe to say that the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug was the first of its denomination in the form of a coin as a legal tender. Arguably, Panama –Pacific Commemorative Coins struck in octagonal shape were derived and inspired by the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug.

The 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug was the largest coin ever circulated during the California Gold Rush. The weight of the slug was almost a whopping 2 and a half ounces of gold. It measures about 32 inches by 1 and ½ inch.

Varieties of the Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, 1851

The 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug has a total of 7 series struck in the regular strike and 2 series were struck in proofs.

1851 $50 LE Humbert 880 Rays 

1851 $50 LE Humbert 880 

1851 $50 LE Humbert 880 50 Reverse

1851 $50 LE Humbert 887 50 Reverse 

1851 $50 LE Humbert 887 

1851 $50 RE Humbert 880 Thous 

1851 $50 RE Humbert 887

1851 $50 LE Humbert, Copper, BN (Proof)

1851 $50 PE Humbert, Copper, BN (Proof)

The 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug were meticulously replicated by Ron Landis in 2008. The replicas are made as a commemorative ingot are all made from hand-engraved dies. Each coin has in pure 999.9 fine California Gold in 2.5 troy ounces. Instead of the FIFTY DOLLY or 50 D.C., the letters and number were replaced with PURE CAL. GOLD on the obverse side of the coin.

As for the reverse, the words HUMBERT GOLD INGOT COMMEMORATIVE 2008 PURE CALIFORNIA GOLD 2.5 OZ TROY 999.9 FINE  were engraved. All octagonal commemorative ingots were certified and guaranteed by the NGC or the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. It is important to note that these replicas have a value much less than any US gold coin in the market.

Collecting Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug, 1851

Image courtesy of , 1852 $50 Assay Office slug, size by Bonnie Mattie, CC BY 4.0

According to the Scottsdale Bullion & Coin, there are only about 8 pieces of the 1851 “880” Reeded Augustus Humbert $50 gold slug are being circulated to the public. Also, only five are known to be in a grade higher than 61.

Only a few of the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug exists nowadays which makes them a great find and a very rare gold collectible any coin dealer and collector would love to have or even see in their lifetime. As of to date, the auction of the said $50 Gold Slug can start from $10,000 and above. The highest known specimen ever auctioned, graded – an MS-65 grade 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug was graded by the Chairman of NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation), Mark Salzberg. Salzberg wrote in an article that this particular coin is the most memorable coin with an original luster he has ever graded.

Some of the known varieties of the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug are the 1851 $50 LE Humbert 880 50 Reverse and 1851 $50 LE Humbert 887 50 Reverse (Regular Strike) which both have the number 50 printed on the heart of the reverse.

Dubbed as the “Signature coin of the California Gold Rush,” it is believed that there are only about 400 to 600 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug available nowadays.

Coin experts, dealers, and collectors will agree that all varieties of the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug found are all extremely rare. It doesn’t matter what the condition of your Humbert Gold coin currently has, or if it was a circulated coin or not. Everything about the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug makes it a very desirable coin. It is indeed a magnificent coin with a rich history, large and heavy composed of 2 and ½ gold and beautifully but painstakingly minted.

In conclusion, the 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug was a magnificent example and product of the California Gold Rush and the history of numismatics. It is very rare, very valuable and it deserves to be part of a premium collection. The price of 1851 Octagonal 50 Dollar Gold Slug will depend on the condition, rarity, and other factors used in pricing coins. However, the values can range from at least tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of US Dollars.

References:

PCGS CoinFacts, NGCCoin, Monaco Rare Coins, HistoryHarvard University Library Open Collection Program