Near Mint 1852 Assay Office $50 featured in our Spring 2019 Rarities Night Auction

Among 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 the iconic pieces have been produced throughout the 20th century. Even the ever-popular Panama-Pacific Exposition octagonal $50 commemoratives were based loosely on the slugs of the United States Assay Office of Gold.

Featured as a highlight of our Spring 2019 Baltimore Auction is an 1852 Assay Office $50 certified AU-58 (NGC). The surfaces are olive-gold with suggestions of deeper honey color around the devices. The protected regions harbor considerable satiny luster and the devices are notably intricate for the issue. Scattered small marks are commensurate with the grade and type, though none are individually distracting. A rim blemish at the 8 o’clock corner on the reverse is largely obscured by the NGC holder. It is handsomely preserved and among the finer surviving examples of this issue with just nine certified finer at NGC.

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. 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, still at the same .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 of 1852 that suddenly forbade the Customs Office from accepting any gold coin not struck at the federally-mandated .900 purity.

The Kagin-14 $50 pieces, as offered here, were the outcome of that crisis. Petitioned by the local merchants to alleviate the situation, the Assay Office began to produce prodigious quantities of the $50 slugs at the federal standard in January and February 1853, including some 23,800 pieces in total, all bearing an 1852 date. Their popularity undiminished, the pieces continued to be used in commerce until finally the state’s petitions for a branch mint were heard and the San Francisco Mint began operations. Once the mint was up and running, thousands of the 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, most of which are in heavily circulated grades. Because of their huge size and weight (just shy of 2 1/2 ounces of gold), the coins were prone to abrasions, edge dings and other impairments. Choice AU examples are exceedingly rare and are enthusiastically sought as ideal examples of a classic design.

This AU-58 (NGC) example is a significant highlight of our Official Auction of the 2019 Whitman Coin & Collectibles Spring Expo. The sale will be available for viewing and bidding on our website, or you may contact our offices to secure a printed catalog. To speak with a numismatic representative, please call 800-458-4646 or email Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our auctions via your Android or Apple device.

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