50 Dollars, United States, 1851

50 Dollars, United States, 1851

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As early as 1850, agitation began in Congress for the establishment of a San Francisco branch of the United States Mint. This action was blocked by people from New York-who wanted a branch in their own state-and from Georgia and Louisiana-who argued that any California operation would represent unfair competition to the branch mints in Dahlonega and New Orleans.
The opposition won, and San Francisco would go without a mint for another four years. But it did get an odd sort of hybrid, the United States Assay Office of Gold, striking an odd sort of money-a gigantic, fifty-dollar ingot that would also do duty as a coin. The arrangement was made by the Treasury Department under a contract with Moffat & Company, private assayers and gold coiners in San Francisco.
Augustus Humbert came west to oversee the operation, which got under way at the end of January 1851. For most of the next two years, Humbert's fifty-dollar "slugs" were the principal accepted currency in California. He was eventually allowed to turn his attentions to the production of smaller, and altogether more useful, coins, ten- and twenty-dollar pieces. And his operation finally laid the framework for a formal, normal branch Mint, which began the production of ordinary federal coinage in the spring of 1854.
Object Name
date made
U.S. Assay Office
place made
United States: California, San Francisco
Physical Description
gold (overall metal)
0 (overall die axis)
0 (overall die axis measurement)
struck (overall production method)
overall:.5 cm x 4.2 cm; 3/16 in x 1 21/32 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Estate of Josiah K. Lilly
See more items in
Work and Industry: National Numismatic Collection
Legendary Coins
Josiah K. Lilly Jr. Collection
Coins, Currency and Medals
The Value of Money
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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