Historic 1853 United States Assay Office $20 Gold of the 884 Thous Variety

Stack’s Bowers Galleries is pleased to present a splendid 1853 U.S. Assay Office of Gold $20, 884 Thous variety in our Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo, June 23-28, 2014, in Baltimore, Maryland. This example, from the incredible El Dorado Collection, is a significant rarity in all grades, with perhaps a dozen or so known. The offered specimen is graded AU-58 by PCGS. The color is dazzling, copper-rose enhanced by underlying mint flash. The strike is deep, with all the devices, right down to the central features, sharply defined. The 884 Thous refers to the purity of the gold bullion used to make this coin, with the balance made up of other metals in the native gold alloy. 

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California in January 1848 was one of the most important events of the 19th century. Word of the discovery of gold in the American River in California first spread along the Pacific, including to the Oregon Territory, Mexico, Central America and even the Sandwich Islands (latter day Hawaii) and residents from these lands flocked to California. Word spread east of the gold discovery in California and a flood of people began to head west to seek their fortunes. San Francisco had been a small village with a population of approximately 200 people in 1846, but it was located on one of the most perfectly designed natural harbors in the world and was a relatively short distance from the American River and nearby gold-filled valleys and streams. By 1852, San Francisco had blossomed into a city with 36,000 people and was the major jumping off point for prospectors heading into the gold region or seeking passage by ship to other world points in return. During the Gold Rush, it is estimated that 300,000 people came to the gold region to seek riches. Of that migration, about half came by boat, while the balance came overland.

There were many early coinage ventures in San Francisco that attempted to impose monetary order on the flow of gold dust and nuggets coming out of the rivers and mountains. Private minters set up shop to melt the gold into ingots and bars, and even struck a few gold coins. The United States Assay Office, operated under Moffat & Co., was established in 1851, but later in 1852, Curtis, Perry and Ward took on the operations. Their official status as governmental assayers and their reputation for honesty and integrity landed them immense business. By 1854, a new branch mint was established at San Francisco, and despite some initial growing pains, coinage became more available.

Want to include your coins in one of our future auctions? Please call our offices at 800.458.4646 or me personally and I’ll walk you through the consignment process. We are currently taking consignments for our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money to be held August 5-9, 2014, in Rosemont, Illinois, as well as for several other auctions noted on our website . The June Baltimore Auction will be available online as soon as cataloging and imaging is completed. If you want to order a copy of this auction catalog, please call Auction Services at 800.458.4646.

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