NGC Confirms Second Known Specimen of Pioneer Gold Dollar

Posted on 8/20/2002

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has certified and graded what is only the second known specimen of the Pacific Company gold dollar struck in gold. Graded MS 61, this exceedingly rare coin was previously attributed by numismatists as a silver strike with gilding (gold plating). Non-destructive testing performed in-house by NGC and by an outside testing laboratory confirmed what was suspected by the coin's submitter—that this example was actually coined in a gold alloy.

Pacific Company was a joint partnership of 38 individuals formed in January of 1849. Their goal was to reach California with the prospect of coining the gold bullion then in such abundance. Arriving in San Francisco on September 16, the company disbanded before ever using the dies they'd commissioned in the East. Instead, the dies evidently were sold to the established assaying firm of Broderick & Kohler in San Francisco, which then produced eagles and half eagles for general circulation. When the coins proved to be worth less than their face value, recipients refused to take them except at steep discounts. Thus discredited, nearly the entire coinage was melted within just a few years, accounting for the great rarity of these issues.

The quarter eagle and gold dollar dies were long believed by numismatists to have gone unused, except for trial strikings in off metals. Some of these are known to have been gilded, and it was long thought that the present specimen was one such coin. It was not until two years ago that the first gold specimen of the Pacific Company dollar surfaced, and it was believed to be unique until now. That coin was Lot 1041 in Bowers & Merena Galleries' auction of the Paul S. Mory, Sr. Collection, June 22-23, 2000. An ex-jewelry piece, it is marred by solder that obscures part of its reverse design.

The newly confirmed specimen appeared as Lot 943 in The Rarities Sale, also by Bowers & Merena Galleries, held July 31, 2002. It was therein described as silver-gilt, and no data was provided on the coin's specifics. This specimen had previously been part of the vast holdings of famed collector/hoarder Virgil M. Brand, who acquired it from a Ben Green auction in August of 1910. It was last sold publicly in 1984 in Bowers & Merena Galleries' sale of the Virgil M. Brand Collection and had resided within the Jay Roe Collection of pioneer gold coins until appearing at auction last month. As this newly confirmed gold specimen is undamaged, aside from a very small test mark on its obverse rim, it is easily the finer of the two known examples.

Acting on his suspicion that this was, in fact, an actual gold striking, dealer Stuart Levine bid liberally and secured the lot after fierce competition with a telephone bidder. Levine then submitted the coin to NGC, requesting that it be tested in a nondestructive manner to determine its actual composition. This proved to be .722 gold, .168 silver and .110 copper, as compared to the federal standard of .900 gold and .100 silver and copper. This low gold fineness is not unusual with pioneer coins. The bullion was often coined as found, the minters compensating for any discrepancy by increasing the coin's weight. For example, the gold dollars minted by the Bechtler Family in North Carolina ranged in weight from 30 grains down to 27 grains. Indeed, this specimen weighs 29.56 grains, noticeably heavier than the U.S. Mint standard of 25.80 grains.

The specific gravity of the Pacific Company gold dollar is 13.39, about midway between the specific gravities of federal gold (17.16) and silver (10.34) coins of the period, a finding that is consistent with its composition.

Stuart Levine was delighted with the findings of NGC's numismatists. "I'm elated that my hypothesis has been confirmed by NGC," he reported. "It's exciting to be able to look at coins every day for over 23 years and still find something new. It is truly the thrill of numismatics. I suspected that the coin was gold when I examined the tiny test cut on the edge and saw no evidence of silver or base metal. This coin clearly wasn't gilt. The lack of undertype convinced me further, since all silver specimens I've seen have been overstruck on other small silver coins."

Levine went on to add, "This comes at an opportune time in my life, as the sale of this item will help put my son through college. I'm glad I chose NGC. With their knowledgeable staff and experience they are experts in all facets of numismatic authentication and grading of United States and related coinage."

NGC Research Director Dave Lange was pleased to have had this opportunity to witness numismatic history: "I was a bit skeptical when Stu brought this coin to our table at the New York ANA show, but I've done this sort of work a number of times on behalf of our customers, and this coin was too important to not do everything possible. When we perform these tests, it's typically with pattern coins, but I've not had the occasion to bring a territorial piece to the lab for testing. It's remarkable that both known gold specimens have surfaced in the past few years and were not known to Donald Kagin when he wrote his standard reference on the series."

Mark Salzberg, President of NGC, was equally enthusiastic: "It's really amazing that rarities of this magnitude are still being discovered. The history that this coin represents makes it one of the most important American coins, and I'm pleased that Stu entrusted NGC with the responsibility of certifying it."

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