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Choice Proof Kellogg $50 gold coin to be auctioned

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

A fifty dollar gold coin that was privately issued in San Francisco in 1855 is ‘in the news’! It is a Proof coin that was produced by the firm of John Glover Kellogg, which issued several gold denominations during the era of the California gold rush. In January 2008, Heritage will offer this particular coin during a Platinum Night event at the FUN convention in Orlando, Florida.

Hein Kellogg Fifty Dollar Gold The Hein Kellogg fifty has been certified as ‘Proof-63’ by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). Proof coins usually grade from 60 to 70, a 63 is ‘choice’ and a ’65’ is a gem. It seems that there are no gem quality Kellogg fifty dollar gold pieces.

This Kellogg fifty was earlier in the Frank J. Hein collection. It surfaced in 2000, as part of a small collection that also contained an Ultra High Relief Saint (a very special 1907 $20 gold coin) that has been PCGS certified Proof-68. Two or more coins from Hein’s collection, but not this one, were auctioned by Heritage at the October 2000 Long Beach Expo. Hein lived from 1883 to 1949. Reportedly, his collection was comprised of less than a dozen coins. In early 2000, one of Hein’s granddaughters entrusted a Midwestern dealer to handle the disbursal of Hein’s collection.

The Hein Kellogg fifty was offered in Superior’s auction of January 2005 in Fort Lauderdale. I like the coin a lot. I do not think, however, that its grade is near that of a Proof-64. Even so, it is a really cool coin. David McCarthy “wholeheartedly agrees” with my assessment of the Hein Kellogg. He also “likes it a lot.” McCarthy declares that “it is accurately graded Proof-63, and has hits and cuts that are to be expected” on a “large” Proof-63 gold coin. Before I told McCarthy that I thought it was “flashy,” he used the same word to describe it.

Another Kellogg fifty was recently ‘in the news.’ It is PCGS certified as ‘Proof-62’ and was auctioned by Stack’s for $460,000 on Oct. 16 at the Parker Meridien Hotel in midtown Manhattan. To distinguish that certified Proof-62 Kellogg $50 gold coin from other Kellogg $50 gold coins, it is referred to as the Shapiro-Kiefer-Saab piece. These are said, in widely accepted references, to be the last names of three former owners of this specific coin.

On Oct. 16, the successful bidder was a dealer who usually prefers not to be identified. On Oct. 28, he confirmed that it was sold soon after the sale to a collector. While this dealer declined to reveal the sale price, information from three other sources suggest that it was $500,000, or thereabouts.

The Shapiro-Kiefer-Saab Kellogg is dynamic and attractive for a “62” grade Proof gold coin. Don Kagin remarks that the Shapiro-Keifer-Saab Kellogg fifty is a “premium quality Proof-62” though not a 63. David McCarthy, senior numismatist at Kagin’s firm, said that “it has a beautiful look for a 62,” but is “not close to grading 63.” McCarthy agrees with me that the creamy, deeply reflective surfaces are really cool. He concludes that these surfaces are completely natural.

The firm of Kagin’s set the auction record for a Kellogg fifty when $747,500 was paid in January 2007, at Heritage’s Platinum 2 Night, for one that is PCGS certified as Proof-64. That Kellogg $50 was sold to a collector, not long after the Heritage auction. The pedigree of this PCGS certified Proof-64 piece is not clear, at least not to me. As it is said to have been, in the past, in a “British collection,” it is easiest to refer to it as the “British collection” Kellogg fifty.

Hein Fiffty Dollar Gold - Reverse All Kellogg fifties are highly prized. The U.S. Branch Mint in San Francisco started minting coins in 1854, but never did mint $50 gold coins. Earlier, Augustus Humbert was the U.S. Assayer for the region and $50 gold coins were minted in 1851 and ’52 under his direction. These are octagonal in shape and look much different from Kellogg fifties. Humbert fifties are not particularly rare. Certain varieties are extremely rare, but are mostly of interest to advanced collectors of private and territorial gold coins. A large number of collectors seek to acquire a few territorials to complement collections of U.S. gold coins

The U.S. Mint never did produce $50 gold coins for circulation. A competitor of Kellogg’s, the firm of Wass, Molitor and Co., produced a substantial quantity of $50 gold coins in 1855. While there may be as many as one hundred Wass, Molitor $50 gold coins now in existence, Kellogg fifties are much rarer.

Kellogg probably intended to issue $50 gold coins for circulation, and changed his mind. The U.S. Branch Mint in San Francisco was already producing a quantity of $20 gold coins (Double Eagles), and both Humbert and Wass-Molitor fifties were circulating in 1855 and ’56. There was then more of a need for $10 and $20 gold coins.

Kellogg and Wass-Molitor each continued to mint lower denomination gold coins in 1854 and 1855 largely because the U.S. Mint in San Francisco was not consistently and reliably producing gold coins. There were numerous production stoppages, and output levels of the various denominations were unpredictable. During some periods in 1854 and ’55, the firms of Kellogg and Wass-Molitor were responding to public demand for the minting of gold coins that the U.S. Mint was unable to meet.

There is no evidence that any business strike Kellogg fifties were produced. All known Kellogg fifties are Proofs, or at least were struck as Proofs. The striking quality is exceptional for a private Mint during the frontier area. The mirror surfaces tend to be thick and dynamic. The design elements (devices) are sharply defined. On several pieces, the head of Liberty on the front (obverse) and the eagle on the reverse (back) seem to glow.

Mark Borckardt, senior cataloguer at Heritage, put forth a detailed roster in the January 2007 FUN Platinum-2 Night catalogue. Borckardt has concluded that there are thirteen distinct Kellogg fifties. David McCarthy suggests that there may be only twelve.

Borckardt’s roster stems from the list in Walter Breen’s comprehensive encyclopedia that was published in 1988. Borckardt makes clear that Don Kagin was involved in the compilation of the 2007 roster.

This roster is accessible online at It does not make sense for me to reproduce the whole roster here. Furthermore, I am not adding any pedigree information. I am discussing some of the pieces and putting forth opinions regarding them.

I have put together a tentative condition ranking of the top four. My order is clearly different from that of Borckardt, though he did not explicitly refer to his list as a condition ranking. I have examined eight of the privately owned eleven. Jeff Garrett, a widely recognized expert, has carefully examined both of the Kellogg fifties in the Smithsonian. He concluded that these both grade “Proof-62.”

Jeff Garrett is not related to the Garrett family that assembled one of the best coin collections of all time. He is the co-author, with Ron Guth, of several books including a comprehensive encyclopedia of U.S. gold coins.

The three privately owned Kellogg fifties that I have not seen are the Garrett family, Nathan Kaufman, and Amon Carter pieces. According to Don Kagin and Mark Borckardt, the Kaufman piece is PCGS graded Proof-62 and the Dunham-Carter piece is graded Proof-62 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC).

The “British collection” Kellogg fifty and the Garrett family Kellogg fifty have both been certified as Proof-64 by PCGS, and none have been certified with a higher grade. The “British collection” Kellogg fifty is bright and attractive, with not too many marks. It is fairly graded 64.

Copper Pattern of 50 Dollar Gold by KagansI am relying upon Don Kagin’s interpretation of the Garrett family piece. I have not seen it. The “British collection” and Garrett Kellogg fifties “are the two finest with some aspects of both being better than the other,” Kagin maintains. “But overall,” Kagin deems the Garrett piece to be the best.

I contend that the third finest known is the Kellogg fifty that was in the Louis Eliasberg collection for decades, assuming that it has not changed since I last saw it. It was graded “Proof-62” by the cataloguer before it was auctioned in New York City by Bowers & Merena (New Hampshire) in May 1996. None of the Eliasberg coins were certified when they were auctioned. Many of the coins in the Eliasberg ’96 and ’97 sales received grades from PCGS or NGC that were higher, sometimes much higher, than the grades that were assigned by the cataloguers. My recollection is that the Eliasberg Kellogg $50 gold coin graded a strong 63 or a low 64.

I very recently asked Don Kagin about the Eliasberg Kellogg fifty. He said that he is “not aware” of it ever having been submitted to PCGS or NGC. Kagin also agreed that it may grade higher than 62 today. He said that it is “probably okay” to regard its grade as a strong 63 or a weak 64, though he noted that such a hypothesis involves “assumptions.”

As for the quality of the Eliasberg piece, Dave Wnuck (pronounced Wah-nukk) strongly maintains that the Eliasberg Kellogg fifty “is of higher quality than the Hein Kellogg” fifty. Wnuck examined the Eliasberg piece in 1996 and the Hein piece during the summer. Wnuck, a Connecticut dealer, attends most major coin auctions, along with a large number of minor ones.

In 2007, Borckardt listed the Eliasberg Kellogg fifty as having never been certified. It is not clear, however, whether the three Proof-64 pieces that NGC lists in its census are just duplicate listings of the two PCGS certified Proof-64 pieces. I would not be surprised if I found out that the Eliasberg piece is one of the NGC certified Proof-64 Kellogg fifties.

Of the six that have been graded Proof-62 by PCGS, NGC or Jeff Garrett, I have only seen two. One is the Shapiro-Kiefer-Saab piece that Stack’s just auctioned in October. The other is the Beck-Ketterman piece, which is the finer of two Kellogg fifties that Stack’s auctioned in March 2005.

While Borckardt does not list the Beck-Ketterman Kellogg fifty as having been certified, Kagin and McCarthy both told me that it has been NCG graded Proof-62, which is a slightly higher grade than I assigned to it. I hypothesize that it is a little weaker in quality than some or all of the others that have been graded 62.

I like the Kellogg fifty that appeared in Superior’s (Goldberg’s) session of Auction ’90 and also Superior’s auction of August 1992. It was the first Kellogg fifty that I had ever seen. I was a bit captivated by it. Although a few substantial scratches and a lot of moderate hairlines are very noticeable, the mirrors are amazingly thick and are very deeply reflective. It has a becoming natural greenish gold color. Like some of the other Kellogg fifties, when tilted under a light, it dazzles!

Following the Borckardt-Kagin roster, in Heritage catalogues, this Kellogg fifty may be called the Murrell-Clifford Kellogg piece. It is (or was) PCGS graded Proof-53, rather conservatively. I thought that it had the sharpness of a 55 to 58 grade coin. There is very little actual wear, and it has no serious problems that I remember. It would not shock me if the NGC has graded it as ’62’!

At the bottom of the list is a Kellogg fifty that would never qualify for grading by PCGS or NGC. It has been authenticated and encapsulated by NCS with a designation that it has extremely fine level “details.” It has been extensively retooled. It sold for $46,000 at a Christie’s auction in March 1990. The buyer in 1990, a collector, consigned it to the Stack’s auction of March 2005, in which it realized $115,000.

The thirteen or so known original Kellogg $50 gold coins are not the only collectible items relating to this issue. The original dies for the Kellogg fifties survive. In 2001, Dwight Manley obtained the dies from Kagin, in Manley’s capacity as managing partner of the Central America Marketing Group.

The S.S. Central America, a large ship, sunk off the coast of North Carolina in 1857. Cargo that had originated in the San Francisco area went down with the ship. The ship was found in 1987. Later, a treasure of gold coins and ingots was discovered at the site.

The Central America Marketing Group, operated by Manley along with Ira and Larry Goldberg, purchased more than ninety percent of the treasure from the group that salvaged the ship. This marketing group acquired the original Kellogg dies so that ‘transfer dies’ could be made in order to manufacture restrikes of Kellogg fifties.

Large bars that were found in the shipwreck of the S.S. Central America were melted to supply gold to be used to manufacture restrikes. Before some very large bars were melted, their faceplates were ‘pared off.’ Many of the gold bars that were melted in 2001 were produced by Kellogg & Humbert in the 1850s. So, original Kellogg gold bars were used for restrikes of Kellogg $50 gold pieces.

Proof Restrikes were issued from August 20 to Sept. 12, 2001. The complete date ? month, day and year ? was struck into each piece above the eagle. The ribbon about the eagle is blank on the originals. On the 2001 Restrikes, the ribbon contains words, “S.S. Central America gold.” The minting of these Restrikes was observed by officials of the California Historical Society.

Transfer dies were also employed to make mythical business strikes. I term these ‘mythical’ because no original business strikes are known to exist, and there is no evidence of business strike Kellogg fifties ever having been minted. So, I properly capitalize the first letter of the word ‘Restrike’ for the Proofs and do not do so for the business restrikes. A ‘Restrike,’ properly capitalized, is used to refer to a replica of a coin that was originally struck during the year that is indicated on the coin, or at least during the same time period.

A non-capitalized restrike refers to an item for which there is no corresponding original known. There is no evidence that a business strike Kellogg fifty dollar gold coin was minted in the 1850s.

As an example of a restrike that is not capitalized, consider that David Akers theorizes that all Proof 1853 silver dollars are restrikes. It is Akers’ conclusion that there were no Proof silver dollars dated 1853 that were minted in 1853 or thereabouts. If Akers is correct in this regard, then Proof 1853 dollars are restrikes not Restrikes.

Five thousand Proof Restrikes and five hundred business restrikes were minted of Kellogg fifties, and they have proven to be very popular with collectors. From June to November 2007, Proof Restrikes have sold at Heritage auctions for prices ranging from $2760 to $4025.

After the Proof Restrikes and business restrikes were made, Manley sold the original dies back to Kagin. In 2004, Kagin sold them to a collector, and he misses them. He says that these “Kellogg dies are among the coolest and most significant artifacts in all of American numismatics.” Kagin hopes that the Kellogg $50 dies will be placed on display in the future in a new museum at the ‘Old’ San Francisco Mint.

Kagin currently owns the only copper die trial of the Kellogg fifty denomination[See Image Above].

Please see my separate article on CoinLink regarding the Robert Bass collection of territorial gold patterns, die trials, restrikes and fantasies. It is the best all-time collection of such pieces, far surpassing the Garrett family collection in this category. The Kellogg fifty in copper is just one of 179 pieces in this collection. A Kellogg fifty, though, has a very special allure in the culture of coin collecting in the United States.

©2007 Greg Reynolds

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