Book with special content linked to California Gold Rush brings high price

1850 reference written by Mint assayers has tangible link
By , Coin World
Published : 09/30/16
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An 1850 numismatic book related to the California Gold Rush sold for $10,625 on Sept. 21 as part of Bonhams’ Fine Books and Manuscripts auction in New York City. 

New Varieties of Gold and Silver Coins, Counterfeit Coins, and Bullion; with Mint Values by Jacob Reese Eckfeldt and William E. Du Bois, was published by the authors in Philadelphia and sold both in Philadelphia and through the agencies of Adams & Co. in Panama and San Francisco. It’s considered a key reference book documenting the start of gold mining in California and the Gold Rush and helped supplement an earlier book by the authors published in 1842. 

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The cover is beautiful, with embossed gold-tone coins reproducing contemporary circulating U.S. gold coins including the new Coronet double eagle, which was introduced for circulation in 1850. The book includes a leaf of “California and Mormon Coins” embossed in gold. 

  Pioneer gold coin among the five rarities PCGS has $10,000 bounties out for : Each of the five coins were produced for circulation, but due to various reasons ranging from inexplicably low mintage numbers to legislation, never reached the masses. 

The lot at Bonhams was noteworthy for being in the former collection of Henry E. Huntington, the American railroad magnate and collector of rare books who today is perhaps best known through the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens on his former estate at San Marino, near Pasadena. 

The authors were assayers for the Philadelphia Mint and the book was intended as a guide to familiarize readers with new developments in the field, specifically with the discovery of gold in California. It goes beyond official U.S. Mint issues and pioneer gold issues to include various world coins including Chinese coins. 

The book is well-known for its colorful language on contemporary Chinese coins. Writing on the Chinese cash coin the authors state, “The trashy coin of this great empire deserves notice only by way of recreation,” noting, “so hard is it to fasten a value upon that which is valueless. A carpenter or tailor, we are told, receives 160 of them (say thirteen cents) for a day’s work; of which sixty are required for the daily bread. The coin is extremely convenient for alms-giving, a single piece being the usual quietus for a beggar.”

Adding to the book’s desirability is the inclusion of samples of California grain and bar gold on page 45, mounted below a mica disc. The intent of including the gold was to help readers distinguish between alloyed and unalloyed gold. 

A report on the book written on Aug. 29, 1850, by W.D. Haggard of the Bank of England and published in The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society evaluated the book, finding, “From these reports it would seem, that the gold from the rocky formations is richer and freer from silver than that procured in dust from the alluvial deposits; and there is reason for the supposition that there are two distinct characters of gold in California.” Haggard further observed that while the U.S. Mint offered refining services to refine gold, “It is hardly necessary to remark, that the English mint does not refine for depositors.” 

Eckfeldt’s and Du Bois’s text would be published in a second edition in 1851, but the first edition is rare and with the gold samples, is a legendary rarity in both U.S. numismatic literature and in California Gold Rush history. 

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