1851 Baldwin & Co. $10
Post Lot Text
Die notes: Motifs somewhat similar to the foregoing Dubosq $10. Dies attributed to Albrecht (Albert) Kuner. Obverse with Liberty Head inspired by the federal motif, and used here to facilitate familiarity in commerce with a known design (in the preceding year Baldwin had issued a $10 with a distinctive vaquero or cowboy motif, quite unlike anything else in circulating coinage; it must have looked unfamiliar to many recipients). BALDWIN & Co on coronet; 13 stars surrounding border, date 1851 below. Reverse with federal-style perched eagle at center, S.M.V. [STANDARD MINT VALUE] CALIFORNIA GOLD above, TEN D. below; very similar in concept to the Dubosq die, but with different topology. Reeded edge. Die state: Very late state of the obverse die, with large cud along the rim opposite star 4 and extending inward to consume part of that star; later than typically seen. Lightness at reverse center-a combination of wear and shallow die relief (all known specimens, regardless of grade, exhibit some lightness in this area. Probably struck in spring 1851 in one of the final coinage runs by this firm. Afterward, such pieces circulated in trade-typically at par in gambling houses, but at a discount at banks and bullion brokers. PCGS Data: This is the only example from the S.S. Central America treasure certified by PCGS as EF-45. PCGS has graded just five other 1851 Baldwin $10 gold coins with the finest MS-61.Baldwin & Co. The firm of Baldwin & Co. was founded on March 15, 1850, as the successor to F.D. Kohler & Co., private assayer who had been recently associated with David C. Broderick in the partnership of Broderick & Kohler (possible makers of Pacific Company gold coins, but no contemporary documentation has been found). Kohler had received appointment to the post of California State Assayer and now relinquished his private trade to Baldwin, who remained in the same building on Clay Street, on Portsmouth Square, San Francisco. George C. Baldwin and Thomas S. Holman advertised Baldwin & Co. as assayers, refiners, and coiners who also did "all kinds of engraving." The boast, "our coin redeemable on presentation," was made. They also manufactured and sold jewelry. From the summer of 1848 onward there was a great shortage of gold coins in circulation. Those that were imported from the East as well as private issues in San Francisco were taken up by the gambling halls, while day-to-day trade in restaurants, general stores, etc., was conducted in gold dust.In 1850 the shortage of gold coins of all kinds continued. In that year Baldwin struck $5 and $10 coins which were enthusiastically accepted in nearby casinos along Portsmouth Square and in other districts. In 1851, two denominations were struck by Baldwin: the $10 as offered here and the $20, part of intense private coinage activity in San Francisco. The best known firm, Moffat & Co., was busy with the implementation of its contract with the Treasury Department under which Augustus Humbert, designated as "United States Assayer of Gold, California," and the striking of $50 "slugs." Moffat, which had made $5 and $10 pieces earlier, was treading lightly and did not want to make small denominations in 1851 without federal permission. The other coiners-namely Baldwin, Dubosq, and Schultz-had no federal connection and were not concerned with such permission. Thus, they merrily coined large quantities of $5 and $10 pieces. The coinage of Baldwin was quite extensive and was second only to that of the United States Assay Office operated by Moffat. From January 1 to March 31, 1851, it outranked the Assay Office by producing $590,000 worth of coins as compared to efforts totaling $530,000 by the latter firm. Disaster struck Baldwin, as it did the aforementioned Dubosq & Co., when on March 21, 1851, James King of Wm. sent samples of private gold coins to Augustus Humbert, official U.S. assayer in residence at Moffat & Co. Transmitted were the following coins: Baldwin & Co. $20, 13 coins; $10, 10 coins; $5, 28 coins; Schultz & Co. $5, 45 coins; Dubosq $10, 7 coins; and $5, 3 coins. The intention seems to have been to discredit all other private coiners and showcase Moffat as a paragon of coinage virtue. Never mind that in earlier times assays conducted at the Philadelphia Mint had found certain Moffat procedures to be erratic, and never mind that Moffat had once falsely advertised that their coins had more gold content than their face value. It was found by Humbert that the $20 pieces produced by Baldwin averaged an intrinsic value of $19.40, the $10 pieces averaged $9.74, and the $5 pieces were valued at $4.91. This seemingly unreasonable profit on the part of the coiners caused much public indignation, and from that point forward Baldwin coins were rejected by merchants. Of course, Humbert, being in the employ of a competitor, was hardly impartial. (Later, the U.S. Assay Office, having vanquished all of its competitors, became the subject for much criticism.) The Alta California editorially noted that the holders of Baldwin $20 gold pieces would lose 60 cents on each coin, and that the best value was received by owners of Dubosq pieces who would lose only seven cents on each $10 transaction. The result of this editorial discussion was that banking houses immediately refused to handle any coins at face value with the exception of those made by Moffat & Co. It is believed that upon disclosure of Humbert's findings and the trial by journalism the firm ceased coinage immediately. Later they changed hands at a 20 discount, a figure significantly less than their metallic value, thus enriching James King of William, Moffat & Co., and others who shared the spoils.On April 9, 1851, the Pacific News had the following commentary: "THE GOLD COIN SWINDLE. It is perhaps a matter of no especial wonder that the community feels outraged because of the fact that nearly all of the gold coin put in circulation by the private manufacturing establishments is short of weight. A citizen last evening went to Baldwin's establishment, and, presenting two of their own Twenty Dollar gold pieces, asked their redemption in silver. These were taken, and thirty-eight dollars returned. "This is about as cool and direct a piece of shaving as has come under our eye, touching the short-weight gold coin swindle. Why should the community suffer this to go on longer? Why not refuse every dollar of Baldwin's coin as well as that of every other that is not of full value and redeemed on demand? A bank-bill is worth no more than the bare paper upon which its pretty picture is printed, except from the fact that securities are pledged for its redemption. So also with Baldwin's coin. It is worth no more than the actual value of the gold when compared with the Government standard...." The end of the enterprise was chronicled by the Pacific News on April 17, 1851: "We hear a story, which is pretty well authenticated, that Messrs. Baldwin & Bagley, the manufacturers of 'Baldwin's coin,' left in the steamer Panama on Tuesday for the Atlantic states. This is of course what might have been anticipated as the finale of so magnificent a financial operation as the coinage of one or two millions of circulating medium upon which they have pocketed a profit from 10 to 15 per cent, less the expense of manufacturing the stuff. Unable longer to impose their false tokens upon the community, an outraged public will now pocket the loss and congratulate themselves that the swindle has been exposed even this early. "The amount of this coin in circulation is not less than $1,000,000, and is probably nearer to two. But suppose that the smaller sum be correct, the profit to the manufacturers is one hundred thousand dollars. Whose swindling false token establishment is next to be chronicled amongst the 'departures for Panama'?" In addition to Humbert's assay, a $10 piece of 1850 evaluated at the Philadelphia was found to have an intrinsic value of $9.96, which was not much different from a $10 of the highly-acclaimed Moffat & Co. which was assayed at $9.97. A group of 100 $20 pieces of 1851, assayed at the same institution, were found to have an average value of $19.33. Meanwhile, San Francisco bankers continued to buy Baldwin coins at 80 of face value. For a $20 piece this mean paying $16 for a coin that had $19.33 or more worth of gold, a handsome profit and one that far exceeded any return that could be made in the normal assaying, refining, and coining business. This had a curious numismatic effect. Baldwin coins of 1850 and 1851, once popular in commerce and made in large quantities, were mostly melted in later years-although a few (such as the solo Baldwin coin from the S.S. Central America offered here) survived. Today, any Baldwin coin is a first-class rarity.