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1850 $5
1850 $10

One of the more respected firms which issued private gold coins in California was Dubosq & Company.  Theodore Dubosq, Sr., was a jeweler from Philadelphia.  The Baltimore Sun of January 8, 1849, mentions that the ship Grey Eagle had just left Baltimore for Philadelphia en route to California.  On board was “T. DuBosq. jr. [sic].”  Howe’s Argonauts of ’49 mentions the Grey Eagle leaving Philadelphia on January 9 with machinery for a mint.  This date may be incorrect since a more comprehensive account of this sailing is given in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin’s January 18, 1849, edition:

"Mr. Theodore Dubosq, Sr., jeweler, North Second Street, we understand takes out with him the machinery for melting and coining gold, and stamping it with a private mark, so as to establish a currency which will
afford the greater convenience and facility for dealing in the raw material."

In this same issue is the Grey Eagle passenger list, which included Theodore Dubosq, Sr., Theodore Dubosq, Jr. and Henry A. Dubosq.  Another reference to Dubosq, shedding more light on his date of departure, is found in the New York Herald of August 2, 1849, stating that Dubosq arrived in San Francisco on May 18, 1849, from Philadelphia on the Grey Eagle—taking 117 days from the Capes of Delaware.  By this calculation, Dubosq could not have left the Capes before January 21.

The Alta California (May 31, 1849) confirms the Dubosqs’ presence in California with their coining machinery by May 1849:

"We learn also, that Mr. Theodore Dubosq, a jeweler from Philadelphia, also recently arrived in the Grey Eagle, has brought with him the necessary machinery for striking private coin."

Although the Dubosqs arrived in California in 1849 when there was an urgent need for coins, no known pieces bearing their name and the date 1849 are know.  They may have produced coinage that early, however, since $2½ and $5 trial pieces exist in copper bearing an 1849 date.  There are also $5 and $10 uniface die trials in white metal (“splashers”) which are dated 1850 and are radically different in appearance from the 1849 trial pieces.

It has been surmised that the dies for the 1850 issues which closely resemble regular U.S. gold coins were made by United States Mint engraver J.B. Longacre.  This conjecture supposedly was based on the similarity of these patterns with their federal counterparts.  Longacre had a pair of Dubosq patterns ($5 and $10) in his estate, which were dated 1850, thereby lending support to the theory.  Closer inspection, however, reveals that these patterns were for the 1850 Dubosq gold pieces and not at all like the known 1849 trial pieces.

It is still possible, however, that Longacre could have made the 1849 dies.  Many dies used in California at this time were “imported” from the East.  Longacre’s location in the East (Philadelphia Mint), his engraving renown, and the probability that he engraved Dubosq’s second issues would seem to suggest that he also did Dubosq’s premier impressions.

It is not known whether Dubosq issued any gold coins from the 1849 dies, and if so, under what arrangements.  In 1850 he formed a partnership with a Mr. Goodwin, which may indicate the beginning of their gold coin production.  A first quarter report for 1851 in the Alta California mentions that during this period Dubosq & Co. struck $150,000 worth of coins. (A ballpark figure would be 10,000 each of $5 and $10.)  This statement indicates that either private gold coins were still being struck in 1851 from 1850 dies or possibly that some unknown 1851 dies were used.

When this information was published, Dubosq and Goodwin wrote a letter to Humbert which appeared in the Alta California of March 30, 1851.  In the letter they pointed out that the value of the silver as well as the gold content of the coins should be made public.  Humbert replied that he had not assayed the silver and considered it to be no more valuable than copper for his purposes because the cost of parting it from the gold was greater than the value of the silver alloy.  While Humbert’s reasoning was correct (i.e., it did indeed cost more to extract the alloy than the alloy was worth), the total intrinsic worth of Dubosq coinage was in excess of its face value.  As a result of Humbert’s assay report, however, all private gold coins except those of Moffat & Co. were discredited and the Dubosq coins, which had enjoyed a wide circulation, soon were turned in to be melted.  Evidently the reverse dies were retained, for they were used by Wass, Molitor & Co. a year later.

--Reprinted with permission of the author from Donald H. Kagin's, "Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States", copyright 1981, Arco Publishing, Inc. of New York