A Special Private California Gold Coin
Extraordinary Mint State Baldwin & Co. $10
El Vaquero; "The Horseman"
Classic Western Rarity


   756 - 1850 Baldwin & Co. $10 Gold. The Horseman or Vaquero issue 梡erhaps the most picturesque of any California gold motif. Kagin-3. Rarity-6. MS-64 (PCGS). Lovely brilliant gold surfaces, an artistic masterpiece, a joy to behold.

   The obverse devices are satiny and very sharply executed with complete definition of the finest details. The surrounding fields exhibit semi-prooflike quality with a number of raised die lines visible, as made, indicating a very early impression from the dies.

   The reverse is equally well defined with sharp, frosted devices and even more prooflike character in the fields than found on the obverse. Moderately heavy crisscrossing die lines are more pronounced and numerous on the reverse. Close examination reveals a few marks here and there梡recisely the reason why this piece is called MS-64 instead of, for example, MS-65.

   In every way, this is certainly a special coin. It would be interesting to know the circumstances of this coin抯 survival. Every once in a while a California coiner would save special pieces as collector抯 items or curiosities. John Glover Kellogg did this as did Augustus Humbert. Perhaps someone associated with Baldwin, or with the engraver, Albrecht Kuner, preserved this coin as a memento.

   The Horseman or Vaquero design is widely recognized and admired, even among beginning collectors, as it is a landmark in the design of private California gold. Typically, a Liberty Head motif was used, or one or another form of the eagle, but rarely an exciting "action" design such as this, with a vaquero on a spirited horse, left front leg high in the air梐s if confronting a steer or other item to be lassoed梐nd his lariat in loops in the air, ready to be thrown.

   A close examination of the die reveals a wealth of detail, including an ornate costume worn by the horseman, a decorated saddle, and many anatomical details ranging from musculature to fine details in the horse抯 tail. On the base of the ground at the left is seen in prominent letters, A. KUNER, the signature of the most famous of all California die engravers梩he same artist who came to California in 1849, cut dies for Moffat & Co., went on to work with other firms as well, and even created the 1862 British Columbia gold $10 and $20 dies.

   Although the circumstances are not recorded, it seems likely that the Horseman motif, as beautiful as it is, was not as comfortable to use in mercantile circuits as the familiar head of Miss Liberty. Perhaps a coin such as the 1850 Baldwin $10, when received, would be scrutinized very carefully, whereas a copy of a federal Liberty Head would be passed quickly without notice. Indeed, this is probably the same reason why after 1860 Clark, Gruber & Co., the famous Denver coiners, abandoned the interesting Pikes Peak design and reverted to a copy of the federal Liberty Head梩o promote the circulation of their coins. In an earlier time, Baldwin seems to have done this梬ith the result that later versions of Baldwin coinage, made with the date 1851, are of the standard Liberty Head motif. Similarly, other California coiners ranging from Moffat to Kellogg to nearly everyone else created copies of the Liberty Head梟ot artistically innovative or even beautiful, but seemingly very utilitarian.

   Today, examples of the 1850 Baldwin Horseman $10 are extreme rarities, and it is believed that only about 15 to 20 exist in all grades. Most are in preservation considerably below the present example. Notably, the present coin eclipses in quality both the Garrett specimen and the Eliasberg specimen.

   The present piece, selected for its beauty by Harry W. Bass, Jr. comes to market to delight a new generation of enthusiasts.



The Baldwin & Co. "Situation"
Or, who swindled whom?

   The firm of Baldwin & Co. was founded on March 15, 1850, as the successor to Frederick D. Kohler & Co., California state assayer. In his time Kohler was widely respected, and there was nothing to indicate that his successors would not follow suit. However, Baldwin seems to have lacked friends in influential places, namely in the editorial offices of San Francisco newspapers. We mention this in view of what we relate below. Today, an objective analysis of l抋ffaire Baldwin would no doubt lead to different conclusions.

   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. It seems that to encourage their coins to circulated they did as others had done and would do in the future: anyone with coins of their imprint who felt uncertain about them had but to present them to the firm and they would be exchanged at par for other gold coins of the holder抯 preference.

   Early in 1851 private coinage was conducted at a furious pace in San Francisco. The best known of all firms桵offat & Co.梬as busy implementing its new federal contract with Augustus Humbert as its assayer and was producing only $50 pieces after January. Thus, certain lesser known private firms had a field day making smaller denominations such as $5, $10, and, to a lesser extent, $20. The coinage of Baldwin was quite extensive and was second only to that of the United States Assay Office. 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. Obviously, the Baldwin coins were held in high esteem.

   Then this:

   On March 21, 1851, a prominent local banker who styled himself as James King of William (to differentiate himself from other James Kings) sent samples of private gold coins to Augustus Humbert, official U.S. assayer in residence at the competing firm of 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.

   It was found that the $20 pieces 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. Moreover, federal gold coins minted at Philadelphia had a lower intrinsic value, significantly, than did the Baldwin pieces!

   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抯 findings and the trial by journalism the firm ceased coinage immediately. Later the coins 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 $20 gold pieces, asked their redemption in silver. These were taken, and $38 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 million of circulating medium upon which they have pocketed a profit from 10% to 15%, 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 $100,000. Whose swindling false token establishment is next to be chronicled amongst the 慸epartures for Panama?"

   In addition to Humbert's assay, a Baldwin $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 Baldwin $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.

   Seemingly, Baldwin & Co. was used a vehicle for other firms to swindle the public!

   Returning to present-day numismatics, all of this "bad press" resulted in nearly all Baldwin coins being melted. Today, any Baldwin coin is a prime rarity.



   Purchased from the Goliad Corporation, August 1984; Earlier from RARCOA's session of Auction `84, July 1984, Lot 1996.