The New York Assay Offices
The New York assay offices were established in response to the California gold rush of 1849. The rush led to an influx of gold into the United States, and with it came a need for a reliable way to test the purity of gold and silver. The assay offices were established in New York City in the mid 19th century to test the purity of precious metals and stamp them with an official seal.
The offices were located in modern day Wall Street, which was the financial hub of the United States at the time. These offices became so well known for their reliability that their bars became the standard for gold and silver transactions at the time. The New York assay bars were highly valued for their purity and uniformity. They were available in a range of sizes and weights, making them a popular choice among investors and collectors. The bars were typically stamped with the weight, purity, and serial number, along with the seal of the assay office. This information allowed investors to easily verify the authenticity of the bar and ensure that they were receiving a fair price.
1943 New York Assay Office Gold Ingot
Courtesy of iCollector
One of the most important contributors of the future New York offices was the San Francisco Mint. The San Francisco Mint was responsible for producing a large percentage of the gold bars that were produced during the California Gold Rush, and such bars were regularly circulated (although California slugs and smaller denominations were better for commerce). As the gold rush came to an end, many of the companies that had been producing gold bars began to close down or move to other locations. To fill the gap, one of the most important companies to emerge on the east coast included those established in New York. The most notable of these being Assay office 30 better known as “Assay No. 30.”
The New York assay office was subsequently established in 1854 to provide a reliable and accurate way to assay gold and silver. The office quickly became one of the most important in the United States, and it began producing its own line of gold bars. The New York assay bars were different from those in San Francisco, with a gold content of 99% or higher.
Large denominations were more popular. Although they rarely touched the hands of the general public, the 100 ounce bars were the largest and heaviest that were produced.
Related companies were established in 1852 to provide a reliable and accurate way to assay gold and silver, and it began producing its own line of gold bars in the late 19th century.
Multiple New York Assay Offices produced a number of different types of gold bars, denominations going all the way to 5 ounces. With an opportunity for circulation, the New York assay bar circulated through the National Gold Exchange. This company was established in 1902 to provide a reliable and efficient way to buy and sell gold, and it began producing its own line of gold bars in the early 20th century. The National Gold Exchange produced a number of different types of gold bars similar to its predecessors, including the 100 ounce, 50 ounce, 10 ounce, and 5 ounce bars.
A 25 ounce New York Assay bar
Courtesy of Heritage Auctions
According to The February 1902 issue of Scientific American, which ran a two column article on New York Assay bars:
"The charge for doing the work is merely nominal, and is based on the actual cost. Millions of dollars are stored at all times in the vaults, and [at the time of publication of the article] the amount of gold and silver was about $40,000,000. When the precious metal is received, the first step consists in weighing the coin, bars, jewelry or tableware. This done with great exactness and a receipt is given. Each person's holdings are placed in a box and are taken to the melting room, where they are placed in crucibles with a flux and smelted and cast in ingot molds, the pouring being a highly picturesque operation. A small chip is taken from the bar for assay."
In addition to the New York assay bars, another popular type of gold bar during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the Moffat bar. These bars were produced by the private company, “John Little Moffat & Co.”, and were named after the company's founder. They were produced in limited quantities and were often used as a store of value by wealthy individuals and institutions. Like the New York assay bars, Moffat bars were stamped with the weight, purity, and serial number, along with the company's seal. However, the Moffat bars were often more ornate than the New York assay bars, featuring intricate designs and engravings. Bars such as these were included in Max B. Mehl’s 1926 sale of rare gold bars.
The Earliest Known Bar
The New York Assay Office operated for nearly a century, producing bars as early as 1911 until 1982, and sourced most of its gold from San Francisco. The earliest bars are categorized as examples being produced from 1911 until the 1940s, and usually have a more crude “hand poured” style.
The earliest bar known to be minted in New York assay 30 is a ‘1911’ dated New York bar with a denomination of ‘$112.68.’ The bar was most likely given out as an investment piece; according to the American Journal of Numismatics, it was sold to a private investor before 1926, and was most likely purchased for face value. It was sold to dealer B. Max Mehl shortly after. B. Max Mehl was an American numismatist and coin dealer who was active during the first half of the 20th century. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential and successful coin dealers in American history. Mehl was known for his expertise in rare coins and his ability to market them effectively. He also had a talent for promoting the hobby of coin collecting, and was involved in many initiatives to promote numismatics. Mehl founded his own coin dealership, B. Max Mehl, Inc., in 1900. The company quickly became one of the largest and most respected coin dealerships in the US. Mehl was also known for his innovative marketing techniques, including the use of photographs in national magazines and the production of elaborate auction catalogs ("B. Max Mehl". The Numismatist: 89. March 1906). The 1911 New York Assay bar he acquired, being described as “an example of great rarity”, first appeared in or around 1926 during the Melh sale as a ‘$112.68’ denomination bar dated 1911. It traded hands multiple times before being sold to John W. Garrett. Garrett kept the bars until he sold his collection in the 1980s, with most of the bars being acquired in the Mehl sale, they sold in 1981. It was sold to a private buyer in 1981, ending up in the Bebee collection, where it stayed dormant in a safe before being submitted to PCGS in the early 2000s. The bar was recently sold to Stephen Gill of Lone Mountain Coin, where it currently resides in a PCGS “Genuine” holder.
The unique bar and an excerpt describing the unique Lot 545 ‘1911’ bar sale
Courtesy of American Journal of Numismatics
Based on the auction catalog from 1926, it is believed that the unique 1911 New York Assay Office gold bar may have originated from the collection of C.H. Imhoff. The catalog lists Lot 545 as a "one hundred and twelve dollar and sixty-eight cent bar", which matches the description of the unique bar. However, it is unclear from the catalog whether the bar was sold to Mehl directly by Imhoff or if it had been sold to another collector before ending up in Mehl's possession. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the origins of the bar, its rarity and historical significance are indisputable.
The two major sales the bar has been a part of.
Video of the 1911 Gold Bar: