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Unique Wass Molitor $20 Gold Featured in August GreatCollections Auction

Ian Russell on Sat, Jul 03, 2021 04:16:21 AM
The California territorial is one of the great rarities of the pioneer series. .

July 3, 2021. Irvine, Calif. – GreatCollections is pleased to announce that they have been selected to auction the unique 1855 Wass Molitor Twenty Dollar gold coin, Kagin K-8a, graded PCGS AU-50 and approved by CAC. One of only four known examples of this extremely rare coin, it is also a unique die pairing. It is being offered unreserved with a closing date of Sunday, August 15th.

Item photo 1023567
item photo 1023567

Below is the full description from GreatCollections auction listing:

Excessively rare 1855 $20 Wass, Molitor & Co. Large Head Twenty Dollar, (K-8a). PCGS AU-50 CAC. Unique. One of only four known Large Head Wass Molitor Twenty Dollar coins, and unique by variety. It is the only example approved by CAC. Listed in A Guide Book of U.S. Coins, commonly referred to as the Red Book, as a unique variety. When this coin last sold in 2014 it was discovered that unlike the other three examples known, it used the reverse die of the Small Head Wass Molitor Twenty. The other three used a slightly different reverse die.

This specimen is essentially the only collectable Large Head Wass Molitor double eagle available to collectors. Of the other three known specimens, one is in the Smithsonian Institution, one was stolen in the Willis H. DuPont robbery of 1967 and its location is unknown at this time, and the third was also stolen in 1967 from the Yale University collection but is believed to have been recovered.

An 1855 $20 Large Head Twenty Dollar has appeared at public auction only seven times since 1896, including this appearance. Of those seven appearances, six are of this coin. The lone auction appearance of a different Wass Molitor Large Head Twenty occurred in 1929 in the Thomas Elder sale of the Lawrence collection, lot 1406, where it realized the sum of $7,000. To put that into perspective, the Lawrence sale also included the following lots: an 1855 Kellogg $50 in choice proof at $2,150 (14 known) and an attractive AU $20 1860 Clark Gruber Mountain Twenty at $900 (10-12 known).

Until the 1929 Lawrence sale of the 1855 Large Head Wass Molitor Twenty Dollar, the previous record price for any coin, was the sale of the Stickney example of the Brasher Doubloon in June of 1907 by Henry Chapman for $6,200. This auction record stood for twenty-two years until it was bested by the Wass Molitor Large Head Twenty Dollar at $7,000 in 1929! The same Brasher Doubloon sold recently for $9.36 million at the Partrick auction by Heritage in January 2021.

The Wass Molitor Large Head Twenty Dollar has been missing from nearly every major collection of pioneer gold including: Zabriskie, Garrett, Nygren, Eliasberg, Kaufman and Beck. This example is Ex: Carter 1984.

Ex: Hayes (1896), Virgil Brand, Roach (1944), Geiss (1947), Amon Carter (1984), Riverboat (2014), Colorado Native (2014 to present).


Wass, Molitor and Company were one of several private mints that were active in San Francisco during the California gold rush period of 1849-1855. Due to a severe shortage of coins during the opening years of the California gold rush, and before the establishment of the U.S. branch mint in San Francisco, these mints met the needs of local commerce. Wass, Molitor and Company were one of the more well-known minters of the era, along with the firms of Augustus Humbert & Company, Baldwin & Company, Kellogg & Company, Moffatt and Company and the United States Assay Office of Gold.

Wass, Molitor and Company was founded in October of 1851 by two Hungarian immigrants, Count Samuel C. Wass and Agoston P. Molitor. By early 1852 they were coining both Eagle and Half Eagle sized coins dated 1852. No coins were produced in 1853 and 1854. In 1855 their firm was again called into the service of coinage when a severe shortage of parting acids caused the official United States branch mint to shut down. They minted Ten Dollar, Twenty Dollar and Fifty Dollar coins, all dated 1855, to help meet the needs of local merchants.

When sold by Stack’s in the sale of the Amon Carter Collection on January 21, 1984, it was partially described as follows:


Lot 1161
1855 $20. Obverse: Very Large Head of Liberty with diadem inscribed W.M. & CO., date below, thirteen six pointed stars around. The stars are somewhat smaller than on the regular issue. Reverse. Eagle with outstretched wings, scroll above, inscribed 900 THOUS; TWENTY DOL. below; SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA around. Clear surfaces and edges, overall lovely orange and russet toning. To the best of our knowledge there are only three specimens extant. They are as follows:
  1. 1. Smithsonian Institution; Ex J.K. Lilly (Stack’s)
  2. 2. Yale University (stolen) Ex Lawrence Collection 1929
  3. 3. Amon Carter; ex Virgil Brand, Belden Roach, and more recently from the Frederick Geiss collection, lot 2226 (1947).
The past A.N.A. Auction contained all of the denominations and varieties with ONE exception: the $20 Large Head.

During research conducted by numismatic researchers Wayne Burt, Saul Teichman, Stuart Levine and David Stone in 2014 it was discovered that there are 4 distinct examples of the Large Head Wass Molitor Twenty Dollar that are known to numismatists. It was revealed that this coin differs from the other three specimens known by the reverse die used. This specimen utilizes the reverse die used to strike the Small Head variety of Twenty Dollar coins. The other three specimens known used a slightly different reverse die. At the time this information was discovered, Ken Bressett, editor of the Guide Book of U.S. Coins, stated that it was a candidate for inclusion in the next edition of the Red Book. It is now listed in the Guide Book as a unique die variety.

Click here to view the Wass, Molitor Large Head auction listing and images at GreatCollections.

GreatCollections will be attending the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money from Monday, August 9th through Friday, August 13th at tables 400, 402 and 404. For more information about the Wass Molitor $20 Gold, contact Ian Russell at 1-800-442-6467.

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About GreatCollections

GreatCollections is an auction house for certified coins and paper money, as well as coins approved by CAC, handling coin/banknote transactions from start to finish. For sellers, GreatCollections offers professional imaging for each coin/note, cash advances as appropriate, extensive marketing and other individualized services generally not available with other auction houses and websites, freeing the seller to do nothing except collect the proceeds of the sale. Buyers benefit by entrusting a venue whose principals have years of numismatic experience and whose reputations in the industry are impeccable. Ian Russell, owner/president of GreatCollections in a member of the prestigious PNG (#785) and Life Member of the American Numismatic Association, while the company is an authorized submitter to PCGS, CAC and member of the National Auctioneers Association. Calif. Auctioneer Bond #106582267.

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