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Fascinating Gold Bar Is a Reminder of Bygone Gold Rush

by Heritage Auctions

Published on August 2, 2020

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The US Assay Office in New York City was once a bustling center for testing gold and turning it into something new. The story behind the building that created fascinating items, such as the 12.13 ounce New York Assay Office gold ingot from 1943 that Heritage Auctions will be offering in our Aug. 3-9 US Coin Sale #1318, is almost as interesting as the pieces themselves.


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The New York Times page from July 21, 1983 referring to the sale of the assay building in New York City. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

The US Assay Office in New York City was once a bustling center for testing gold and turning it into something new. The story behind the building that created fascinating items, such as the 12.13 ounce New York Assay Office gold ingot from 1943 that Heritage Auctions will be offering in our Aug. 3-9 US Coin Sale #1318, is almost as interesting as the pieces themselves. This bar is Serial #8665.

This office operated from the era of the Gold Rush in 1854 until 1982, melting down gold brought into the government and refining it to a clear purity and weight. It originally opened to purchase the gold which was being found in California starting in 1849, its function decreased over the years as gold discoveries dwindled. The location also collected damaged paper money and gold coins--which were in circulation until 1933--to remove these from circulation. According to Samuel Armstrong Nelson in 1900 in his The ABC of Wall Street,

"The building is employed in assaying, parting and refining crude bullion, coin, jewelry, old bars and the precious metals in such other forms as they may be presented. All metal is turned out in the form of bars of various weight, stamped by the Government with letters and figures which certify to the weight and quality of the metal. Most of the work is done for private persons ... "

The New York Assay Office eventually closed in 1982, and shortly thereafter, this historic location set a record as the most valuable piece of government real estate ever sold at auction to date. It realized the then-dizzying sum of $27,000,000 at auction. Having seen the changing nature of the country as well as New York City itself, the property just south of Wall Street sold to a real estate developer with plans to build a skyscraper.

This humble five-story building, which had spent its tenure of over 125 year melting and refining gold into bars such as this one, was to become part of modern New York City and its ever-taller buildings. Despite the many changes to the New York skyline, one can still purchase the historic bars and ingots created by the New York Assay Office upon rare occasion at auction. Heritage has only offered such a bar on around 30 or so occasions, making this an uncommon opportunity for the collector or “gold bug. “ We expect significant interest when this hefty, 12.13 ounce example comes up for bid! It contains over $20,000 in melt value in gold alone...

See the lot here: https://coins.ha.com/itm/ingots/1943-new-york-assay-office-ms-gold-ingot-1213-ounces/p/1318-154001.s?ic4=ListView-Thumbnail-071515

Background info on the sale of the building here: https://www.nytimes.com/1983/07/21/nyregion/us-assay-office-site-sold-downtown-for-27-million.html



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