Monday, August 10, 2009

One of 20: A Proof Gold Story

Aug. 10, 2009
Posted by John Dale

“This issue has a mintage of only 20 pieces.”

That’s a sentence that can get a collector’s heart racing. Just 20 pieces… the number is so tiny, especially compared to the millions upon millions of coins struck every year, that it’s almost unfathomable how so few examples could be made. Yet in the context of the U.S. proof gold coinage of the 19th century, mintages in the double digits are the norm. Rarity itself is commonplace.

When years can pass between appearances of a single issue at auction, it takes a near-heroic level of dedication (not to mention a hefty bank account) to assemble a complete set of any proof gold series. Thus, while the prices for coins such as proof Liberty double eagles may be in the tens of thousands of dollars, those prices would be much higher if the series enjoyed greater popularity.

Among the proof Liberty double eagles struck in 1859 and after, four dates—the 1874, 1875, 1877, and 1878—tied for the lowest mintage, at just 20 specimens each. In its September 2009 Long Beach U.S. Coin Auction, Heritage will offer an example of the proof 1877 double eagle, graded PR58 Cameo by NGC.

Being one of just 20 pieces struck (and one of just 10 to 12 of them to survive, according to recent estimates by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth) is itself an impressive story, but there’s more to this proof coin than just a low mintage. The key lies in its grade: PR58 Cameo. Proof coins are meant for display, not commerce. In theory, they should not acquire wear. Yet this proof’s grade of PR58 Cameo falls outside the 60-to-70 numeric range that indicates a coin is not worn. What happened to it?

Close examination shows a number of contact marks, as well as some disturbance of the mirror finish in the fields. It’s possible that this was simply a proof that was mishandled by a previous owner. There is another, more resonant possibility: the coin might have been spent. The $20 face value of this proof in 1877 would be equivalent to several hundred dollars in today’s money, and it’s easy to imagine a family desperate for funds spending some of those proofs, particularly the ones with the highest face values.

It was a scene that played out many times, especially during financial panics such as the one in 1893. Proof coins of virtually all dates are known with a degree of wear. Yet almost inevitably, such coins left circulation almost as soon as they entered; while those experiencing hard times spent the proofs, others saved them for themselves, ultimately saving those proofs for today’s numismatic community.

Of course, not every proof gold collector is interested in impaired proofs. In that case, we have a very nice Superb Gem Ultra Cameo proof 1891 double eagle to sell you…

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-John Dale Beety

1 comment:

  1. Thats very nice article thanks for posting me. i get many knowledge.