In the Aug. 20 installment of this column, I initiated discussion
on the mystery surrounding what researcher/author Walter Breen noted
in his Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Proof Coins as a “one-sided
proof.” Breen defined a “one-sided proof” as: “A coin minted by normal
proofing process except that the reverse die remained unpolished.”
I believe that many early coins certified as “Proofs” should be
called “presentation pieces.”
First, “Proofs” were not planned as a yearly issuance in the early
19th century as they are today. They were produced on an “as needed”
basis. I envision the following situation as being a reason for their
issuance. Perhaps the Mint was hosting an important visitor and a
government official wanted to present the visitor with a gift
commemorating his attendance. The call would go out to the workshop to
polish up a few dies that were on the shelf being used for general
production. They would also polish the planchets they were going to
use for these strikes in order to provide the best examples possible
for inclusion in the presentation set.
The press operators would then give the screw press an
enthusiastic strike to make sure the design was imparted to the coin
in the most complete manner. Breen suggested that “2 to 4 blows from
the dies in a screw press can usually be demonstrated. ...”
In either case, the polished dies and planchets would produce a
“special” coin no matter how many blows the operators would impart
with the press.
Now that the presentation strikes were finished what would the
workers do with the polished dies? They did not relegate them to the
back shelf or destroy them, as dies were a valuable asset. The most
expensive part of the minting process was the production of working
dies. The Mint would have continued to use these dies for
The dies may have been mated with their former “Proof” partner die
or with another random unpolished circulation-strike die, producing
what we now refer to a one-sided Proof.
Some coins exhibiting prooflike surfaces on both sides of the coin
are not presentation pieces but are the result of these “proof dies”
being mated in the press using normal planchets for coin production.
Collectors should exhibit caution as some of these have been offered
Therefore, the mystery of the one-sided Proof may be solved, or
perhaps other researchers may disagree and we have another situation
similar to the E and L counterstamped quarter dollars that may not
ever be resolved.
What do you think?
Brad Karoleff is a vice president of the John Reich Collectors
Society and editor of the club’s journal. He can be reached via e-mail