An 1864 Indian Head, Designer’s Initial L cent graded Proof 65 red
by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. brought $141,000 at a Heritage auction
Sept. 27 in Long Beach, Calif.
The Snow-PR2 variety coin (The Flying Eagle and Indian Cent
Attribution Guide, Vol. 2: 1859-1869 by Richard Snow) was one
of 3,894 lots of United States coins offered in six floor sessions
Sept. 25 to 27. The sale was held in conjunction with the Long Beach
Coin, Stamp & Sports Collectible Expo.
Of the 3,894 lots offered, Heritage officials recorded 95 percent
as sold. The sold lots brought total prices realized of $15,612,370
for all floor sessions, according to Sept. 30 figures from Heritage.
Prices realized cited include the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee added
to the final closing hammer price.
A transitional year for cents
The year 1864 was a transitional one for the Indian Head cent,
with two significant changes made at different times during the year.
The original composition of 88 percent copper and 22 percent nickel
was replaced with an alloy of 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and
zinc (bronze) after passage of an April 1864 act; the first of the new
bronze cents were struck with the obverse portrait introduced in 1860.
Later in 1864, as the striking of the bronze cents continued, the
portrait of Liberty was refined, with the tip of the bust made more
pointed and the initial L added to the design. The L is Chief Engraver
James B. Longacre’s surname initial, which he placed in the ribbon of
the headdress when he modified the portrait.
The Snow-PR2 variety sold is one of only 20 Proof 1864 Indian
Head, Designer’s Initial L cents extant from an approximate total
population of up to 40 of all three varieties, reported to have been
struck in two separate production runs at the Philadelphia Mint. Nine
or 10 examples of the Snow-PR2 variety are known.
The cent in the recent auction was once part of the famed
numismatic collection of Ambassador R. Henry and Mrs. Emery May
Norweb, sold by Auctions by Bowers and Merena in its Oct. 12 and 13,
Snow writes in his reference that the key to identifying the
Snow-PR2 variety is a raised, obverse die line as struck that runs
diagonally from southwest to northeast just under Liberty’s jaw.
This assessment matches the diagnostics given by Walter Breen in
his 1977 book Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and
Colonial Proof Coins: 1722-1977.
Snow-PR2 also has the date far to the right of Liberty’s bust point.
Breen’s 1977 reference stated that only one die pair was used to
strike the Proof 1864 Indian Head, Designer’s Initial L cent. After an
example from another obverse appeared at auction in 1984, Breen
recanted his position that the only true examples of Proofs for 1864
bearing the designer’s initial L were the ones that Snow would later
identify as Snow-PR2.
Snow, in 1997, identified a third distinct variety, and showed
that Proof 1864 Indian Head cents with the designer’s initial were
produced from three obverse dies and two reverse dies.
According to the auction lot description for the Snow-PR 2 coin
sold Sept. 27 by Heritage, the initial Proof delivery of the 1864
Indian Head, Designer’s Initial L cents comprised 10 to 20 examples.
“These coins were either held as die trials or sold to collectors
in a random manner,” according to the auction lot description. “Mint
officials probably considered the addition of Longacre’s initial to be
a minor change that was not worthy of special consideration.” However,
the Proof 1864 Indian Head, Designer’s Initial L cents were already
the talk of the hobby by the time Dr. Henry Linderman began his first
term as U.S. Mint director in 1867.
“At least 10 (and perhaps more) additional 1864 L on Ribbon proofs
were struck sometime around 1871, including the present coin,”
according to the auction lot description. “Rick Snow is credited with
this discovery by matching the reverse die of the present example with
the regular issue proof dies of that year. The unique die lines on the
reverse are the same as on proofs from 1869 through 1871, although the
1869 and 1870 proofs were from earlier die states.”
Snow identified the currently unique example of the third die
marriage, Snow-PR3, when it was offered in Bowers and Merena’s March 6
to 8, 1997, auction.
For more information on the Long Beach sale, visit Heritage
Numismatic Auctions online at www.ha.com, write the firm at 3500 Maple
Ave., 17th Floor, Dallas, TX 75219-3941, or telephone Heritage either
at 800-872-6467 or 214-528-3500. ■