US Coins

Heritage’s Aug. 4 Platinum Night sale offers multiple rare gold coins, medal

Gold is set to headline Heritage’s Aug. 2 to 4 U.S. Coins Signature Auction at its new headquarters adjacent to DFW airport in metropolitan Dallas, featuring consignments that were set to be offered in Pittsburgh at the now-cancelled American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money. 

Among the most intriguing is an 1841 Coronet gold $2.50 quarter eagle graded Proof 4 by Professional Coin Grading Service with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. The term Proof refers to a method of manufacture, so even though no evidence of Proof surfaces remain because of the extensive wear, all 1841 quarter eagles have traditionally been considered Proof coins, as they all come from the same die pair.

Contemporary U.S. Mint records do little to help clarify the issue, and while some higher-grade examples show undeniable Proof characteristics, Heritage explains, “modern thinking on this topic is that a few pieces were struck as proofs, and then a small number of pieces were struck without special occasion using the same dies.” The number of 1841 quarter eagles struck remains unknown, and the coinage may have been recorded under 1840 or 1842 totals in absence of any records confirming 1841-dated coins. Today Heritage estimates 14 to 18 known issues, of which the offered example is the lowest grade.

Gold expert David Akers believed that there were too many survivors of this issue, nicknamed the “Little Princess,” compared with other Proof gold denominations of the period, adding, “More importantly, the supposedly ‘impaired proofs’ just don’t look like impaired proofs.” The offered survivor is one of just two examples of the issue with a coveted green CAC sticker, and the cataloger points out a linear mark to the left of the date and a small rim mark near star 2, which serve as pedigree markers that link it to Abe Kosoff’s March 1961 offering of the Edwin Hydeman. It has not been offered at auction for a generation.

Experimental finish 1910 $20

A recently discovered 1910 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle graded Specimen 66+ Experimental Finish by PCGS with a green CAC sticker provides evidence of the experimentation at the U.S. Mint as it developed new Proof finishes. After the brilliant Proof coins of the earlier Coronet series of gold coins, with deeply mirrored fields and often frosted devices, Proof examples of Bela Lyon Pratt’s Indian Head gold $2.50 quarter eagle and $5 half eagle, along with Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Indian Head $10 eagle and Striding Liberty $20 double eagle were decidedly less flashy. Heritage writes, “Various types of sandblast and satin finishes were adopted at different times, and even more experimental finishes were briefly tinkered with, but none were found that addressed both the technical needs of the coiners and the aesthetic sensibilities of the collectors.”

Proof gold coins with experimental finishes produced at this time went largely undocumented, and as research has uncovered more about the U.S. Mint’s practices during this period, experimental pieces have emerged that give us a broader sense of Proof coins of the period. Most 1908 gold Proof coins have a uniform Matte Proof finish and 1909 Proof coins have a Satin Proof finish, sometimes called a “Roman” Finish. “The only difference between the two finishes was the matte proofs were sandblasted after striking and the satin proofs were not. The satin proofs are brighter than the matte proofs and usually have a lighter color,” Heritage points out, and by 1910 the U.S. Mint began to experiment on a finish that would please collectors and officials. At the 1910 American Numismatic Association convention, members were asked to vote on whether the 1908 Matte Proof finish or the 1909 Satin Proof finish was preferred. They preferred the former.

John Dannreuther, who recently published a series of books on U.S. Proof coins, observed that the surfaces of the new discovery showed extensive die polishing. He noted that the offered coin was submitted after he published his book on Proof gold coins, and he said, “My guess is that they maybe were trying to polish the dies and see if they could make a brilliant proof. Just a guess, as the 1910 ANA held that survey and the Sandblast Proofs won the vote over the Satin Proofs! PCGS felt it was different enough to warrant a separate number, as it is not a grainy Satin Proof nor one of the reticulated surfaces Satin Proofs. We don’t have records of their experiments in a lot of cases, of which this is one, in my opinion (and that of PCGS).”

Heritage notes that it “possesses an aura of mystery,” observing, “A partial wire edge is visible on both sides of the coin and the inner rim is sharply delineated, with marked concavity in the fields as they fall gracefully away from the rims,” before concluding, “the overall presentation is simply stunning.”

Gold hero medal

One of the most massive items in the Platinum Night session is a 1906 Carnegie Hero Fund gold medal presented to Harris G. Giddings graded Mint State 67 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. There were 19 gold medals were awarded between 1904 and 1923 for lifesaving efforts to individuals who entered mortal danger to rescue others and the Carnegie is called, “the highest honor for civilian heroism in the U.S. and Canada.” Andrew Carnegie endowed the fund in 1904 and the fund’s website records the winners, including, “Harris G. Giddings, 45, captain of city fireboat, helped to save Jacob Flyter, 30, from drowning, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 30, 1906. Giddings and two other men descended a 55-foot shaft and rescued Flyter, who was imprisoned in an air-chamber of a tunnel under the Milwaukee River, into which water was leaking.”

Heritage writes that the 22-karat gold medal — weighing 280 grams, or just over 9 troy ounces — displays rich green-gold color with flawless surfaces and presents “an extraordinary opportunity for the historic minded collector and public facility.”

The two other men who participated in the rescue are identified in contemporary records as Capt. Peter Lancaster and Chief Lawrence A. Hanlon. Each received a gold medal and $1,500. An article in the Oct. 18, 2016, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shared that Hanlon’s medal is in the collection of the Milwaukee Fire Historical Society, who brought it to an appraisal day benefiting Milwaukee public television, wondering if it was real gold. That article explained that, while the recipients of the medal are firmly established, the name of the rescued man as recorded on the medal is inaccurate. “It appears to be a phonetic guess of the name reported in Milwaukee Sentinel news articles of the day, Jacob Flejter, a surname that lives on in Milwaukee today. Flyter does not. The Milwaukee Journal apparently got the name most wrong, calling him Jack Slater and later Jacob Slater.”

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