Patterns are taking center stage at Heritage’s 2016 Central States
Numismatic Society auctions, April 27 to May 1, in Schaumburg, Ill.
Leading the auction are some magnificent pattern U.S. coins from
1792, but even rarer than most of these is a 1913 Indian Head 5-cent
pattern, where collectors get a sense of James Fraser’s original
vision for his famed “Buffalo nickel.”
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The pattern, listed as Judd 1950 and Pollock 2025 in the references
to patterns, is graded Proof 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service
and is similar to the Bison on Mound 5-cent piece issued in 1913 but
for two key differences. First, there is no designer’s “F” initial
below the date. Second, the surfaces of the pattern have a rougher and
more granular texture than seen on regular issue coins. It also has a
wider obverse rim than seen on circulation or Proof Indian Head 5-cent
pieces and the short feathers of the Indian’s headdress are slightly different.
The March 1913 issue of the American Numismatic Association’s
publication The Numismatist reported on the addition of the artist’s
initial, writing, “the capital ‘F’ before the date has met with the
approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of the Mint,
and also the National Art Commission.”
The story added, “Already, it is said, the presence of this tiny
letter has aroused a certain amount of criticism, similar to that
which greeted the appearance of the letters ‘V.D.B.’ on the Lincoln
cent, which resulted in their removal, doing an injustice to Mr.
Brenner, its designer, and violating all precedents.”
The story’s author applauded the initial, but was less favorable
about the rough texture, writing, “It is to be regretted that the new
coin does not show much more finished die work, which could easily
have been accomplished,” before warning, “We are inclined to think
that the rough finish will encourage counterfeiters, whose handicraft
need not now fear comparison which it has met in the past with the
ordinarily delicate and finished mint issues.”
Just 17 patterns struck
A March 3, 1913, letter from Philadelphia Mint Superintendent John
Landis to Director George Robert records that just 17 of these
patterns were struck on Jan. 13, 1913. These were distributed on Feb.
24 with two going to the Mint Cabinet collection, now housed in the
National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
Landis received six, which were returned to the Mint on Feb. 28 and
likely melted. One was placed in the cornerstone of All Souls Church
in Washington, D.C., and Secretary of the Treasury Franklin MacVeagh
received three. Fraser, Robert Clark, Charles Barber and Acting Mint
Superintendent Albert Norris each received one, and one is unaccounted
for. This leaves at most nine examples in private hands, presuming
that all have survived, though given the wide distribution, this seems unlikely.
The U.S. Patterns
website writes that some of the nine “at large” examples may be
masquerading as regular issues, observing, “It is important to note
that it would likely be extremely difficult to differentiate these
from the regular issue if any circulated heavily, as the date area on
buffalo nickels is well known for wearing away.”
This example is also noteworthy for spending time in the collection
of Egypt’s King Farouk, and it suffered from a cleaning in the past as
did many of the king’s coins. Heritage writes, “Obviously cleaned at
one time, the surfaces have since retoned in speckled rose and
lime-green colors but much of the underlying brilliance is still evident.”
In its provenance, Heritage suggests that it may have once been
housed in a custom case, alongside two other Indian Head 5-cent pieces
(including one in copper) and five 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent pieces
once owned by Col. E.H.R. Green and then Eric P. Newman.
In recent memory the pattern was offered at auction in 1989 and
again in 2001, where, graded Proof 62 by PCGS, it brought $25,875. It
would sell at Heritage’s January 2003 Florida United Numismatists
auction for $66,700. It sold most recently at auction for $99,875 at
Legend’s Dec. 18, 2014, auction.
The finest known example, graded Proof 65, sold for $195,500 at a
July 2013 Legend auction.
Heritage CSNS auctions have become major market events. 2014 saw its
various CSNS auctions bring $53.6 million and 2015’s CSNS auctions
realized more than $56 million.
Fraser was born in 1876 in Winona, Minn.
Before his first birthday, Fraser moved to the Dakota Territory and
was raised on the prairie outside Mitchell, S.D. In his youth he had
contacts with Native Americans, and these interactions had a lifelong
influence in his work, including the statue End of the Trail, which is
perhaps Fraser’s best-known non-numismatic work.
He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and would later enroll in
the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. His training proceeded under
Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Fraser would eventually establish his own
studio in Greenwich Village, New York.