US Coins

Civil War era Proof gold coins from the Simpson Collection offered

Heritage is continuing with its offerings of coins from the collection of Texas businessman Bob Simpson at its May 4 to 8 Central States U.S. Coins Signature Auction, to be held at its Dallas headquarters after the convention.

The May 5 Simpson Platinum Night session is especially strong in Civil War era Proof gold coins. Leading the pack is an 1863 Coronet $20 double eagle graded Proof 65+ Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker.

Proof gold coins of the Civil War era are always rare, since the war caused economic uncertainties that made the purchase of these expensive coins a luxury few could afford. Further, as Heritage explains, “Mint policy was to sell gold proofs only in complete six-piece sets with a face value of $41.50, plus the proofing charge. This was a significant amount of money for the average collector, and many were discouraged by the difficult ordering procedure, as well.”

An absence of circulation-strike Coronet $2.50 quarter eagles in 1863 meant that one had to buy a Proof example for a date set, and Heritage speculates, “A significant portion of the gold proof sets sold in 1863 were probably purchased to get the smaller gold coins for collections, with the larger denominations coming along for the ride. The lack of collector demand for the larger gold coins probably resulted in many proof double eagles being sold for slim profits, or just being spent for face value in later years.”

Just 30 of the 1863 Coronet double eagles were reported minted for inclusion in sets, though it is likely that fewer were actually sold, and today perhaps a dozen are known, including two in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. The reverse die was used previously to strike Proof strikes of the denomination in 1861 and 1862, and the obverse die is distinguished by an unusual die line shaped like a horizontal Y on the bust truncation.

Heritage considers the Simpson coin the finest-known example. It was previously part of the Louis Eliasberg Sr. Collection. It last sold at Heritage’s August 2014 Signature auction — then graded Proof 66 Cameo by Numismatic Guaranty Co. — for $381,875. Before that it realized $138,000 in 2004 and $241,500 in 2008.

Another prize is an 1863 Coronet $5 half eagle graded Proof 65+ Deep Cameo by PCGS and bearing a green CAC sticker. Perhaps 15 of the coins are known today. It is plated to represent the issue in John Dannreuther’s recent book United States Proof Coins, Volume IV: Gold.

Heritage calls it “well-balanced with rich yellow-gold color and little evidence of contact. Only a few light, undistracting field hairlines may stand in the way of an even finer grade.” A “tiny planchet void, as made, in the field over Liberty’s head between stars 7 and 8” may help identify its pedigree.

Dannreuther added in his book, “With only 2,442 circulation strikes, there is considerable demand” from both type and date collectors for the Proof coins.

More Civil War era Proof gold

Among the other Proof Civil War era delicacies are an 1864 Coronet $10 eagle graded Proof 65 Deep Cameo by PCGS that is one of around 20 surviving from a reported mintage of 50 pieces. Heritage suspects that some of the higher-denomination Proof coins may have been spent after the Civil War, since $10 represented significant purchasing power.

The offered $10 eagle was previously part of a six-coin Proof set that Heritage sold in October 2011 as separate lots, with Heritage writing it “is possible that proof set was purchased directly from the Mint in 1864 and kept intact since its time of issue, but it may also have been assembled by purchasing the individual coins separately over a period of many years.”

Then-graded Proof 65 Ultra Cameo by NGC and bearing a green CAC sticker, it sold for $138,000. It would again be offered by Heritage in August 2018 for $240,000, graded PCGS Proof 65 Deep Cameo, but without a green CAC sticker.

Only 25 1865 Coronet $2.50 quarter eagles were struck, and contemporary dealers of the time wrote of the troubles in getting sets of gold coins during the Civil War. As Heritage summarized, “Anyone wishing to order a gold proof set in 1865 would first have to purchase $43 face value in gold coins from a bullion dealer, because the Mint would accept only gold in payment. The bullion dealer might charge as much as $120.40 for these coins.”

Today Dannreuther estimates that 12 to 16 have survived.

Heritage calls this one “a magnificent Gem, with profound contrast between brightly mirrored fields and sharply detailed, frosty devices,” noting, “the pleasing surfaces show a slight orange-peel effect in some areas, typical of proofs from the later 19th century.”

It was previously offered at Heritage’s January 2012 Florida United Numismatists auction, then graded Proof 65 Ultra Cameo by NGC with a green CAC sticker. It sold for $48,875 at that 2012 auction.

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