US Coins

Proof 1855 gold dollar, one of 10 minted, brings $329,000 in Las Vegas

An 1855 Indian Head, Small Head gold dollar brought $329,000 on July 16 at Legend Rare Coin Auctions Regency 39 sale in Las Vegas.

The rare dollar, graded Proof 65+ Deep Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, is from a reported mintage of just 10 pieces, of which Legend reports that seven are accounted for.

Legend’s cataloger observes, “Incredibly deep, reflective mirrors show that the dies and planchet were carefully polished prior to striking,” before praising its bold strike and frosted devices. A weak 8 in the date is seen on all Proof examples of this date.

The coin in the auction was once part of the landmark collection assembled by Floyd T. Starr. It was offered at Heritage’s 2005 sale of the Gold Rush Collection where — then graded PCGS Proof 65 — it realized $287,000. Two tiny flakes, below OF and below the right ribbon end (as struck) on the reverse, are pedigree markers.

Designer James B. Longacre used three distinct designs on his small-sized gold dollars, which were authorized by the Act of March 3, 1849. The first, bearing a Coronet Liberty Head design, was struck from 1849 to 1854, when it was replaced by the Indian Head, Large Head type (occasionally referred to Indian Princess Head or Type II). The slightly larger, thinner Type II dollar — measuring 15 millimeters and weighing 1.67 grams — was struck for only three years. 1856 saw the introduction of the Indian Head, Large Head type (Type III), which enjoyed a long production span of 1856 to 1889. 

Civil War stunners

In total, 5,900 gold dollars were struck in 1864, during the chaos of the Civil War, and many show considerable evidence of die clashes on both the obverse and reverse; not surprising given how thin the planchets were for these issues.

PCGS has graded four 1864 Indian Head gold dollars MS-68, bested only by the subject coin graded MS-68+ (carrying a green CAC sticker) and one graded MS-69 that is the finest known.

Legend writes of the example in the auction, “This coin is pure numismatic royalty, in addition to its nirvana quality,” praising its glowing, satiny luster and absence of marks, while also observing, “Both sides are enriched by a gorgeous mix of totally original two tone gold/pale orange gold colors.”

Its first known auction appearance was in 1983 at Bowers and Merena’s offering of the Virgil Brand Collection where it was purchased by gold expert David Akers.

It was offered by Heritage in its 2015 auction of the Steven L. Duckor Collection of Gold Dollars, where it was purchased for $70,500 by the collector who consigned it to the Legend July auction as part of the “BIGMO Civil War Collection,” where it improved slightly on its outing five years ago, bringing $73,437.50.

From this same collection, an impressive 1865 Seated Liberty half dollar graded Proof 67 Deep Cameo by PCGS with a green CAC sticker sold for $117,500.

Legend wrote, “This stunning MEGA MONSTER OF A GEM is one of the grand highlights of this collection,” calling the contrast between the deeply mirrored fields and the frosty devices, “ ‘in your face’ stupendous.” Only 500 Proof strikes were minted, and it is of interest as a Civil War date. The next year would see the motto IN GOD WE TRUST added above the eagle on the reverse.

Legend writes that it was previously offered by Heritage in 2013, then-graded Proof 66+ Deep Cameo by PCGS, where it realized $76,375. At that sale Heritage called it, “a profound, white-on-black cameoed proof,” finding no flaws worthy of mention, so perhaps it is not surprising that it found its way into a higher-grade holder, and bidders were willing to pay a premium for this undeniably beautiful example of 19th century Proof coinage.

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