US Coins

Proof Indian Head $3s offered at Heritage FUN auction

An Indian Head $3 gold piece graded Proof 65 Deep Cameo with a green CAC sticker and a Civil War-era 1864 Indian Head $3 gold piece graded Proof 64 Deep Cameo with a green CAC sticker are among the standouts in Heritage’s Summer FUN auction.

All images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

A group of Proof Indian Head gold $3 coins is one of the lead consignments at Heritage’s July 20 to 24 Summer Florida United Numismatists U.S. Coins Signature Auction, held the week after the Summer FUN show takes place in Orlando, July 13 to 15.

The odd $3 denomination was authorized in 1853 and production began the next year. Sandwiched between the $2.50 quarter eagle and the $5 half eagle, the coins did not see much circulation. The “Red Book” says that some theorize that the $3 denomination would have been useful for purchasing postage stamps of the day, as was the then-circulating silver 3-cent coin.

James B. Longacre’s design is shown to its full advantage on the Proof strikes made for collectors. As Heritage writes in its offering of an 1864 Indian Head $3 coin graded Proof 64 Deep Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service, with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, “Any proof three dollar gold coin is rare, broadly speaking; in fact, it is not much of a stretch to say that any unimpaired 19th century proof gold coin is rare, especially when one gets away from the one dollar gold denomination.”

The offered 1864 $3 coin is from an always-popular Civil War year, and though it has a reported mintage of 50 pieces, the actual amount distributed to collectors was likely less. John Dannreuther estimates in his book United States Proof Coins that just 14 to 16 have survived in all grades today. Heritage cites die diagnostics that distinguish the Proof strikes of this year from circulation strikes, including a lump on Liberty’s chin and a spike from the back of her ear. Heritage adds, “A tiny planchet flaw appears behind Liberty’s head and a few stuttering hairlines are seen to the left of the nose, but they hardly detract from the incredible eye appeal of this rarity.”

Low and high mintage Proof $3s

The Proof 1878 Indian Head $3 coin is a key in the series, with just 20 Proof pieces produced in contrast to the 82,304 struck for circulation. Dannreuther estimates that just 12 to 14 of the Proof coins survive, calling it “quite the rarity in Proof with little appreciation among collectors.” He asked, “Why do you need a Proof, when a regular strike is so easily obtained?”

This one is among the finest-known, with Heritage praising “splashes of natural coppery color amid deep orange-gold coloration overall.” It also cites the textured surfaces, typical of gold Proof coins of the period, along with deeply mirrored surfaces and frosty devices, “creating the stark contrast expected of a 19th century Proof gold piece.”

By the 1880s, the Indian Head gold $3 series was limping to its conclusion, with low mintages of circulation and Proof strikes becoming increasingly popular with collectors. 1888 saw 291 Proof strikes reported struck, of which Dannreuther estimates around 130 survive today. Researchers including Q. David Bowers suggest that the mintage may be inaccurate, and that the number actually distributed was less.

The offered one is graded Proof 66+ Cameo by PCGS with a green CAC sticker. Heritage praised its extraordinary eye appeal, writing, “Gleaming orange-gold surfaces showcase a thick layer of mint frost over the devices, while the fields display remarkable depth and flashiness.”

As Dannreuther writes on the penultimate issue of the denomination, “This is the pinnacle of Proof three dollar mintage, so one can be fussy when obtaining an example.”

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