US Coins

Stack’s Bowers Rarities Night sale features early Proof landmarks

The auctions to be held by Stack’s Bowers Galleries the week after the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money have some spectacular Proof coins.

Perhaps most exciting — and freshest to the market — is an 1825/4/1 Capped Head gold $5 half eagle graded Proof 67 Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service that also carries a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. It will be offered on Aug. 25 at the Rarities Night session at the firm’s Costa Mesa, California, offices.

It is the finest of three Proof 1825 half eagles known and was acquired by the consignor around 1973. It was part of the Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Collection, where it was offered among his duplicates in October 1947 and then spent time in the collections of Egypt’s King Farouk before being offered at Sotheby’s sale of the Palace Collections of Egypt in 1954.

Of course, the idea that such a coin could have been deaccessioned as a duplicate when it was superior to the one Eliasberg kept is open to speculation, and Stack’s Bowers opines, “Although only conjecture, we believe that this was simply a mistake on Mr. Eliasberg’s part,” since the “Proof” the collector kept to represent the date was a prooflike circulation strike example.

Proof coins in the 1820s were produced for select audiences, with some serving as official presentation pieces. As the catalog points out, “In many instances specimens were made at multiple times during a given year, further evidence that they were coined on demand to meet specific needs or in response to special requests.”

A lack of contemporary documentation means that the official mintage of the Proof 1825 Capped Head half eagles is unknown, and all known examples were struck from the same die pair, cataloged as JD-1 in John Dannreuther’s recent book on Proof gold coins. The date is an overdate, initially thought to be 1825/4 and now expanded to 1825/4/1 thanks to Saul Teichman’s research documenting the repurposing of dies at the Philadelphia Mint in the era.

“It is a full Proof with uniform deep mirrored reflectivity in the fields on both the obverse and reverse. In true cameo fashion, the design elements are set apart with a softly frosted texture, and they are also fully defined apart from areas of localized softness at the eagle’s right talon and within its right wing,” the catalog notes, observing crisp dentils around both sides. Beyond it technically being a Proof, Stack’s Bowers concludes, “This is also a simply beautiful half eagle that presents the challenging Large Diameter Capped Head Left type in a way that few other examples can match, be they Proofs or circulation strikes.”

Enigmatic 1825 Proof 25¢

Another fascinating Proof of the era is an 1825/4/2 Capped Bust quarter dollar graded Proof 63 by ANACS that is described as “a highly significant, yet somewhat enigmatic early U.S. Mint coin” since neither PCGS nor Numismatic Guaranty Co. has certified a Proof quarter dollar of this date.

Walter Breen observed in his 1989 book on Proof coins that “the deceptive early strikes lack the central sharpness of real proofs.”

Stack’s Bowers calls the subject offering “the only unequivocal Proof striking of the issue of which we are aware.” The four authors of the 2008 book Early Quarter Dollars of the United States Mint depict it as the plate coin for the Browning 2 variety, tracing its provenance back to the March 1945 Numismatic Gallery auction of the “World’s Greatest Collection” (F.C.C. Boyd), where it realized $17.50, as a Proof quarter dollar.

1878 Pattern gold $2.50

Another noteworthy offering is the unique 1878 gold $2.50 quarter eagle pattern listed as Judd 1566 in the pattern reference, graded Proof 67 Cameo by PCGS, that recently sold at Heritage’s April 23, 2021, sale of selections from the Bob R. Simpson Collection for $384,000.

The design is attributed to George T. Morgan and is the single example of the design type struck in gold known. Around a dozen struck in copper, listed as Judd 1567, some of which have been gilt, also serve to represent the design.

Larger and thinner than a regular issue of the denomination, the new planchet size was made in response to contemporary concerns that counterfeiters could hollow-out gold coins and replace the gold with then-less expensive (but still dense) platinum. The Mint gave up on the idea since the thinner coins were more difficult to produce and were less durable.

This example is identified by a tiny lint mark or similar strikethrough in the reverse field to the left of the letter C in AMERICA. It is described as a “marvelous Superb Gem with a dusting of pale silver-olive iridescence to otherwise warm, vivid, reddish-orange color.”

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