US Coins

Summer FUN auction full of U.S. coin rarities

Four Proof 1895 Morgan dollars are among the highlights as Heritage Auctions hosts the official auctions of the summer Florida United Numismatists convention. The show is set for July 12 to 14 at the Orlando Convention Center. 

The finest of the four 1895 Proof Morgan dollars is graded Proof 65 Cameo by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. The story of this rarity is well known: despite the Philadelphia Mint recording a mintage of 12,000 circulation-strike 1895 Morgan dollars, it is possible that no 1895 dollars were struck for circulation and these 12,000 dollars represent either an accounting error or an administrative convenience. 

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However, some evidence suggests that circulation-strike 1895 dollars may have been struck; six 1895 Morgan dollars were presented to the Assay Commission in 1896 and two were subsequently destroyed, leaving four that may be “at large,” but no circulation strikes have been discovered. If 12,000 1895 Morgan dollars were produced, the entire mintage may have been melted. Several circulated Proof 1895 dollars survive, which have at times confused some. 

Collectors have only surviving examples of the 880 Proof 1895 Morgan dollars to represent the date, and those examples — in all grades, even the well-circulated ones — are expensive. The Proof 65 Cameo example offered in Orlando is described as sharply struck, with the catalog observing, “brilliant fields that are brightly mirrored, and contrast with the icy motifs and legends.” 

Also offered are three other examples of this ever-popular dollar that is called the “King of the Morgan Dollars”: one graded Proof 63 Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service, another in NGC Proof 62 Cameo, and last, but not least, is one graded PCGS Proof 63. 

Curious 1921 Proof dollars

No Proof 1921 Morgan dollars were struck for sale to collectors, but today two types are popularity collected as Proofs: Chapman and Zerbe Proofs. The Chapman Proofs were the brainchild of dealer Henry Chapman who convinced chief engraver George Morgan to produce some strikings that could be sold as Proofs. Promoter Farran Zerbe also had “Proof” 1921 Morgan dollars struck at his request. Heritage records a combined total of 65 submissions of Chapman Proofs at PCGS and NGC, far more than the 10 to 15 traditionally believed to have been struck, and perhaps 30 are known today. 

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As Stack’s Bowers Galleries noted in its offering of a different example graded PCGS Proof 65 that sold for $69,000 at its recent March Baltimore auctions, “As a clandestine, unofficial U.S. Mint issue, more mystery than fact seems to swirl around their existence — in fact, the only items that we can be sure of [are] that they exist and were produced by George T. Morgan at the behest of prominent Philadelphia coin dealer Henry Chapman.”

Of the two, the Chapman Proofs more closely resemble Proof Morgan dollars of 1878 to 1904, with deep mirrors, well-struck devices and squared dentils. Known Chapman Proofs were struck from the same die pair with two key diagnostics on the reverse die: a diagonal line above the first T in STATES and a die line between the wreath and the right-side star. 

Oft-melted S-Mint gold

A duo of rare survivors from heavily melted San Francisco Mint issues are also set to cross Heritage’s auction block. A 1920-S Indian Head gold $10 eagle graded MS-62 by PCGS is — excluding the 1933 $10 eagle — considered the rarest date in the series. Despite a mintage of 126,500 1920-S Indian Head eagles, most were melted, and today perhaps 120 to 140 are known to collectors. Nearly all survive in Mint State with MS-62 being the most common grade. The subject example has a few notable contact marks, including a couple of diagonal scrapes across Liberty’s cheekbone, another on her neck and one “which is in the shape of a star left of Liberty’s forehead from direct contact with another ten dollar gold piece.”

Another rarity with a sizable mintage of which few survived is a 1924-S Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle graded PCGS MS-65. Nearly 3 million were minted, and virtually all of these were melted. Those that escaped the melting pot were sent to European banks. Heritage writes, “During the decade of the 1940s, the 1924-S was regarded as the rarest date of the series, with prominent coin dealers like B. Max Mehl and Abe Kosoff estimating the surviving population at just 3–6 pieces.” 

Thankfully, examples continue to be located in European hoards, though “when collectors seek a truly high-quality example of the 1924-S, they find the situation has changed little from the early days of the 1940s.” Those emerging from European hoards tend to be heavily marked. PCGS has graded just six in MS-65, one MS-65+ and a single MS-67 that is the finest certified, with Heritage concluding, “Even these small totals probably include some resubmissions and crossovers.” 

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