US Coins

Wax models from Longacre join rare Indian Head $3 coins

A glimpse into the thought process of James B. Longacre, well-known to collectors as the designer of the Indian Head cent and gold $3 coins, among other issues, will be offered at Heritage’s Feb. 9 to 12 Long Beach Expo Signature Auction at its Dallas headquarters.

Sculpted by Longacre in part of the mid-1850s die making process, the sale’s wax models allowed the artist to finalize his initial ideas in the easily molded material, in a large format that would allow for him to change and adapt the design.

Wax models like these would then be cast in plaster, the plaster casts would then serve as molds that would be used to create a metal copy, and the metal copy would then be reduced and serve as a basis for preparing a steel master die.

The designs on the wax models offered in Heritage’s Feb. 9 offering of The Bender Family Collection feature the Indian Princess and Agricultural Wreath designs that would be used on the gold $3 coin in 1854 and also utilized on the second type of the Indian Head gold dollars the same year. The wreath would find use as well on the Flying Eagle cents from 1856 to 1858.

They are offered in a wood frame with openings measuring just over 3½ inches in diameter, and the models sit on heavy copper discs. Heritage states, “These Longacre wax models may or may not have been used to create iron castings for the reducing lathe.” They are pictured in several books including United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854–1889 by Q. David Bowers with Douglas Winter, and the wreath model is pictured in the third edition of The Flying Eagle & Indian Cent Attribution Guide by Rick Snow.

High quality Proof 1876 Indian Head $3 coin

A stunning example of coinage resulting from the design seen on the wax models is an 1876 Indian Head gold $3 coin graded Proof 66 Deep Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. It is part of the Tom Bender #1 All-Time Finest PCGS Registry Set, $3 Gold Basic Set, Proof (1854–1889) in the PCGS Set Registry program.

The issue is in hot demand as a Proof-only date from America’s centennial year, with a low mintage of 45 coins reported, of which PCGS CoinFacts estimates that as many as 40 exist in all grades today. This is an unusually high survival rate for a Proof of the era and it is among the finest-known.

Despite the low mintage, two different obverse and reverse dies were used to strike the Proof coins, suggesting that perhaps more coins were struck beyond the initial 45 at a later time to meet collector demand. Heritage cites John Dannreuther’s research in his book United States Proof Coins, Volume IV: Gold, that notes different die rotations are seen for both die pairs, suggesting that they may have been struck on four different occasions. However, “all these strikings may have occurred before the end of the year, so all the proofs should be considered Originals, rather than Restrikes, unless further evidence comes to light.”

The offered example represents the JD-2 variety, identified by both the position of the 7 in the date and die lumps on the L and near the I in LIBERTY.

Heritage calls the coin stunning, “with sharply detailed design elements that show intricate detail on the headdress feathers and the ribbon knot. The virtually flawless yellow and orange-gold surfaces include deeply reflective fields that contrast profoundly with the frosty devices, to produce a startling cameo effect.”

Unique Branch Mint Proof

Certainly one of the most intriguing coins in the Bender consignment is a Branch Mint Proof 64 Cameo 1855-S Indian Head $3 coin with a green CAC sticker that is unique as a Proof. 1855 marks the first year that the denomination was struck at the San Francisco Mint, and it joins several other issues that Mint struck in 1854 and 1855 that have deeply mirrored fields and sharp strikes that approximate the appearance of Proof coins of the era.

The early history of the subject offering remains unknown, and Heritage wrote, “Traditional wisdom suggests this coin was obtained by a California family at its time of issue and carefully preserved for more than a century, as it has certainly never been in circulation.”

David Akers wrote in his catalog description for its offering at a 1984 Paramount auction that it had recently surfaced in the San Francisco Bay Area and that he was absolutely certain that it was specially struck to celebrate the first production of the denomination at the San Francisco Mint.

His description stated, “We have examined this coin for many hours, comparing it both to business strikes of the period and to proofs, including an 1855 Philadelphia Mint proof $3. It is totally unlike any business strike 1855-S $3 in overall appearance and texture (albeit from the same dies) and it is remarkably similar to the 1855 $3 proofs struck at the Philadelphia Mint. In fact, if there were no ‘S’ mintmark on the reverse, one would immediately take it for an 1855 Philadelphia Mint proof.”

As with previous offerings of the coin at various auctions, Heritage does not try to improve on Akers’ apt 1984 description, largely citing it directly: “A very attractive, brilliant proof with a 100% full strike, a sharp, square edge and deep mirror fields that have considerable ‘orange peel.’ ”

Akers adds, “The color is a rich greenish-gold and orange. There are some light hairlines on the surfaces but virtually no contact marks or abrasions. In front of the face and behind the head there is the ‘porosity’ (resulting from double striking and conforming exactly to the shape of the wreath on the reverse which received the metal flow) that is seen on almost all proof threes.”

It was previously certified in a Numismatic Guaranty Co. Proof 63 holder when offered at 1988 and 1990 auctions, and was crossed to PCGS when presented at Bowers and Merena’s January 2000 Rarities Night sale and Stack’s October 2004 69th Anniversary Sale where it realized $276,000. It was most recently offered at Heritage’s August 2011 American Numismatic Association Signature Auction, where it was graded Proof 64 Cameo by NGC and realized $1,322,500, then a record for any coin of the denomination, but which has since been bested by the Bass Foundation’s unique 1870-S Indian Head $3 coin that sold for $5,520,000 on Jan. 5.

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