1855 G$1 PR66 Deep Cameo PCGS. Ex: Pittman. Alexander Hamilton's original 1791 vision for U.S. coinage comprised a gold dol...
Extremely Rare PR66 Deep Cameo 1855 Type Two Gold Dollar, Ex: Pittman, Tied for Finest Known1855 G$1 PR66 Deep Cameo PCGS. Ex: Pittman. Alexander Hamilton's original 1791 vision for U.S. coinage comprised a gold dollar among other denominations. But no such denomination was produced in the 18th century, even though the nation made its first dollars in 1794. In the early 1830s, the Bechtler family began minting gold dollars and other denominations from local North Carolina gold. Robert W. Julian, in an Oct. 20, 1982, Coin World article, wrote, "Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury, as far back as August 1834 had considered the interesting idea of a gold dollar for the United States. Although the Mint officers at the time had thrown cold water on the idea, saying that gold pieces of this size had never been deposited at the Mint and they knew of no country where they circulated, nevertheless Woodbury persisted. In mid-January 1836 Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht was instructed to drop all else and produce a pair of dies to strike pattern gold dollars." The "all else" that Gobrecht was instructed to drop included his work on designs for what would later be called the "Gobrecht" silver dollars, based on work by the noted naturalist and artist Titian Peale and portrait painter Thomas Sully. The reintroduction of the silver dollar was a pet project of Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson. It is likely that some of Patterson's objections were due to his support of the silver dollar. Even after the Mint produced a few gold dollar patterns, dated 1836, the project came to nought. The first Gobrecht silver dollars entered circulation in 1836. Although numerous pattern (and circulation strike) silver dollars followed through 1839--with restrikes extending over a period of perhaps several decades--by 1840 the silver dollar was again firmly entrenched as a coinage denomination.
Although a couple of times in the 1840s proposals for a gold dollar resurfaced,Mint officials remained adamant in their opposition. The dynamics of bimetallism ultimately changed the situation in 1848, when the abundance of gold from the new California discoveries made silver dollars overpriced in relation to gold eagles. Silver dollars promptly disappeared from circulation and were widely hoarded, exported, and melted. This is one of many practical demonstrations in U.S. numismatic and economic history of Gresham's Law, in its simplest form saying that "Bad money drives out good money."
By 1849, the need for a circulating medium (aside from paper scrip) forced the reluctant Mint to begin making gold dollars. The Type One pieces, produced from 1849 to 1854, were smaller in diameter and thicker than the Type Two dollars, produced only in 1854 through 1856. When James Ross Snowden took over as Mint director in 1853, he determined that the gold dollar should be larger in diameter and thinner. Mint Engraver James Longacre, who took the job upon Christian Gobrecht's death in 1844, accordingly began work on a second design for the gold dollars. Longacre used yet another incarnation of the so-called Indian Princess motif for the Type Two dollars, not unlike the one he used on three dollar gold pieces. Snowden requested that Longacre make the three dollar gold pieces large enough that there could be no chance of their confusion with half eagles or quarter eagles. Longacre then followed a proportional enlargement for the Type Two gold dollars, increasing their size from 0.50 inches (the Type One size) to 0.5625 inches for the Type Two pieces.
The Type Two pieces, troublesome and unsatisfying from the start, almost never struck up well. Even Uncirculated examples show blurry detail in Liberty's hair, the LL in DOLLAR, and the 85 in the date--if not the entire date. The highpoints of the obverse, directly opposed to the date and denomination on the reverse, ensured that both the design and the singular information quickly wore to illegibility in circulation. After only three years, the Mint changed the design again, this time with an obverse and reverse that strived to avoid putting high relief areas in direct opposition.
Because of their difficult design and the enduring popularity of gold type collecting, Type Two gold dollars in high grades have emerged as a prime gold type coin rarity. The 1854 and 1855 gold dollars were the first and only P-mint gold dollars produced with the Type Two Indian Princess design. Each issue saw a fairly sizeable number of business strikes--more than 783,000 pieces of the 1854 and 758,000 examples of the 1855--but only an extremely small number of proof gold coins were minted.
Among 19th century proof gold, few type coins are rarer or more desirable than the Type Two gold dollar. Because of the difficulty of finding high grade, well-struck-up pieces, collectors with available funds turn to proof Type Two gold dollars as a more than acceptable alternative to mushy business strikes. Proofs are immediately recognizable when encountered; the deeply mirrored fields allow no confusion with circulation strikes. About eight to 10 examples are known today: NGC and PCGS together account for 11 examples in all grades, undoubtedly including resubmissions. This coin is the finest and only PR66 Deep Cameo at PCGS and is tied with a single PR66 Ultra Cameo at NGC, with none finer (9/06). The coin shows smooth, mirrored looking-glass fields and thick frost on the devices, with superlative black-on-gold contrast. A couple of tiny planchet flakes are seen on the reverse in the upper left field, and a bit of strike weakness shows on the 8 in the date--a diagnostic of genuine proofs. Yet the viewer is left with the unmistakable impression of great beauty, rarity, and desirability. John Jay Pittman purchased this particular coin from the Melish Sale in 1956, paying an astonishing $225 at that time. In buying this coin, he used the bidding technique he was famous for: When he really wanted a lot and was willing to pay whatever it took to buy it, he would stand at the front of the room with his arm held high and stare down the competition. Pittman, a numismatic legend, was never a wealthy man, but he was extremely knowledgeable and astute in his coin buying, and he always insisted on buying the best quality that he could afford. That insistence on quality is evident today, in this tied-for-finest example of a legendary rarity, with an equally legendary pedigree.
From The Dr. Robert J. Loewinger Collection.(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# 25DW, PCGS# 97602)
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