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Bold PR66 1909 Indian Head Half Eagle

1909 $5 PR66 NGC. A decade or so after matte proof gold coins became the rage in the European capitals of London and Paris, personnel at the U.S. Mint also began tinkering with new surface finishes for proof gold. Following the Mint introduction of the novel and highly unpopular matte finish for proof gold of the new designs by Saint-Gaudens and Pratt in 1908, the April 1909 The Numismatist said of the coins that they "have a very dull appearance ... and are far less pleasing to the eye than the coinage for circulation, which is brighter and of lighter color." The Mint in 1909 and 1910 softened its approach to the now-rare and highly coveted "Roman Finish," sometimes called Roman Gold or Satin Finish, and used only in those two years. Of the new style, the authors of The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens as Illustrated by the Phillip H. Morse Collection noted, "The finish on this variant had a brighter appearance and the individual granules on the surface show a finer texture than the earlier 'matte' or 'sandblast' proofs of 1908. Indeed, the new finish was a response to criticism that the earlier matte finish exuded a dull appearance, and in general, was disliked by contemporary collectors. Unlike the various shades of olive-brown or mustard-brown on the 1908 sandblast proofs, satin or 'Roman Finish' proofs tend to exhibit a pleasing yellow-gold coloration with occasional orange accents."
The surfaces of this piece are much lighter in color than the 1908 and more minutely granular. The finish is a curious mixture between a brilliant and matte proof that gives the coin a semibrilliant, satiny appearance. The Roman Finish coins have often been confused with high-grade business strikes, but when the two types of coins are viewed side by side, one can easily see differences in the surface textures. The recorded Guide Book proof mintage of the 1909 is only 78 coins, a lower number likely accounted for by the disappointment proof gold collectors felt for the 1908 pieces. (Garrett and Guth's Gold Encyclopedia notes that the mintage is "77 Roman style finish" and that there is also a single known matte proof 1909, struck in the same style as the 1908 pieces.)
Based on the certified populations and a reasonable assumption for duplications, we estimate that probably 30-40 pieces still exist today of this rarely seen issue. This piece is one of seven coins so graded at NGC, with 11 pieces finer, while PCGS has certified three coins in PR66, with one finer (12/07)
The coin has a wire rim on the right portion of the reverse, and a small abrasion just to the left of the Indian's upper lip, yet it remains a near-impeccable, boldly struck, first-class example that is worthy of the finest collection of proof gold.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 25ZS, PCGS# 8540)

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Auction Dates
January, 2008
9th-12th Wednesday-Saturday
Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
Page Views: 1,253

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