Sandblast PR67 1912 Half Eagle
1912 $5 PR67 NGC. The first sandblast or "matte" (a later
contemporary term) proof gold coins of the new Pratt and
Saint-Gaudens designs were a function of those new designs, which
were totally unsuited to the production of brilliant proof
Only Three Coins Graded Finer
An excellent overview of the "Matte Proofing Process" begins on page 36 of The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens as Illustrated by the Phillip H. Morse Collection, published by Ivy Press in 2006. A brief timeline, condensed from that article, follows:
--Pre-1908. Proof coins, whether gold, silver, or bronze, are struck by the Mint using specially prepared, highly polished dies on selected, polished planchets. Sometimes the relief detail in the dies was sandblasted or treated to provide a pleasing two-toned contrasting effect on the coin.
--1908. The new Pratt and Saint-Gaudens proofs are unsuited to the brilliant proofing process. The Mint, still needing to produce special collector coins, adopts a "sandblast" or "dull" proofing process for all proof gold coins. (The Lincoln cent and Buffalo nickel proofs are somewhat different.) The proofs are created by sandblasting a satin proof.
--April 1909. The Numismatist comments that "proof coins of the present series, so far as issued, have a very dull appearance, the finish being what is known as 'sandblast,' and are far less pleasing to the eye than the coinage for circulation, which is brighter and of lighter color."
--1909-1910. The Mint responds with the Satin finish or Roman finish proof gold, a brighter (unsandblasted) finish that is created by nothing more than using the new dies at high pressure in a medal press. Collectors dislike the Roman finish coins even more, as they too closely resemble the finish of normal business strikes.
--August 1910. Collector extraordinaire (and future Treasury secretary) William H. Woodin and coin dealer Edgar Adams spearhead an effort to get the Mint to revert to the sandblast method. Woodin comments that the "present [satin] proofs of the Saint-Gaudens designs and of the Pratt designs are simply rotten."
--1911-1915. The Mint reverts to sandblast proofs in 1911, continuing through 1915. "Color variations are typical for these years, but the dull, sandblast finish remains consistent throughout."
The present Superb Gem proof half eagle from 1912 is one of the later sandblast proofs, with even mustard color but a bit more yellow than some specimens from the year. Surprisingly, this piece, while extraordinarily well preserved, is less than fully struck. Some high-point detail is lacking on several of the lower headdress feathers and the eagle's left (facing) leg. The surfaces technically are almost perfect, with a faint alloy spot noted to the right of the Y in LIBERTY. There is a pronounced wire rim around each side. Census: 16 in 67, 3 finer (2/11).(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 28E6, PCGS# 8543)
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