Fantastic 1863 Type One Double Eagle
1863 $20 PR64 Cameo NGC. CAC. The Civil War raged unabated
when the proof coinage of 1863 was produced, and most of the proof
gold coins of the year had recorded mintages on the order of 30
pieces (Breen reports a few more for the three dollar gold, 39 to
Despite the recorded mintage, however, it appears that far fewer proof 1863 double eagles exist today. Garrett and Guth estimate that only a dozen survive, including two in complete proof sets in the Smithsonian and ANS, respectively. They also note that the population data are misleading (as often), due to resubmissions.
Another factor that has likely contributed to the small number of survivors is the rarity (and consequent demand) for the proof-only 1863 quarter eagle, an illustrious and longstanding delicacy in U.S. numismatics. Due to demand for the lower-denomination gold piece by gold aficionados of an earlier era, most of the existing 1863 proof sets were likely broken up long ago.
Some surviving 1863 proof double eagles are impaired proofs. A notable exception was the Gaston DiBello-Harry W. Bass, Jr. example (Bowers and Merena, 10/1999), lot 1759, which garnered $66,700. Garrett and Guth comment: "The coin would easily sell in the six figures today. Proof Type 1 double eagles of any date are very desirable and rarely encountered." (Emphasis ours.)
The present coin boasts not only an identical numeric grade to the Bass piece (although it is not the same coin), but it also offers the desirable Cameo designation by NGC. Certified in an old-style NGC holder, this incredible PR64 Cameo 1863 double eagle displays virtually immaculate surfaces that would not look out of place in a PR65 Cameo holder. The field-device contrast is splendid, although not quite meriting an Ultra Cameo designation. The fields are intensely reflective, the devices moderately frosted (a bit more heavily on the reverse), producing a noticeable gold-on-black appearance when tilted slightly. This is an absolutely breathtaking and spectacular specimen, undoubtedly among the finest survivors from this year midway through the Civil War. The obverse is a consistent orange-gold coloration, but the reverse has deeper orange-red hues around the periphery, with a compelling two-toned appearance created by ample accents of pale jade within the confines of the glory of rays and central devices.
The Breen Proof Encyclopedia notes the large, heavy date, shifted far right with the 3 close to the border and the left base of the 1 over the left edge of a dentil. On the reverse, the top of the second shield stripe is thin (Breen says those attributes are not necessarily diagnostic, but they do appear here). A small copper alloy spot appears on the reverse at the extreme rim at 7 o'clock, possibly precluding the Gem grade but failing to dampen the incredible allure of this coin.
On the obverse, there is a tiny dark fleck just in the center of the cheek, completely undistracting. What is much more noticeable is how incised the strike is, with high squared rims, all stars bold and full, the incused initials J.B.L. more prominent than usual on the bust truncation, and full sculptural detail in Liberty's hair. A loupe reveals another tiny dark fleck at the juncture of the hair and forehead. Despite these minuscule quibbles, this magnificent coin is one of the most attractive proof Liberty Head double eagles in this spectacular array of them. Census: 3 in 64 Cameo, 3 finer (12/10).
From The Henry Miller Collection.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 26DE, PCGS# 89075)
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