Profoundly Contrasted 1864 Double Eagle
1864 $20 PR65
Ultra Cameo NGC. CAC. This Liberty Head double eagle proof from
1864 concludes our offering of a complete six-piece 1864 gold
proof set, also including the gold dollar, quarter eagle, three
dollar, half eagle, and eagle, each coin certified by NGC as Ultra
Cameo in grades ranging from PR64 to PR66. Each coin in the set is
offered as a separate lot in relevant sections throughout this
PR65 Ultra Cameo
The present Gem Ultra Cameo double eagle, certified by NGC and with the Star lagniappe for exceptional eye appeal, is a fitting capstone to this offering. The twenty dollar gold denomination is the largest in the classic era of U.S. numismatics, and proof examples of the denomination are among the most cherished and precious items in the whole gamut of coin collecting.
The Liberty Head double eagles were produced over a long span of time from 1850 (for regular issues) through 1907. At that time the design ceded to the Saint-Gaudens double eagles, which prevailed through 1933, although the last "regular-issue" proofs were produced in 1915 (Garrett and Guth note a "special striking" from 1921). However, the Saint-Gaudens double eagles were produced in a number of individual finishes that are collectively grouped under the usual headings of "matte" or "sandblast" finish and "Roman" or "satin" finish. Although the Saint-Gaudens proof double eagles are important, rare coins that offer considerable aesthetic beauty, many collectors prefer the older Liberty Head proof coins.
The Liberty Head proof coins themselves, however, saw a change along with the other gold denominations in 1902, in which the stark field-to-device contrast characteristic of earlier issues was changed to a low-contrast (sometimes no-contrast) method of proof production that Breen memorably called "semibrilliant." Thus it is that for many collectors, the most desirable U.S. proof gold coins are Liberty Head double eagles dated before 1902.
The Liberty Head double eagles themselves are in generally separate subclasses, depending on the decades in which they they were issued. The earliest Liberty twenties in proof for which examples are known, those of the 1858-1861 period, are incredibly rare, with only a handful of pieces known for each year, including those in museum collections. The 1862 Liberty Head is the first Type One issue likely to be encountered in proof format, although perhaps only a dozen survive today, and similarly for the 1863.
For the 1864 proof issue, Garrett and Guth write in their Gold Encyclopedia:
"Despite the fact that only 12 to 15 examples of the Proof 1864 double eagle are known, it is probably the most available year for the type in the Proof format. Two examples are in the museum collection of the Smithsonian, and another resides in the American Numismatic Society. Most of the mintage was probably melted as unsold, not surprising considering the ravages of the Civil War at the time. The population reports are misleading due to resubmissions. Examples of any Type 1 double eagle must be considered a major rarity."
In keeping with the enormous rarity of the issue overall, recent offerings of the 1864 double eagle at Heritage and elsewhere have set healthy prices. A PR64 Cameo NGC example in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3749, brought $184,000. A PR64 Cameo PCGS example brought $161,000 in a Goldbergs auction (Ira & Larry Goldberg, 9/2008), lot 1288.
Heritage has had the privilege of offering only a single Gem Ultra Cameo proof example previously, the incredible NGC-certified piece in the Henry Miller Collection/FUN Platinum Night (Heritage, 1/2011), lot 5278. That phenomenal example, which is in the same grade as the present coin save for this piece's NGC Star, brought $359,375.
As might be expected from the Gem Ultra Cameo NGC grade with the Star kicker, the present piece is a stunning, almost impossibly beautiful example of the issue. If there were a category beyond Ultra Cameo to describe proof contrast, this specimen might well qualify. The decisively detailed devices are thickly frosted from the portrait to the stars, from the eagle to the legends. The profoundly mirrored fields flash back and forth between "black and yellow," but even when the fields shine brightest, the coin retains its essential contrast. The overall surface quality is beyond attractive, and well-deserving of a Gem designation. The holder, however, shows a number of small scuffs and scratches that may appear in pictures. They in no way affect the quality of the coin itself, which has a far cleaner appearance and is incredibly, immediately appealing. Census: 1 in 65 Ultra Cameo, 1 finer (9/11).(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 26DF, PCGS# 99076)
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