1864 Double Eagle, PR65 Ultra Cameo
1864 $20 PR65 Ultra Cameo NGC. Although the proofs are
immeasurably rarer, even the business strike 1864 double eagles are
seldom seen; formerly they were quite rare, until the recovery of
the S.S. Republic coins. As a Gem Ultra Cameo proof example
of the Type One double eagle, the present coin is of immense
historic and numismatic appeal. The original mintage figure of 50
coins is meaningless today, as likely only 12 to 15 specimens
survive--a total that includes at least three presumably off the
market forever, two in the Smithsonian and one in the American
Numismatic Society holdings.
Perhaps Fewer Than 10 Proofs Available
The Walter Breen Proof Encyclopedia calls the 1864 double eagle the "rarest gold denomination" of the year. The proof sets of 1864--some of them, anyway--contained several rare first-year issues, including the Large Motto (but probably not the Small Motto) proof two cent piece and the bronze no L and copper-nickel 1864 Indian cents. Apparently many of the recorded 50 sets produced were later broken up, and/or the gold pieces melted. The year was, of course, a crucial and bloody one for the raging Civil War.
Garrett and Guth comment on the double eagle:
"Most of the mintage was probably melted as unsold, not surprising considering the ravages of the Civil War at the time. The population report numbers are misleading due to resubmissions. Examples of any Type 1 double eagle must be considered a major rarity."
Breen adds some perspective on the issue in discussing the 1864 proof sets:
"Complete proof sets. That in SI [Smithsonian] ex Mint was obtained from the Coiner, Feb. 26, for $43.52 = face + 8¢ proofing charge; it contained the copper-nickel cent but no bronze coins. That in ANS, ex Brock, Morgan, must have been bought from the mint prior to April 1864 as it also contains the copper-nickel cent; the bronze coins were added later. Why the gold is rarer than that of 1862 despite its larger mintage is unknown. A most frustrating year for collectors, between the gold and the bronze."
For type collectors (as well as the hardy date collectors out there), this Gem Ultra Cameo 1864 double eagle proof should form an important bidding opportunity. According to Dr. Robert Loewinger, there were no proof Type One double eagles produced from 1851-53 and from 1855-57, in practice limiting the date range of a potential Type One double eagle proof to the 1858-65 timeframe. In 1866, of course, the Type Two double eagle was introduced, with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse. Loewinger notes that Mint Engraver James B. Longacre made some minor modifications to the obverse die in 1859:
"a) Truncation was curved.
"b) Initials JBL were located to the left.
"c) Ms. Liberty's name on the coronet was shifted."
Technically, then, the 1859-65 double eagles are a different design subtype from the 1850-58 coinage, even if not generally recognized as such.
This is such a rare date that Heritage has offered only a half-dozen different (as far as we can determine) examples in the nearly 20 years since we began our Permanent Auction Archives. Most of the past examples were in the single numeric grade of PR64; only four of them merited a Cameo designation, with none in Deep or Ultra Cameo. The most-recent PR64 Cameo NGC piece we have handled, in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3749, garnered $184,000.
The present piece, certified PR65 Ultra Cameo, is the finest-graded example we have ever offered and the only one certified in Ultra or Deep Cameo. The surfaces display rich, even orange-gold coloration throughout both sides. The stark field-device contrast is well-deserving of the Ultra Cameo designation, with thick mint frost and profoundly reflective fields yielding the coveted gold-on-black effect of such coins. There are two faint alloy spots that serve as pedigree markers, one just below Liberty's hair bun, the other over star 13. Census: 1 in 65 Ultra Cameo, 1 finer (12/10).
From The Henry Miller Collection.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 26DF, PCGS# 99076)
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