1876 $20 PR65 Ultra Cameo NGC....
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The Only Certified Gem Ultra/Deep Cameo Example
The 1876 double eagle is the final Type Two design, and the proofs had an increased mintage over previous years--all the way to 45 pieces, over the 20 coins each recorded in 1874, 1875, 1877, and 1878. That increased production has not translated into increased availability today, however--far from it.
In the appearance of this coin in the Bass catalog in 1999--a couple of encapsulations ago--Bowers describes it and speculates concerning the larger production figure:
"A splendid specimen of exquisite quality and unquestioned rarity. Although 45 Proofs were struck--perhaps in anticipation that visitors to the Centennial Exhibition of American Independence held in nearby Fairmount Park would sally over to the Philadelphia Mint--today only eight to 10 pieces are believed to exist (Walter Breen's estimate). Only at widely spaced intervals does an example appear on the market, and even then the coin is not apt to be in the grade offered here."
The preceding comments have three themes that merit exploration: the number of surviving proofs versus the number originally minted; the special status of the issue as a potential observance of the U.S. Centennial; and the number of market appearances.
Number of Surviving Proofs
Neither we nor any other numismatists can categorically say exactly how many proof 1876 double eagles survive today. We must, as usual, examine the empirical evidence, then form our own conclusions. The first item of interest is that at the Deep Cameo/Ultra Cameo level, this piece is the sole example we have ever offered, in any grade. And as mentioned, it is the sole certified Gem Ultra Cameo/Deep Cameo. Examining the certified populations, we find that NGC and PCGS combined have seen a total of 20 "submission events" for the 1876 proof double eagle. Tied for numeric finest at PCGS, and the sole Deep Cameo, is one PR64 Deep Cameo--likely the present piece in a previous encapsulation. Two others at PCGS are certified PR64 (non-Deep Cameo). The finest certified at NGC is a single PR65 Cameo example. Interestingly, this PR65 Ultra Cameo coin does not appear in the NGC online Census Report, as of July 1, 2010.
Taking all these submission events together, we would be unsurprised to learn that half or more of them represent duplications, for the usual reasons. This would leave us with a maximum survival of 10 certified different specimens between NGC and PCGS.
(Aside: This anecdote may help explain why so many duplications are claimed among the certified populations. A certain coin dealer for many years was known to aggressively crack out encapsulated coins that he felt/hoped were undergraded and resubmit them in hopes of a higher grade. He kept all the holder tags--a total of several thousand--in a shoe box. His father, who lived with him, threw the box away one day, thinking it was trash. It is a near-certainty that most of those "crackouts" appear in the population data to the present day. There are many other similar stories.)
In the Bass catalog, the PCGS population for the PR64 grade is given as "4; none finer." The more interesting comment appears just afterward: "How many different specimens this number represents, we have no idea."
The 1876 Double Eagle and the U.S. Centennial
As noted above, Bowers makes special mention of the 1876 double eagle's higher mintage of 45 proofs, compared to 20 pieces for surrounding years. One wonders--did the 1876 Centennial help the survival rate of the proof double eagles in that year? Or did it hurt it?
That the U.S. Independence Centennial was a momentous, historic, far-reaching national celebration is undisputed. The 1876 Independence Centennial Exposition, held in Philadelphia, was the United States' first official world's fair. About 10 million people attended the event, in Schuylkill Park, along the river of the same name. More than 200 buildings were on the exposition grounds, surrounded by a three-mile-long fence.
Among the many innovations first shown as the Independence Centennial Expo were the telephone, the precursor to the electric light, the typewriter, Heinz ketchup--and the now-invasive plant kudzu as an erosion control device.
We could write much more about the 1876 Centennial Expo, but coins are our focus. There was a downside to the 1876 Centennial, and it involves the many other medallic celebrations that formed part of the event. There were more than 33,000 examples produced of the "official" Mint medals or so-called dollars (HK-20 through 22) issued, designed by William Barber, as part of the Centennial celebrations, in silver, bronze, gilt, and white metal. Many of those pieces were likely sold at the Mint Exhibit at the Exposition. Many other private merchants in Philadelphia and elsewhere joined the bandwagon, producing a plethora of "unofficial" so-called dollars with a bewildering array of subjects: Washington, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Lincoln, the Centennial Fountain, the Declaration of Independence, Exposition buildings, eight battles from the War of Independence--the list of those medals in Hibler and Kappen numbers at least 91 types and metals. Add to that the innumerable non-numismatic trinkets, souvenirs, gimcracks, and gewgaws of all kinds that formed part of the ephemera of Centennial marketing, and one has to wonder: Did the survival rate of 1876 proof double eagles suffer as a result? Many of those high-face-value proofs may have gone into weak hands that could ill afford to hang onto them for the duration.
Number of Marketplace Appearances of the 1876 Double Eagle
This is the second time we have offered this coin, an old friend to us, but one that is in remarkably good shape. We do not know where Harry W. Bass, Jr. obtained the coin before it appeared in the Bowers and Merena Bass II Collection in 1999. At the time we offered it in our Pittsburgh Signature six years ago, it was certified PR64 Deep Cameo PCGS, and it has since been reencapsulated as a PR65 Ultra Cameo NGC.
We offered the Trompeter-Eliasberg specimen in PR63 Cameo NGC both alone--ANA Signature (Heritage, 9/2005), lot 10418--and as part of a complete six-piece 1876 gold proof set in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007, lot 3767). It failed to sell in either auction.
We offered a PR62 Cameo NGC example in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2006), lot 3579, which brought $31,050. Another in the same grade sold in a Bowers and Merena auction (8/2006), lot 4411, for $29,900.
Those are the only auction appearances of examples certified as Cameo or Deep/Ultra Cameo that we know of. Among non-Cameo coins, the finest certified that we are aware of are a handful of PR63 coins, including one that we offered in our Denver Signature (8/2006), lot 5689, which brought $43,125.
Remarkably, most of the auction records we can find for the 1876 double eagle are for coins graded PR62 or lower, either certified or uncertified. The only other unquestioned Gem of the issue that we know of is the specimen in the Smithsonian Institution, a coin presumably forever off the market.
The Present Coin
The fields on each side go "black" with illimitable reflectivity, and the devices are heavily frosted, giving the coin a profound cameo appearance of the gold-on-black sort so prized among collectors. Although magnification reveals a few light hairlines, there are no obvious contact marks or other surface impairments. This piece is far and away the finest available in the marketplace today that we know of, from both technical and aesthetic viewpoints, a coin that likely cannot be bettered for any amount of money. This coin also today may take its rightful place as the ultimate observance of the 1876 Centennial. Finally, as the only certified Gem Ultra/Deep Cameo 1876 double eagle, it poses a monumental and historic opportunity for one forthright bidder.
Ex: Bass II (Bowers and Merena, 10/1999), lot 1850, PR64 PCGS, which garnered $48,300; Greenwich Collection, Part Two, Pittsburgh Signature (Heritage, 8/2004), lot 7689, PR64 Deep Cameo PCGS, which brought $115,000.
From The Bob Simpson Collection.(Registry values: P5) (NGC ID# 26DV, PCGS# 99091)
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