1887 $20 PR67+ Cameo NGC....
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The Finest Certified of the Issue at Either Service
Three Liberty Head double eagle issues from the decade of the 1880s--the 1883, 1884, and 1887--are proof-only productions; that is, no examples were struck for circulation in those years. The 1887 is the last and most unusual of the three, in that it had a high production figure for a proof issue--121 pieces, compared to 92 for the 1883 and 71 for the 1884.
However, as with so many proof issues in this series, the original mintage figures today have virtually no meaning. For the 1887 in particular, it is doubtful that more than 30 survivors exist today. Most of the rest were probably either melted as unsold, or were spent or otherwise lost through attrition. (Imagine all the economic challenges that would occur in the next century after this coin's production: the Panic of 1893, the Panic of 1907, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II ... .)
The high mintage figure may, however, have had relevance in that some unknown collector in the late 19th century obtained one of the finest examples surviving of the issue. Did he (or she) go to the Philadelphia Mint and make a choice from among many examples, or was this phenomenal coin merely the product of serendipity? The answer is lost today in the sands of time.
The present PR67+ Cameo NGC example is numerically the single finest certified specimen of the 1887 double eagle at either service. The finest three pieces at PCGS are PR65, two of them non-Cameo and one a Deep Cameo. NGC has seen three submissions that grade PR66: one each in non-Cameo, Cameo, and Ultra Cameo. But this coin is the only Superb Gem at either service, with both the Plus and Star kickers from NGC as further testament to its extraordinary surface quality.
Walter Breen in his Proof Encyclopedia repeats an estimate of 30 survivors today, adding these die characteristics:
"Date below center, to r., left base of 1 almost over r. edge. Rev. possibly of 1886, tiny break in r. tail feathers just below arrow, less than in some other dates; left leaf of lys below beak disconnected."
The previous finest Cameo example of this issue that we have handled since we began maintaining our Permanent Auction Archives is a single PR65 Cameo (Heritage, 1/2007, lot 3756), which realized $126,500. The Eagle Collection specimen was a non-Cameo PR66 NGC example that we offered nearly a decade ago, at which time we called it the "possibly finest known." That coin (Heritage, 1/2002, lot 4150), realized $69,000.
Among examples we have offered certified as Deep or Ultra Cameo, two examples stand out aesthetically and numerically. A PR65 Deep Cameo PCGS specimen that we handled in our FUN Signature four years ago (Heritage, 1/2007, lot 3145), realized $161,000. That was a coin that had eight different bidders. A while further back, a PR65 Ultra Cameo NGC example that sold for $120,750 was the object of 10 different bidders (Heritage, 8/2004, lot 7695).
Clearly, the Liberty Head proof double eagles are the stuff of numismatic dreams, as well as coins that are avidly pursued whenever exceptionally high-grade examples such as the present piece appear in the marketplace. This Superb Gem Cameo proof is mostly yellow-gold, with an even layer of orange over each side. As demanded at (and even below) this grade level, there are no apparent contact marks. The field-device contrast is powerfully strong, and the piece has been justly awarded NGC's Star kicker for its exceptional quality. The pristine surfaces and desired black-on-gold appearance complete a package of immense aesthetic and numismatic appeal.
While this coin may be the stuff of dreams for many, it will become a reality in the collection of the most forthright bidder. Census: 1 in 67+ Cameo, 0 finer (12/10).
From The Henry Miller Collection.(Registry values: P5) (PCGS# 89103)
Service and Handling Description: Coins & Currency (view shipping information)