Premium Gem Proof 1891 Double Eagle Rarity1891 $20 PR66 PCGS. Aside from its obvious rarity as a proof double eagle, the date is a rarity in all grades. In addition to the 52 proofs that were coined during the year, the Philadelphia Mint produced a miniscule quantity of circulation strikes, just 1,390 pieces. The advanced collector will recognize that, for this date, proof examples are actually more plentiful than Mint State pieces. At one time in numismatics, not long after these coins were made and well into the 20th century, collectors did not differentiate between Mint State and proof examples, and a lovely Gem proof such as this piece would suffice to represent the date. Today, of course, that has changed, and substantial demand exists for both formats, which explains the importance and desirability of this piece. Only about three or four Mint State examples exist today, along with about 25 proof pieces.
This Gem example is one of the three or four finest proofs of the date that survive today. The devices are heavily frosty with brilliant yellow-gold luster and the fields are deeply mirrored. It should easily qualify as a cameo proof, if not a deep cameo example, although this piece does not carry any such designation from PCGS. This grading service has certified just two examples at the PR66 grade level out of a total of 19 grading events. The only other similar piece has a Deep Cameo designation. It appears that this piece is from the same die identified for all proofs of this issue, with the date slanting slightly up to the right, the rays below TE of STATES thinner than others, and the rightmost tail feather broken.
Although a Condition Census of proof examples would be difficult to compile, we believe that this piece is certainly near the top of any such list. The finest known example appeared in the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, and that piece is considered by some to the finest proof of any date. The Bass coin was certified by PCGS as PR67, and later certified by NGC as PR68 Ultra Cameo. Two different examples are included in the Smithsonian Institution holdings, and both are graded PR64 Deep Cameo. Other top quality pieces include the Pittman Collection coin, and the Trompeter Collection specimen.
Proof gold coins are an important, yet under-studied, part of numismatics. Few Census notes exist for any of these coins, with the most extensive attempt being accomplished by Walter Breen in his Encyclopedia of Proof Coins that was published 30 years ago. Recent auction catalogs have attempted Census compilations for individual dates as they have been offered, but no comprehensive listing is known to exist. The notes compiled by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth in their Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins provide an important accounting of pieces in the Smithsonian Institution, although this reference does not include any past pedigree notes for such coins. The challenge faced with the numismatist who may wish to undertake such a project are daunting, and probably explain why such a comprehensive study has not been attempted in recent years.
From The Hamburg-Sonoma Collection.(Registry values: P3) (NGC ID# 26EC, PCGS# 9107)
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