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Gem Cameo Proof 1897 Double Eagle
From the 'Sweet Spot' of 19th Century Proof Coinage

1897 $20 PR65 Cameo NGC. CAC. The years 1896 through 1898 are known as the "sweet spot" for gorgeous Cameo and Deep/Ultra Cameo Morgan silver dollars: Some of the most intensely contrasted specimens of the type come from those years. To a lesser extent, the same is true of proof Liberty Head double eagles, although with the larger denomination the challenge was not contrast so much as simple survival: From the original mintage -- given as 76 pieces in the Breen Proof Encyclopedia, 69 coins in the Guide Book -- perhaps 35 to 40 pieces survive today. NGC and PCGS combined can account for 44 certification events, with 13 non-Cameo coins, 19 Cameo, and 13 Deep/Ultra Cameos. At NGC, this Gem Cameo is the sole one so certified, with two Cameos finer (most of the Cameo coins cluster at the PR64 level). Even if the original mintage was all sold and none melted at year-end, the gold double eagle proofs represented a considerable sum of money in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, and as such they were the first coins likely to be spent from a proof set when hard times came a-knockin'.
It is those same attributes -- low mintages and high attrition rates, combined with the venerable Liberty Head design and the popular proof gold format -- that make these coins the object of such numismatic desire today. The present Gem Cameo example shows considerable field-device contrast, even if not as profound as seen on some silver proofs of the year. The fields are more deeply mirrored than the devices are frosted, leading to the Cameo designation. Light, wispy, almost undetectable hairlining accounts for the numeric grade level. The surfaces display even orange-gold color with a slight orange-peel texture in the fields. Census: 1 in 65 Cameo, 2 finer (6/11).(Registry values: P2) (NGC ID# 26EJ, PCGS# 89113)

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Auction Dates
August, 2011
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 11
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