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Appealing PR64 1902 Double Eagle

1902 $20 PR64 PCGS. The business strike gold mintages of 1902 for both eagles and double eagles are curiously low. The 1902 eagles saw a production of 82,400 business strikes, while the year before in Philadelphia there were 1.72 million coins manufactured. For 1902 twenty dollar gold pieces the mintage was even more startling: 31,140 examples, down from 111,000 coins the year before and more than 1.8 million in 1900.
Against this backdrop, the proof emissions of the year appear slender, indeed. A total of 113 and 114 eagles and double eagles, respectively, were produced in 1902. The Mint also officially began fiddling with different proof finishes for gold, an experimentation that would continue sporadically for another decade. While previous proof gold had featured brilliantly mirrored fields with frosty devices, in this year the Mint introduced a surface that was consistently fully mirrored, without the cameo contrast produced by mint-frosted devices. Breen's Proof Encyclopedia, in an easily missed note, says, "From now through 1907, devices are semi-brilliant on all gold denominations, not frosty." The Loewinger proof gold reference occasionally calls the finish "satiny or semi-brilliant."
The reasons for the changeover at the Mint appear lost to numismatists today. The explanation sometimes attributed to Walter Breen that Mint officials considered cameo gold pieces "defective" seems to carry no weight, as such coins were produced for decades without complaint. Perhaps the reason is more simple, that the relatively low gold production for the year gave Mint officials added play time to find something new? Dissatisfaction with tradition appears likely, as the Saint-Gaudens double eagles gave the Mint yet another opportunity to tinker with experimental gold finishes.
The present example displays mellow, consistent orange-gold color on both sides. Some minor contact appears on the devices under a loupe, mostly a few hair-thin scrapes that account for the grade. While the devices seem a bit less brilliant than the fields, they are certainly not coated with thick mint frost, as one would expect on proof gold from earlier years. The strike is sharp, and the overall impression is one of generous eye appeal. Certified in a green-label holder. Population: 10 in 64, 1 finer (6/08).(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 34MC, PCGS# 9118)

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Auction Dates
Jul-Aug, 2008
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