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Superb Gem Matte Proof 1912 Twenty Dollar
One Finer Certified at NGC

1912 $20 PR67 NGC. The mintage of proof double eagles by 1912 had dwindled, largely due to Mint missteps, to a skimpy 74 pieces. The debut of the regular-issue Saint-Gaudens double eagle proofs in 1908 -- the first to be sold generally to the collecting public -- saw the simultaneous launch of the matte proof surface (although "sandblast proof" is a technically more accurate term) that was unfamiliar to American collectors, although quite in vogue on the Continent.
The convex surfaces of the dies for the new American coins made them unsuitable for a highly polished surface that would create brilliantly mirrored fields with contrasting frosted devices, an effect seen on the pre-1902 proof gold coinage. The Mint experimented with a number of different finishes during the 1908-1915 period, including the matte or sandblast and Roman or satin finish treatments. For some years, up to three different finishes are known, sometimes differences of degree rather than kind.
The Robert Loewinger reference, Proof Gold Coinage of the United States, discusses the origin of the matte proof gold process:

"The [matte proof] process originally started in Belgium and was popularized in the Paris Mint. The finish was applied after striking and was made by sandblasting the coins at different forces and speeds with different sizes of grains of sand. Also pickling the coins in a weak acid was another technique that was used on these coins after striking."

Despite the innovation, numismatists disliked the dark, uncontrasted appearance of the matte proofs, and for 1909-1910 the Mint switched to a lighter Roman or satin finish, which also proved unpopular. For 1911 and through the end of the series in 1915, the matte proof was the surface treatment of choice at the Mint.
The 1912 matte proof double eagles showed a "finish that sparkled with thousands of tiny facets," according to Garrett and Guth's Gold Encyclopedia. The proofs are dark, although generally not so much so as those of 1908. At the Superb Gem level, this coin is one of an even dozen so certified at NGC, with a single PR68 coin finer.
This example is lighter than the usually seen 1912 proof, suggesting there were perhaps at least two periods when proofs were sandblasted. The finely granular surfaces sparkle when closely examined. We see no contact marks or shiny spots on either side of this immaculate coin.
From The Virginia Beach Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 26GZ, PCGS# 9209)

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Auction Dates
June, 2011
1st-5th Wednesday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 11
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The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens as Illustrated by the Morse and Duckor Collections
Revised Edition by James L. Halperin, Mark R. Borckardt, Mark Van Winkle, Jon Amato, and Gregory J. Rohan, with special contributor David W. Akers

The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is an issue-by-issue examination of these two artistically inspired series of gold coins. Each date and mintmark is reviewed with up-to-date information, much of which has never been previously published. The book is based on two extraordinary collections: The Phillip H. Morse collection and the Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor collection.

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