1876 Three Dollar Gold, PR66 Cameo
1876 $3 PR66 Cameo NGC. CAC. The present Premium Gem Cameo
proof 1876 three dollar gold is the finest Cameo example of the
issue certified at either service, and NGC has graded one each in
PR66 and PR67 Ultra Cameo numerically finer (11/11). The 1876 is,
like the 1875 that precedes it, a proof-only issue in the series;
no business strikes were made in either year.
Sole Finest Cameo Graded of This Proof-Only Issue
Like so many early proof issues, conjecture is plentiful when it comes to the 1876 three dollar gold pieces. Q. David Bowers writes in the 2005 series reference:
"The 1876 $3 is in essence déja vu 1875. Only Proofs were struck, no coins at all for circulation. The Mint stated that just 45 were made, but many numismatists believe that a few more were coined and not reported. Similar to the 1875, the 1876 is a famous rarity. Indeed, it is the second rarest Philadelphia Mint three-dollar coin, but is not the rarest Proof.
"As to how many were actually struck and how rare they are today, guesses are aplenty and facts are scarce. The authors estimate that perhaps 40 to 60 are known, this based upon the historical record and considered opinion. If you like number games, contemplate that just 20 certifications have been done for the 1875 $3 as compared to 68 for the 1876, and you can conclude that whatever the rarity of the 1875 may be (also a guessing game), the 1876 is nearly four times more plentiful. However, in the real world that is not the case.
"In his 1979 study of the $3 series, David W. Akers commented that Proof 1876 threes appeared more often at auction than did Proofs of any other date. Perhaps this should be modified by a comment to the effect that anyone seeking to complete a date run of $3 coins absolutely needs a Proof 1876, but for all other years, save for 1875, a circulation strike will do."
The combined certified population totals now stand at 20 proof examples of the 1875 versus 80 of the 1876 proofs at NGC and PCGS combined, and the kind folks at PCGS offer their own survival estimates: 17 to 20 of the 1875, and 35 to 40 of the 1876.
Number games aside, this piece is definitely in the upper echelon, both numerically and aesthetically, of the certified survivors. The surfaces are deeply mirrored on each side, displaying nicely frosted devices. There is a slight "halo" effect apparent in the obverse fields. The die rust in the Indian princess's headdress puts this coin in the later striking period that Walter Breen mentions in his Proof Encyclopedia: "25 made on June 13 have slight traces of die rust in feathers." There is no mentionable contact on either side.
It is unclear exactly why the Mint chose to strike a second batch of proof threes four months after the first striking (and indeed, it is possible that there was another striking at a later date), but given the Centennial date of the coins, our bet would be that the first batch actually sold out and a second batch was run off. Given the popularity of 1876-dated coinage, the many observances of the American Centennial, both numismatic and non, and the high proof mintages for other 1876-dated pieces whose numbers we know, this seems a more than likely scenario. Census: 1 in 66 Cameo, 0 finer (11/11).(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 28AJ, PCGS# 88040)
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