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    Important 1856 Proof Set with PR65 Flying Eagle Cent

    1856 Nine-Piece Proof Set NGC. The Flying Eagle small cent is perhaps the most notable of the 1856 silver-minor proof coins. It was produced as a pattern coin to help influence Congress to replace the large copper pieces with a small copper-nickel coin. Richard Snow (2009) estimates the 1856 proof small cent mintage to be at least 1,500 pieces, a very large quantity for the era.
    With respect to 1856 silver three cent, half dime, and dime proofs, Breen suggests in his 1977 Proof Encyclopedia that extant examples for each are in the range of 30 to 40 pieces. He also indicates that fewer than 30 proof quarters survive, while Larry Briggs (1991) puts the figure at 25+. Randy Wiley and Bill Bugert, in their Liberty Seated Half Dollar reference estimate that fewer than 25 1856 half dollars are known. Breen estimates about 40 proof silver dollars are known. This estimate is consistent with the 58 pieces seen to date (10/09) by PCGS and NGC, after one discounts resubmissions and crossovers.
    Breen writes that the originally-issued 1856 silver-minor proof sets, distributed in January and February, did not contain the Flying Eagle small cent, of which he says: "Really patterns, as the design and alloy were not officially adopted until the Act of Feb. 21, 1857 became law as of the following May."

    1856 Half Cent PR62 Red and Brown. Breen 3, R.4.
    This variety has a doubled T in CENT. This lovely specimen is just a hair from full Red. Both sides are awash with original copper-gold luster, with the obverse showing subtle whispers of lavender and the reverse displaying soft dapples of brownish-purple in its central area. A powerful strike leaves no hints of weakness whatsoever on the design features, and no significant marks or carbon flecks are discernible. A solitary bluish-purple toning spot resides near the rim between stars 4 and 5, and strong field-motif contrast is evident on the reverse at most angles of observation. A few faint hairlines in the obverse fields that only appear under a loupe are all that stand in the way of a higher numerical grade. NGC and PCGS have to date (10/09) certified slightly more than 50 1856 proof half cents in all three color designations, a mere three of which are graded full Red.

    1856 Large Cent PR63 Brown. N-5, low R.5.
    This proof-only issue displays die lines down to the left below the earlobe, a light die scratch on the cheek bone, and a minute die lump on the neck between the two lowest curls. On the reverse, the E on ONE has defects at its right top and under the serif of the crossbar. Attractive medium intensity reddish-purple toning with sky-blue accents adorns each side, diminishing a bit the surface reflectivity. Fully struck, and with a wire edge evident where not concealed by the holder. No contact marks or carbon spots are visible, though a couple of minute verdigris spots occur at OF and another near the reverse rim at 6:00. Fewer than 50 proof 1856 large cents have been graded by NGC and PCGS (10/09).

    1856 Flying Eagle Cent PR65. Snow 9.
    A die polish line extending from the top of the I in UNITED to the rim and a bold centering dot under the top left serif of the N in CENT attribute the Snow 9 variety. The present Gem stands well above surviving examples of this die pair, of which Richard Snow (2001) writes: "... the overall quality of these pieces are not anywhere near that of the regular proof issues of the period. These usually have dull or nonexistent mirrors. Many show striking defects such as lint strike throughs and planchet flaws."
    The design motifs on the current offering are exceptionally well struck, and both sides are devoid of planchet flaws, lint marks, or other strike throughs. And while the fields are not deeply mirrored, they possess enough reflectivity to noticeably highlight the devices. A medley of soft copper-gold, crimson, mint-green, and sky-blue patination adorns each face, and the few grade-consistent marks and flecks do not detract from the coin's overall appeal. Census: 30 in 65, 3 finer (10/09).

    1856 Three Cent Silver PR64.
    Splashes of golden-tan and powder-blue are slightly deeper in hue on the reverse of this near-Gem, and the central devices display moderate frost and are exquisitely impressed. The A in STATES is a tad soft as are the stars on the lower reverse. Numerous die polish striations run horizontally in the obverse fields, but neither side reveals mentionable abrasions, spots, or planchet flaws. Census: 3 in 64, 2 finer (10/09).

    1856 Half Dime PR64.
    The date is slightly right of center, the shield point is entirely left of the 1, and the skirt pendant is over the right tip of the 5. That digit is upright and slightly weaker than the others, which is typical of these proofs. The sharply struck, moderately frosted design features yield modest variance with the mirrored fields, especially on the obverse. Peripheral gold-orange patina is slightly deeper on the obverse where it is joined by reddish-purple. Faint hairlines mingle with die polish lines in the fields. Census: 5 in 64, 10 finer (10/09).

    1856 Dime PR64. Breen 3295.
    Doubled die obverse, with the doubling plainest at the skirt. Another diagnostic is a line that joins the loop of the R in AMERICA to the border. Breen (1988) writes: "Apparently all 1856 proof dimes are from these dies." He also calls the issue "very rare." Incredible beautiful toning embraces both sides, with soft reddish-tan patina dominating the fields and devices and cobalt-blue accents in the fields and motif interstices. Fully struck design features heighten even more the coin's outstanding eye appeal. A horizontal hair-thin mark on Liberty's chest identifies the coin. Census: 10 in 64, 6 finer (10/09).

    1856 Quarter PR61.
    Proof quarters of 1856 are identified by a peculiar vertical bulge in the right reverse field from AM through the wing to the arrows (Walter Breen, 1988; and Larry Briggs, 1991). The skirt outline is slightly doubled at the bottom. A narrow band of electric-blue, yellow-gold, reddish-orange, and blue-gray clings to the margins leaving the central areas brilliant. Sharply struck except for softness in a couple of the star centers. Magnification reveals wispy field marks.

    1856 Half Dollar PR65.
    Reverse stripe three is not clearly joined to the base of the shield and some of the lines at the top of stripe one are missing, yielding a "hollow" appearance, as described by Walter Breen (1977). Exquisite design detail endows this majestic Gem, as do splashes of golden-brown, lavender, gunmetal-blue, and violet patination concentrated at the margins, accentuating the sharp square edges and pronounced dentilation. Close inspection reveals just a few inconsequential marks that appear to barely preclude Premium Gem classification. Extremely elusive in Gem and finer. Census: 4 in 65 2 finer (10/09).

    1856 Silver Dollar PR64 ★ Cameo.
    NGC and PCGS have seen a mere five Cameo proof silver dollars of 1856, none of which are classified Ultra/Deep Cameos. NGC has seen fit to designate a solitary '56 proof dollar with its coveted Star--the present near-Gem in this set (10/09). The date has large numerals with a slanting or italic 5, as on business strikes. Proofs display die lines in the field above ITE of UNITED and between E and S of STATES.
    Deeply mirrored fields highlight the satiny devices, confirming the Cameo contrast. A decisive strike results in completeness on the design elements, including squared-off rims and crisp dentils. Whispers of soft golden-brown and purple in the rim areas are slightly more noticeable on the obverse. Occasional, barely discernible freckles of golden-brown visit the centers, somewhat more so on the obverse. Trivial handling marks preclude Gem classification. A hair-thin mark of unknown origin is visible above Liberty's right (facing) breast.
    David Bowers (1993) writes of the 1856 proof silver dollar: "I believe that most ... were issued as part of silver Proof sets, which in 1856 were just starting to have a wide following among numismatists. Some may have sold separately as well."
    From The Boca Collection, Part One.


    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    View all of [The Boca Collection, Part I ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2010
    6th-10th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 17
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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