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    Description

    Six-Piece 1876 U.S. Centennial Gold Proof Set

    1876 Gold Proof Set PR63 to PR65 NGC. A splendid U.S. Centennial proof set, each piece is certified as a Cameo or Ultra Cameo by NGC. Included is a custom wood case specifically made for this set.
    Proof gold coins of 1876 are slightly more populous than those of adjacent years due to increased sales at the Centennial Exposition held that year in Philadelphia. According to Mint records, all six denominations had identical mintages and delivery dates; 20 pieces were coined on February 19, 1876 and 25 more were struck on June 13. These production totals were more than double those of adjacent years. In 1874, 1875, 1877, and 1878 just 20 proof coins of each denomination were coined per year. Estimated survival rates and auction frequency are both consistent with the various mintages for this five year period.
    The business strike mintage for most denominations of the 1876 gold coinage was quite low, resulting in a disproportionate number of prooflike Mint State survivors, coins that are often confused with true proofs, especially in older auction catalogs. This fact alone has made pedigree research nearly impossible.

    1876 Gold Dollar PR65 Ultra Cameo NGC. Today, most researchers believe that 20 to 25 of these small gold pieces are known, but few survive in Gem quality. In fact, our own research indicates that just four or five pieces grade PR65 or finer, including this example. Other Gem quality coins include an example in the Smithsonian Institution, one of the two Bass coins, and the Trompeter specimen.
    Die characteristics for this issue are documented by Walter Breen and others. Among the clearly visible features are a short die scratch through the right base of A toward the neighboring M and a shallow rust lump on the cheek. Business strikes reportedly have another rust lump on the neck, absent on proof strikes. Breen noted that certain letters of the legend on the obverse have extra outlines, but this does not seem to be consistent from one coin to another, or from proofs to business strikes, thus should not be relied upon. Another characteristic recorded by Breen is the relative position of the date, which he stated slants down to the right. This date placement is not readily visible, thus also should not be relied upon for attribution as a proof. Patterns of the 1876 proof gold dollar were coined in copper and aluminum from these same dies.
    It appears that a second obverse die was used for some of the proofs, identified by the leading feather in the headdress retaining few details. The Broken Feather obverse, used to strike most proof gold dollars from 1862 to 1873, is found on the Bass May 2000 specimen, the Trompeter coin, and possibly a few others. Logic dictates that the Broken Feather obverse was used for the delivery of February 19 and the new obverse was used for the June 13 delivery, but there is certainly no documentation to support this concept.
    The devices are phenomenally frosty, forming an extreme, deep "gold on black" contrast against the highly mirrored proof fields. Yet another obvious diagnostic attesting to this coin's proof status is the superlative strike, making bold devices that are often sadly lacking on business strikes. These include the obverse highpoint hair curls and headdress plumage and, on the reverse, a full wreath of corn, cotton, maple, and other flora. Finally, the date and ONE DOLLAR are completely and boldly struck up, showing no trace of the central weakness (a function of their presence opposite those aforementioned hair curls above Liberty's ear) that business strikes often demonstrate. Only a few wispy hairlines, noted only with a strong glass, prevent an even higher grade.
    Ex: Heritage (1/2006), lot 3400.

    1876 Quarter Eagle PR65 Cameo NGC. Ex: Pittman. Like the gold dollar, it is believed that about 20 to 25 of these proof quarter eagles still survive from the 45 coin centennial year mintage. Also like the gold dollar, only four or five Gem quality pieces exist, including the Bass coin, the Childs Collection example, and the Eliasberg specimen.
    Business strikes are immediately identified by a raised horizontal bar on Liberty's jaw and this characteristic is entirely absent from proofs. The date is minutely closer to the border than the bust, and it is placed slightly right of center with the final digit close to the right point of the truncation. A tiny die dot is visible directly above the eye lid on this coin.
    This piece has excellent cameo contrast, although it is not quite as fully contrasting as the gold dollar. A few trivial hairlines and tiny contact marks have prevented a higher grade for this Gem proof quarter eagle. The strike is sharp as shown by the crisp details on both sides, In fact, we consider this piece to be "fully struck," and that term is not often used.
    Ex: B.A. Seaby (8/25/1947); John Jay Pittman Collection (David Akers, 5/1998), lot 1834; Heritage (8/2006), lot 5431 $57,500.00.

    1876 Three Dollar PR65 Cameo NGC. In 1875 and 1876, three dollar gold pieces were only coined in proof format, and both dates are rarities, although a couple dozen of these pieces dated 1876 are believed to exist. A comparison of this coin to the plate in the October 1999 Bass catalog leads us to our belief that this specimen is the Bass Collection coin.
    The date appears to slant down slightly to the right with the digit 1 centered below the extreme left corner of the first L in DOLLARS. Just one variety is known in two distinct die states. Examples of this proof issue are known from a perfect obverse and from a rusted obverse, the latter with considerable die rust visible within the headdress.
    Opinions regarding the late die state pieces are varied. In his notes, Harry Bass considered this coin and other similar examples to be restrikes, struck at an unknown later date. Walter Breen considered the rusted die pieces to be the delivery of June 13, 1876, and not restrikes in any sense. In the Bass catalog, Dave Bowers made an interesting comment: "Regarding the rusted obverse on the present piece, this would seem to be irrelevant with regard to any issue of restrike versus original, as the obverse is undated and it would seem to have been an easy matter to have taken an unrusted die had restrikes been made. In other words, there is no reason why a particular obverse would have been saved from 1875 and used years later to make restrikes, when years later another obverse could have been used. This element remains somewhat of a mystery." Alternatively, if it can be shown that the same undated obverse die was used for later date proof threes before the die rust developed, the existence of 1876 restrikes would be proven.
    The number of auction records for 1876 proof threes is much greater than for any other denomination, and similarly the total certified population is also considerably greater. These facts suggest that the number of actual pieces known should also be larger, perhaps adding credence to the restrike theory, although this may not be the case. Because this is a proof-only issue, individual pieces tend to appear more frequently, and every example is described as a proof, even when circulated. Proof-only issues also tend to have a higher resubmission rate. We believe that the actual number of survivors is no different than the number of gold dollars and quarter eagles that are known.
    This Gem Cameo proof has extraordinary eye appeal with deeply mirrored fields and fully lustrous and frosty devices. A few faint hairlines do little to distract from its aesthetic desirability. Both sides have vibrant yellow-gold color with exceptional surfaces.
    Apparently ex: Stack's (12/1970), lot 109; Harry W. Bass, Jr. (Bowers and Merena, 10/1999), lot 695.

    1876 Half Eagle PR65 Ultra Cameo NGC. It appears that about 12 to 15 of these pieces are known, including a disproportionately large number of Gems, perhaps half the population. Among others, the Trompeter, Eliasberg, Bass, and Smithsonian coins have been called Gems. This example brings the Gem population to five, and one or two others may also exist.
    Two different dies are known for the proof 1876 half eagles. Most proofs are easily identified by the small lump on the cheek, between the lower lip and earlobe. Business strikes have a lump on the neck, vertically above the 1 in the date and just below the jawline. In his Proof Encyclopedia, Walter Breen reversed the characteristics of proofs and business strikes. The second variety has tiny die lumps on Liberty's neck in entirely different positions. The Bass Collection specimen, most recently offered as lot 3502 in our January 2006 sale, is an example of the second obverse, thus both varieties were offered by us in consecutive lots just a year ago.
    This is a fully brilliant, fully struck example. A few hairlines are detected in the fragile fields with light magnification, but there are no singularly mentionable marks or spots worthy of consideration as pedigree identifiers, other than a tiny flake below the left side of the 8 in the date.
    Ex: Heritage (1/2006), lot 3501.

    1876 Eagle PR64 Ultra Cameo NGC. The rarity of this proof gold eagle is approximately equal to the rarity of the half eagle, or about 12 to 15 examples known, but fewer Gem quality pieces exist. It appears that only three or four Gem proofs survive out of this population. In its 1979 appearance, this piece was graded by Paramount as Gem PR65, although now it is considered a near-Gem representative.
    Die characteristics to distinguish between proofs and business strikes are limited. A triangular die chip is evident on the neck just below the end of the hair strand beneath the ear. This die chip is clearly visible on plates of proof examples, even in some older catalogs, and appears to provide an immediate attribution diagnostic for the proof pieces. Fine die file lines are visible through much of LIBERTY, although Breen described a similar feature for business strikes.
    This piece has superlative rich yellow-gold color with brilliant and highly lustrous devices surrounded by deeply mirrored black-gold fields. All of the design elements are boldly and fully struck and only a few trivial hairlines keep it from the full Gem grade category. A tiny dark spot at the bottom of the bust, and located directly above the space between the 8 and 7, serves to positively identify the pedigree.
    Ex: Auction '79 (Paramount, 7/1979), lot 337; Heritage (1/2006), lot 3545.

    1876 Double Eagle PR63 Cameo NGC. Ex Eliasberg-Trompeter. This may be the most spectacular coin in this 1876 Centennial gold proof set, even though it has the lowest grade. It is pedigreed to two famous collections of gold coinage, and it is markedly double struck. The obverse exhibits 16 distinct stars, for example. Approximately five to 10 degrees of rotation appears between the two impressions. Doubling can also be seen above the hairbun. The most evident doubling on the reverse is located at ICA and TY D to the lower right.
    Although Walter Breen did not provide any die characteristics for this proof double eagle, certain attribution features are evident. A prominent die chip is located on the eye brow, with other smaller chips in a vertical line down from the corner of the eye. These tiny die chips are not visible on business strikes.
    Only about 10 or 12 proof double eagles dated 1876 survive today, and just one of these, a coin in the Smithsonian Institution, can be called a Gem proof. This gorgeous Cameo proof has rich orange and yellow-gold color with lustrous devices and black-gold fields that providing for the contrast. The surfaces have minute hairlines, consistent with the grade.
    Ex: Eliasberg Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 942; Ed Trompeter Collection; Heritage (7/2005), lot 10418.


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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2007
    3rd-6th Wednesday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 8
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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