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    Description

    Possibly Unique Four-Piece 1910 "Roman Gold" Proof Set

    1910 "Roman Gold" Proof Set NGC. Matte proofing was introduced to United States coinage in 1908. Reaction by the collecting community was generally negative to the darker, sandblasted coins produced in that year. Collectors in this country did not appreciate the subtleties of the process and let Mint officials know of their displeasure. An interesting comment was included in the April 1909 The Numismatist regarding the new proofs:

    "Proof coins of the present gold series, so far as issued, have a very dull appearance, the finish being what is known as 'sandblast,' and are far less pleasing to the eye than the coinage for circulation, which is brighter and of lighter color."

    The Mint responded by altering the proofing process in 1909 and 1910. The coins were struck on specially selected blanks and struck multiple times, but the sandblasting was no longer done. These pieces were struck on a medal press, multiple times, with special dies, and on special planchets. However, their appearance was still confusing to many collectors to that of a fully detailed business strike.
    The finish used on these coins has gone by several names over the years. These have been variously referred to over the years as brilliant matte proofs, Satin proofs, bright proofs, new style proofs, and yellow proofs. But the name that has stuck has been the enigmatic "Roman Gold" proof. This term has been in use since the early 1940s, but no one seems to know the source of the term. According to Walter Breen (1977), the surfaces of such coins are "light in color, midway between satiny and mirrorlike, entirely without the granularity of matte or sandblast."
    After two years, collectors again complained and the Mint reverted to the matte process from 1908. However, in 1909 and 1910 gold coins were struck with a unique and highly collectible finish, one that is still misunderstood and underappreciated even today. This is a four-piece gold proof set from the second and final year of production of this special proofing process. We are not aware of such a set being offered in recent years. The only citations in Breen's Proof Encyclopedia are for sets from the B.G. Johnson material, a 1951 Schulman sale, the Ten Eyck Collection, and most recently a Quality Sales offering from 1976. Attrition seems to have taken a higher toll on Roman Gold proof coins than the other dates from 1908-1915. Undoubtedly, this is because so many were confused with business strikes and slipped into circulation. We do not have any knowledge of other complete sets of Roman Gold proof coins of either year. They could, of course, exist, but such a set(s) would necessarily be held in strong hands because of the high value of such a set. The offer of this set at public auction may well represent the only gold proof set from 1910 that is extant today, and once sold, if it is broken up, this may be the last time such a set is available.
    1910 Quarter Eagle PR67 NGC. The 1910 continues the Roman Gold or Satin Finish proofing process for gold proofs that was begun the previous year. The official mintage for this issue was 682 pieces; however, many believe this number is either a typographical error in the Mint report or most of the mintage was melted as unsold at year's end, as this year is one of the scarcer dates in the series, only exceeded in rarity by the 1909 and 1915. One estimate places the number of survivors in the range of 34-36 pieces, but we estimate that 100-125 proofs may actually be extant. Akers only recorded 21 appearances in the 30-year survey he conducted, and that number obviously included several duplications. This particular coin is one of the finest examples known. Only nine other PR67s have been certified by the two major services (all 10 are NGC coins) and there is only one finer, also a NGC coin (11/05). The surfaces of this piece show a fine granularity. The brightness one normally expects from a Roman Gold proof is evident, but here it is tempered by a moderate overlay of reddish patina that is especially evident in the center of the obverse. The coin is crisply defined throughout with definition that is far superior to a business strike of this type.
    1910 Half Eagle PR68 NGC. Like the quarter eagle from this year, the 1910 half eagle has the highest proof mintage for the type with 250 pieces struck. Again, like the quarter eagle, this figure is either incorrect or a great many were melted at year's end as unsold because the 1910 is approximately twice as rare as the 1908, of which fewer pieces were struck, and it is of equal rarity with the 1909, an issue with only 78 proofs officially minted. Akers only recorded 17 auction sales of proofs over the decades he surveyed major gold auctions, and while more examples obviously exist, we estimate that no more than 50-55 coins are extant in all grades. This is a fabulous example of the Roman Gold type. The surfaces appear flawless and show a micro-fine granularity with light reddish patina over the highpoints of each side and subtle, contrasting lilac in the recesses of the design. Intricately detailed in all areas with complete definition on the lowest feather of the headdress as well as the top of the eagle's wing. This is one of only four pieces that have been so graded, all by NGC (how many of those are resubmissions?), and none are finer (11/05).
    1910 Eagle PR67 NGC. The 1910 Roman Finish proof ten has a suspiciously large mintage like the other three denominations of this year. The official mintage was 204 proofs, but in light of how few examples are known today, either the mintage was recorded incorrectly or most were melted as unsold. Perhaps many were struck on speculation that a collector market would develop, but there simply was not enough demand at the time to support such a lofty mintage. Previous estimates state that as few as 15-20 pieces survive today, and Akers only recorded 15 appearances at public auction over a 37-year period. However, we believe that the actual number of survivors is considerably higher and estimate that perhaps as many as 30-45 pieces are extant today. The surfaces of this piece are consistent in appearance to the other coins in the set with bright yellow-gold coloration and very fine granularity across each side. Close examination reveals a light accent of reddish patina over the highpoints. We see no contact marks or other imperfections on either side of this magnificent proof. This piece is tied with five others as the finest certified by the major services and all are NGC coins (11/05).
    1910 Double Eagle PR68 NGC. The 1910 proof Saint-Gaudens twenty repeats a familiar pattern: like the smaller denominations of gold coins from this year, the mintage for proof twenties is unusually large when compared to other proof Saint-Gaudens issues. The official mintage was 167 proofs, but this number is just not meaningful when trying to determine the actual rarity of this date. Surely a large number must have been melted at a later date, perhaps at the end of 1910 as unsold. From the number of pieces we have handled, the number of coins certified, and the number that have appeared in other major auctions it appears that between 40 and 50 separate coins are extant today. Most of the survivors are in the PR64 to PR66 grade levels. However, only two PR68s have been certified, both by NGC, and the other coin we sold as part of the Phillip Morse Collection in early November for $218,500. While finely granular like the other three pieces, this coin also has a subtly variegated bright yellow-rose and lilac patina over each side. Also like the quarter eagle, half eagle, and eagle, this piece is essentially perfect. There are no contact marks on either side, and the only ripple in the surface that can be used for pedigree purposes is a tiny alloy spot in the left obverse between rays 8 and 9.
    As previously stated, this lot may be the only opportunity the present generation will have to purchase a Roman Gold proof set.


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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2006
    4th-7th Wednesday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 10
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 431

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