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    Memorable 1878 Silver-Minor Proof Set

    1878 10-Piece Proof Set NGC. The year 1878 saw a surge in proof coin production from the previous year, reflecting the Mint's anticipation of a large increase in demand from the growing number of coin collectors. Indian head cent, three cent nickel, and Shield nickel proof coinage amounted to 2,350 pieces each in 1878, up from 900 cents, 510+ three cent nickels, and the same number of Shield nickels in 1877. At least 800 of each denomination were included in the silver-minor proof sets assembled by the Mint for public sale. The remaining 1,550 of each base-metal coin were likely sold in three-piece minor coin proof sets or individually.
    The number of proof dimes, quarters, and half dollars coined increased from 510 each in 1877 to 800 in 1878. Twenty cent pieces grew from 350 in 1877 to 600 in 1878, while the Trade dollar increased to 900 from 510 in 1877. The Morgan dollar, introduced in 1878, was initially minted with eight tail feathers (500 proofs), then with seven tail feathers (figures vary from 50 to 250 proofs). The Morgan dollar, according to Robert Julian in an article titled "The Silver Proof Coinage of 1878" published in the December 1986 The Numismatist, was excluded from the regular 1878 proof sets, but could be purchased separately beginning in mid-March.
    Julian indicates that by January 29, 200 proof sets were delivered to the Mint treasurer for public sale at $4.50 each. The sets included one, three, five, ten, twenty, twenty five, and fifty cent pieces, and a Trade dollar. They sold quickly. The Mint coiner delivered another 100 sets on February 7, followed by 100 more on February 19 and 200 on March 18. Despite the brisk sales, Philadelphia Mint Superintendent James Pollock, believed the price was too high, and requested permission from Mint Director Henry Linderman to reduce it to $4. Pollock's request was granted on April 15.
    The coiner delivered another 200 proof sets on May 17. That delivery included all coins except the twenty cent piece, which Congress had eliminated on May 2. At that point, however, sales slowed dramatically. Mint records indicate that 123 proof sets remained unsold at year's end.

    1878 Cent PR65 Red and Brown.
    Beginning in 1878, mintages for minor proof coinage were published in the Annual report of the director of the Mint. Richard Snow writes in his Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents that:

    "Earlier, mintages of Proof minor coins were calculated from sales records of minor coin sets plus the production of silver sets (which had been recorded since 1859), or simply guessed at."

    Copper-gold luster endows this wonderful Gem, freckled with reddish-tan on the obverse and reddish-orange on the reverse. The design elements are sharply struck, including virtually full definition on the feather tips, diamonds, and the reverse leaf ribbing. Each side is devoid of marks or carbon and exhibits a good deal of field-motif contrast at various angles. Census: 56 in 65 Red and Brown, 6 finer (10/09).

    1878 Three Cent Nickel PR64.
    David Bowers, in his United States Three-Cent and Five-Cent Pieces, says of the proof-only 1878 nickel three cent pieces that they:

    "... often occur with a full frosty 'Uncirculated' or business strike appearance, but as these were originally struck as Proofs and were included as part of the Proof sets of that year, they are designated as Proofs by cataloguers today."

    Exquisitely struck design features, squared-off rims, bold dentilation, and mirrored fields conclusively affirm the proof status of this near-Gem specimen. Its motifs display considerable frost, and pronounced variance with the fields is evident over both sides, each of which is covered with a veneer of soft ice-blue and beige patina and devoid of mentionable contacts or flecks.

    1878 Five Cent PR66.
    Walter Breen in his proof encyclopedia writes of the 1878 proof-only nickel: "Only one variety seen; rare earliest state has shaft of 7 in lower loop of last 8." Gloria Peters and Cynthia Mohon (Shield & Liberty Head Nickels), on the other hand, state: "Experts do not agree that a genuine 'overdate' of this date exists." And Edward Fletcher opines in The Shield Five Cent Series: "Repunching is seen WEST inside the lower loop of the second 8," and further says: "This variety is repeatedly mistaken for an overdate."
    The lower loop of the 8 of this Premium Gem does indeed show strong remnants of another figure to the right. Both sides show a combination of satiny luster and semiprooflike surfaces, which is typical for the issue. The essentially untoned obverse cedes to barely discernible ice-blue and beige on the reverse, and each side is impeccably preserved. The design elements are boldly defined throughout.

    1878 Ten Cent PR64 Cameo.
    All 1878 proof dimes have a Type Two reverse, which shows the E in ONE significantly farther from the wreath than Type One, where the E nearly touches it. Cobalt-blue and purple toning gravitates to the obverse margin on this near-Gem while the same color palette is lighter in hue but more extensive on the reverse. Mirrored fields highlight the sharply struck design features. Census: 13 in 64 Cameo, 11 finer (10/09).

    1878 Twenty Cent PR65 Cameo.
    Counting from the left, the second and fourth leaves on the reverse are stemless and detached from the branch, a characteristic of the proof-only 1878 twenty cent. The fifth leaf on the current Gem displays a partial, but very faint stem. The frosty devices appear to float over deep watery fields and have benefited from a decisive strike. A small obverse rim mark at 9:30 and another on the left (facing) wrist are well within the parameters of the numerical grade and might help to identify the coin. Census: 13 in 65 Cameo, 7 finer (10/09).

    1878 Twenty Five Cent PR64.
    Deep electric-blue, lavender, and orange toning covers most of the obverse fields leaving the center light champagne-gold, while most of the reverse takes on the latter coloration accented with deep electric-blue, lavender, and orange at the lower right border. A powerful strike leaves bold detail on the design features, enhancing even more the coin's delightful eye appeal. An occasional stray hairline joins the several light die polish lines on the obverse. Really a beautiful piece for a PR64. Census: 50 in 64, 30 finer (10/09).

    1878 Fifty Cent PR64 Cameo.
    Type Two Reverse, with a pointed (not split) berry above the H in HALF; the vast majority of proofs, including the present near-Gem Cameo, are of this variety. It is worth mentioning, however, that another variety of proof half dollar was recently discovered with a Type One reverse that shows poorly defined leaves, an open bud above the H in HALF, and a die scratch in the shield on the extreme right side.
    A solid strike manifests itself with nearly complete definition on the design elements that appear to be suspended above the deeply mirrored fields. Only the left (facing) claw and the arrow feathers exhibit minor softness. Whispers of gold patina around the margins is a tad deeper on the reverse. A few wispy handling marks barely prevent the attainment of PR65. Census: 23 in 64 Cameo, 22 finer (10/09).

    1878 Trade Dollar PR63 Cameo.
    Trade dollar mintage at Philadelphia in 1878 was limited to proofs. This is the first proof-only Trade dollar, and its 900-piece mintage is the lowest of the proof series (with the exception of the rare 1884 and 1885). All Trade dollars of 1878 and later years are Type Two/Two (the obverse ribbon-ends point downward and there is no berry under the claw).
    David Bowers, in his Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States, writes that by early 1879 there were 219 unsold 1878-dated proof Trade dollars. He goes on to say: "These were distributed, presumably for bullion value or possibly face value, probably to coin dealers." Additionally, Bowers asserts: "Most of the 900 original Proof pieces still survive." This estimate may be somewhat high as NGC and PCGS have certified a little under 600 pieces, a number of which are undoubtedly resubmitted or cross-overed coins.
    Both sides of this Select proof display excellent Cameo contrast, and each is nearly color free except for a couple of golden-tan toning streaks, the obverse ones accented with blue and purple. A well executed strike imparts sharp detail to the design features, including squared-off rims and bold dentils. Fine hairlines and a few minute marks in the fields define the numerical grade as does a minor reverse rim bruise at 10:30.

    1878 Morgan Dollar Eight Tail Feathers PR64.
    Vam-14.3. Attributed by the following: doubling on the upper underside of the date digits, numerous die polishing lines inside the recess of the cap, a die scratch between the left (facing) leg and tail, and doubling on bottom of reverse right leaves. Beautiful cobalt-blue, reddish-orange, and beige-gold patina exhibits slightly deeper hues on the obverse. Exquisitely struck, including the hair over Liberty's ear. While cameo contrast is minimal on this issue, this particular near-Gem specimen displays a fair degree of variance, especially when the coin is tilted slightly under a light source. A few trivial handling marks deny Gem classification. Census for Eight Tail Feathers: 34 in 64, 29 finer (10/09).

    1878 Seven Tail Feathers, Reverse of 1878 PR65 Cameo.
    The arrow feathers are parallel and the eagle's breast is flat on this reverse. Leroy Van Allen and George Mallis (Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars) write:

    "Only 200 7 TF flat breast proofs were struck according to the coiner's daily delivery records. All of these are the VAM 131 variety with normal dies that did not have the doubling so common with this design type. Generally these proofs have only moderate contrast and are scarce."

    Along a similar vein, David Bowers (A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars) says:

    "Striking is sometimes light above the ear. Medium to low cameo contrast. This variety will challenge you, not only to find one in the first place, but beyond that, to get one with good eye appeal. No wonder gems are apt to make auction bidders sit straight up in their chairs!"

    Regarding Bowers' last point, the Gem Cameo in this set will do just that! Both sides yield stunning field-motif contrast, and an exacting strike delivers full delineation to both obverse and reverse devices. Hints of light gold color gravitate to the borders, but the coin initially presents as color free. A few wispy handling marks in the fields likely preclude an even finer numerical grade. Liberty's cheek and neck are remarkably smooth. All in all, this piece generates outstanding eye appeal. Census: 9 in 65 Cameo, 2 finer (10/09).
    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: 15
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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