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    1886 Liberty Double Eagle, PR66 Ultra Cameo
    Rare Issue as a Date
    Only One Certified Finer

    1886 $20 PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC. CAC. A generous mintage of 106 proof Liberty double eagles was struck in 1886, the first time the number of proofs for the denomination exceeded three figures. The large production total is misleading, however, as the issue is very rare in today's market. It seems likely that the majority of the coins were never distributed, with the unsold remainder being melted after the close of the year. The surviving population numbers no more than 20-25 examples, with two coins in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, one in the collection of the American Numismatic Society, and several in impaired condition. The 1886 double eagle is rare as a date, as none were coined at the branch mints and the business-strike mintage at Philadelphia was a meager 1,000 pieces.

    Perhaps the low business-strike total for the year influenced the larger-than-normal production of proofs, as Mint officials may have anticipated greater demand from collectors. This demand would have been unprecedented, however, as very few collectors were systematically building date runs of double eagles in the 19th century. The high face value of each coin made such a collection much too expensive for the average collector, and the coins were perceived as artistically uninspired and numismatically uninteresting. Since the denomination was first issued in 1850, 19th century collectors viewed even the earliest double eagles as common coins of recent vintage, and even the elusive proof issues commanded small premiums on the rare occasions when they were offered.

    Twenty five gold proof sets were issued in February and, in all probability, most of the coins we know about today came from those sets. Scott Rubin has located eight auction appearances of the 1886 proof double eagle in sales before 1940, beginning with the Thomas Cleneay Collection in 1890, and the coins came from complete gold proof sets in seven of those eight offerings, although the coins were sometimes offered individually, rather than as sets. Only the double eagle in lot 327 of the James Ten Eyck Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1922) was offered singly, with no other proofs of the date included in the sale. Other complete gold proof sets surfaced later, including the Garrett set in 1976 and a set in a Kreisberg-Schulman sale in 1960. The coin in the ANS also comes from a set. These sets were largely broken up by the 1940s, when collecting double eagles finally became popular in this country. Most offerings since that time have been of individual coins, with the 1886 double eagle appearing about once per year in recent times.

    For some unexplained reason, the Mint continued to strike proof double eagles at intervals throughout the year, and the coin in the Mint Cabinet was not purchased until September. The reason for this late acquisition may be that the curator had spent the entire allowance for the collection the year before to purchase an example of the very rare 1815 half eagle from H.P. Newlin in December of 1885, and funds for further purchases may not have been on hand when the first sets were issued in February. A few other specimens may have found homes later in the year, but it seems certain that the majority of the later deliveries went unsold.

    The present coin is one of the finest surviving examples, with razor-sharp definition on all design elements and deeply mirrored fields that set off the frosty devices with a stunning cameo effect. The vivid green and orange-gold surfaces show the slight orange-peel texture of the best proofs of the era, with no mentionable distractions. Eye appeal is extraordinary. This coin will be a welcome addition to the finest collection or Registry Set. Census: 3 in 66 Ultra Cameo, 1 finer (3/15).
    From The Big Sky Collection.(Registry values: P4)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 26E7, PCGS# 99102)

    Weight: 33.44 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

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

    View all of [The Big Sky Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2015
    22nd-26th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 13
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,790

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