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    1838 Liberty Eagle, PR65 Cameo
    Extremely Rare Early Gold Proof
    Three Examples Traced
    Ex: 'Colonel' Green-Farouk-Pittman

    1838 $10 PR65 Cameo PCGS. CAC. JD-1, R.8. The 1838 proof Liberty eagle is one of the rarest and most valuable coins in the U.S. federal series. Only three examples are known to collectors today and one of those coins is sequestered in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. The 1838 proofs were the first coins struck with the popular Liberty design, which was modified slightly in 1839, creating an extremely popular two-year design type. In his description of the present coin, when it was offered as part of the fabulous John Jay Pittman Collection in May 1998, David Akers opined:

    "I do not think there is any other Proof gold coin in all of U.S. numismatics that has the same visual impact as the Proof Eagles of 1838 and 1839. The beauty and balance of this two-year-only design are simply stunning in the Proof format."

    As might be expected, auction appearances of the 1838 proof Liberty eagle are few and far between. The Pittman sale was the last time any specimen of this ultra-rare issue was publicly offered, 22 years ago. Heritage Auctions is privileged to present the finest-certified example of this classic early proof rarity in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    Origin of the 1838 Proof Liberty Eagles

    Although the ten dollar eagle was authorized by the Mint Act of 1792, verbal orders from President Thomas Jefferson suspended coinage of the denomination in 1804. The large gold coins were seldom seen in circulation in this country, as they were purchased by bullion brokers and exported, or melted for profit, almost as fast as they were issued. Even after the specifications for U.S. gold coins changed in 1834, to remove the economic incentive for melting them down, the Mint still limited gold coinage to the five and two and a half dollar denominations for another four years. Finally, in July 1838, Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury instructed Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson to resume coinage of the denomination.

    Since Chief Engraver William Kneass had not recovered from a stroke he suffered in 1835, Acting Engraver Christian Gobrecht was called on to supply a new design for the eagle. Gobrecht modified the head of Venus in Benjamin West's recent painting Omnia Vincit Amor for his central obverse device. This head featured a deeply scalloped bust truncation and a wave of hair that mostly covered Liberty's ear. These features were modified when the design was changed in 1839, but many numismatists believe the earlier concept was more attractive. Liberty wore a coronet inscribed LIBERTY, with a triple, beaded cord confining her hair bun and 13 stars around, with the date below. The date was impressed into the working die using four individual numeral punches, with the 1 more deeply impressed than the other numerals. Both 8's are of the script type, with thin upper and lower loops and a thick central crossbar. The first 8 is lightly double punched. The 3 is placed slightly low and has a tightly curled top loop, without a ball. The reverse features a slightly modified version of John Reich's eagle design, with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around and TEN D. below.

    Records indicate four proof specimens of the new design were sent to Secretary Woodbury on December 6, 1838 and a small mintage of 7,200 business strikes were delivered by the end of the year. Q. David Bowers believes the same dies were used to strike proofs and business strikes (A Guide Book of Gold Eagle Coins, page 121).

    Numismatic Discovery and Later History

    One specimen of the 1838 proof Liberty eagle was placed in the newly formed Mint Cabinet in 1838, so collectors with good connections at the Mint may have been aware of these early proof rarities from the time of issue. It is possible that two such early collectors each acquired a specimen of this proof rarity for their collections at an early date and preserved them for posterity. Robert Gilmor and Joseph Mickley would be likely suspects, but specific records of the gold portions of their collections are not available.

    The earliest surviving record of any 1838 proof eagle in collector's hands is the list of George F. Seavey's collection that appeared in a report in the March 1869 edition of the American Journal of Numismatics. Seavey, from Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, had exhibited his remarkable U.S. gold collection, which was believed to be complete up to that time (his 1822 half eagle later proved to be counterfeit) at the February 4, 1869 meeting of the Boston Numismatic Society. Although the report of Seavey's exhibition in the AJN only listed the coins by date and denomination, prominent coin dealer William Strobridge confirmed Seavey's 1838 eagle was a proof when he compiled the Seavey Descriptive Catalog four years later. Strobridge planned to offer Seavey's holdings at a blockbuster auction, but millionaire Boston collector Lorin G. Parmelee purchased the entire collection en masse before the sale took place.

    Parmelee, who formed either the finest, or second-finest, collection of American coins of the 19th century, depending on how you weight the different categories, retained his 1838 proof eagle until June 1890, when he sold his entire collection through the New York Coin & Stamp Company. Described in lot 1082 as, "Eagle, sharp and perfect proof, excessively rare" and plated in the catalog, the 1838 proof eagle realized $45, a reasonably strong price for the time. William H. Woodin, who would serve as Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin Roosevelt, was the buyer at the sale. The Parmelee sale was the last public offering of any 1838 proof eagle in the 19th century.

    William Woodin kept his spectacular proof eagle for more than 20 years, until he sold his extraordinary gold collection in March of 1911, through New York dealer Thomas Elder. Elder described the coin in lot 1201 of his catalog as:

    "1838. Splendid, brilliant proof. New small head of Liberty to left. Rev. small eagle standing with open wings. Edge Milled. Almost unique in this preservation, and in such condition should bring $1,000. Plate."

    The lot sold to Lyman Low, acting as agent for super-collector Virgil Brand. This coin was later owned by several famous collectors, including Cardinal Francis Spellman, but it has largely sold through dealer intermediaries and private treaty transactions over the last century, making it difficult to track exactly. Its last auction appearance was in the Davies-Niewoehner Collection in 1975. Today, it is a highlight of the fabulous Tyrant Collection.

    The present coin first surfaced in the remarkable collection of Baltimore numismatist Waldo Newcomer, who purchased it privately for a bargain price of $100. Exactly where it was before and the exact circumstances of its purchase remain a mystery. It later passed to colorful collector "Colonel" E.H.R. Green and the even more eccentric King Farouk, of Egypt. After that playboy ruler was deposed in 1952, his various collections were sold off by the new Egyptian government in a series of auctions through the well-known English firm of Sotheby's. The numismatic portion of the collection was sold in Cairo in February of 1954. One of the few American collectors to attend the event was John Jay Pittman, who took out a second mortgage on his house to help fund his purchases. Fortunately for Pittman, the Farouk sale was not expertly cataloged and the auction was poorly attended, so the sale yielded many bargains for careful collectors. Pittman purchased the 1838 proof eagle, oddly grouped with three business-strike eagles from 1839 and 1840 in lot 188, for a sum equivalent to about $570.

    According to David Akers, "JJP considered this coin to be the premier coin in his incomparable collection of U.S. Proof gold coins." He retained his collection, including this 1838 proof eagle, until his death. Afterward, the collection was sold in a series of three blockbuster auctions by David Akers. The 1838 proof eagle was offered in lot 1910 of the May 1998 sale, where it realized a staggering $550,000. It has continued to sell for higher and higher prices in private treaty transactions ever since.

    The fourth specimen of the 1838 proof Liberty eagle has never been traced, unless it was the specimen in lot 319 of the Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944). Mehl described that coin as a slightly impaired proof, "with a faint scratch on the obverse left field" and "cabinet friction" on both sides. Mehl was adamant about the proof format of the coin, as it exhibited "square edges" and "retains nearly all of its original proof surface." The description does not fit either of the 1838 proof eagles in private hands today, so it might be the long lost fourth specimen that has been missing since 1838. However, it seems much more likely that the Roach coin was a prooflike business strike that Mehl misattributed as a proof.

    Physical Description

    David Akers described this spectacular Gem as follows:

    "This is an incredible coin, one of the greatest and most important rarities in the entire John Jay Pittman Collection. It is fully struck with deep mirror fields, a broad border, sharp square edge, and superb medium yellow gold color highlighted with some minor copper toning spots. There are a few light hairlines in the fields, including one horizontal one below the date, as well as some die polishing lines and planchet lines that were not completely eliminated by the minting process. On the reverse, there is a long hairline above the eagle, beginning at the left side of the A in STATES, then running diagonally down to the head of the eagle, along the neck to the wing, and then out below the wing toward the E in AMERICA. There is a lintmark in the field below the second S in STATES and several small lintmarks in the left obverse field ... This is a superb looking coin, one whose eye appeal and general appearance substantially exceed its technical quality."

    We have little to add to Akers' eloquent description, aside from acknowledging the startling gold-on-black cameo flash this coin displays when it is tilted in the light. This piece is the only Cameo certified at PCGS, though Garrett and Guth indicate the uncertified Smithsonian coin also has strong field/device contrast. This coin is the finest-certified example of this extremely rare and historically important issue. David Akers impression of its outstanding eye appeal and high technical quality is confirmed by the CAC sticker. This piece has been off the market for 22 years and it may be decades before another public offering occurs. The discerning collector will bid accordingly. The 1838 proof Liberty eagle is listed among the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. This coin is pictured on PCGS CoinFacts. Population: 1 in 65 Cameo, 0 finer (11/20).

    Roster of 1838 Proof Liberty Eagles

    This roster is largely based on John Dannreuther's list of Significant Examples in his United States Proof Coins, Volume IV: Gold.
    PR65 Cameo PCGS. CAC. Struck December 6, 1838 and sent to Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury; unknown intermediaries; Waldo Newcomer, purchased privately for $100; B. Max Mehl on consignment in 1931; "Colonel" E.H.R. Green; B.G. Johnson; Jacob Shapiro (aka J.F. Bell); J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 601, possibly bought in; purchased privately by King Farouk, probably via Stack's; The Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), part of lot 188; John Jay Pittman; Pittman Collection, Part II (David Akers, 5/1998), lot 1910; Spectrum (Greg Roberts) and Kevin Lipton Rare Coins (Kevin Lipton); Spectrum Numismatics; John Albanese, circa 2002, for $550,000; David Albanese; Canadian collector; Maryland collector; Scott Rudolph for $1.7 million via Albanese Rare Coins on 9/26/2007; John Albanese; purchased by a Wall Street Investor in 2008; John Albanese; Brian Hendelson; Jeff Sherid, via John Albanese; the present consignor, via John Albanese and Joe O'Connor. Plate coin for the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Note: For much of its post-Pittman history, this coin has been owned by the same collectors that owned the 1804 Plain 4 proof eagle from the Bob R. Simpson Collection, offered elsewhere in this sale.
    PR65 PCGS. CAC. Struck December 6, 1838 and sent to Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury; unknown intermediaries; George F. Seavey, prior to March 1869; Seavey Descriptive Catalog (William Strobridge, 6/1873), lot 579; Lorin G. Parmelee, who purchased Seavey's entire collection before the prospective auction could take place; Parmelee Collection (New York Coin & Stamp, 6/1890), lot 1082; William H. Woodin; Woodin Collection (Thomas Elder, 3/1911), lot 1201; realized $200 to Lyman Low, acting as agent for Virgil Brand (Brand Journal #57063); Brand Estate; Horace Brand; unknown intermediaries; Cardinal Francis Spellman; Stanley Kesselman; Paramount International Coin Corporation; pictured in Coin World, January 2, 1974 edition; purchased privately by Fred Davies; Davies Niewoehner Collections (Paramount, 2/1975), lot 612; David Akers; Sixten Erling; sold to Rick Sear, Jay Miller, and Chris Tracey by Rick DeFrancis and Dave Berg, acting on a consignment basis; Craig Franco (Inland Empire or Pacific Rarities); on consignment to Ira and Larry Goldberg, purchased by Steve Contursi for $2 million; Western collector in 2007, for a reported $2.6 million; Tyrant Collection. Note: John Dannreuther notes NGE; Blanchard customer may fit into this pedigree at some point. Plate coin for Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins.
    PR63 Deep Cameo (grade per Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth). Struck December 6, 1838 and sent to Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury; Mint Cabinet; National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Plate coin in the following: Catalogue of Coins, Tokens, and Medals in the Numismatic Collection of the Mint of the United States, by Thomas L. Comparette; Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth; A Guide Book of Gold Eagle Coins, by Q. David Bowers; United States Proof Coins, Volume IV: Gold, by John Dannreuther.

    Additional Appearance
    Proof. Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 319.

    Selections from The Oliver Jung Collection. (Registry values: P3)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 28EE, PCGS# 88770)

    Weight: 16.72 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

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

    View all of [Selections From The Oliver Jung Collection ]

    ‡ The owner placed a late bid on this unreserved lot and repurchased it, subject to applicable commission.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2021
    20th-24th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 52
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,575

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    I wish to extend our appreciation to you for over $925,000.00 realized from the above subject auction. This amount realized was approximately $110,000.00 more than we anticipated.
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