Finest Known of Possibly Only Two Proof 1820 Quarters1820 25C PR67 NGC. B-1, High R.7-R.8 as a proof. Pre-1858 proof strikings are all scarce and most are rare, and of course, the further one goes back in time the rarer they become and the less frequently they are encountered. According to Breen (1977), proofs were struck of the 1820 quarter from three different varieties, B-1, B-2, and B-4 (one-sided proof only). The most "common" variety is from this die pairing. Four examples of the proof B-1 are listed in the Breen-Bowers update of Browning (1992), but this is not a proof series that has been well studied and the pedigrees are somewhat confused with the four coins listed possibly representing only two individual pieces.
This particular coin's pedigree is unknown to us, where and when it was purchased was not given to us by the consignor. However, certain collections that would be the usual suspects can be eliminated as a possible source. Norweb had two one-sided proofs of this date, neither of which was a B-1. Eliasberg did not own a proof 1820 quarter, and neither did Pittman. We do not have access to the WGC (Boyd) silver catalog from 1945, but that is a reasonable lead for tracking the pedigree of this piece, considering the age of the consignor and when he was most actively purchasing coins.
As an aside, both B-2 and B-4 one-sided proofs are known, and as mentioned both were contained in the Eliasberg Collection. Such coins may be difficult for present-day numismatists to understand, and the reason for such a coin's existence requires understanding why proofs were struck in 1820. Such coins were struck by the mint as special coins for collectors or VIPs. If a collector desired a proof striking, the theory goes that only one side (the obverse) would be displayed in a collector's cabinet. Therefore, it would not be necessary to have a proof surface on the reverse--only the obverse--for display purposes. Such pieces have been accepted for many years and recognized as the anomalies they are to modern-day collectors, by such luminaries in the past as Wayte Raymond, the Norweb family, Howard Newcomb, and Hillyer Ryder. That being said, this is a full, two-sided proof and is consistent with the proofs that are known from this early period in the mint's history.
According to the Breen-Bowers update of Browning, "...Four or five proofs must have been made in 1821, like the B-2s. There are enough Proofs of 1820-1821 in every denomination from cents to half eagles to suggest special strikings in 1821 for favored parties, including backdated coins. Nothing in Mint correspondence or other Archives documents seen to date provided any clue as to the identities of the VIP collectors." Four auction appearances are then listed from 1890 to 1977 with the proviso that these listings may only represent two individual coins.
This particular coin has deeply reflective proof fields on each side. The mirrored finish is abundantly evident even through the medium to heavy toning that is present. The centers have a substantial splash of golden-rose toning that is then surrounded by a wide ring of cobalt-blue toward the margins. The striking details are exceptionally crisp with no obvious areas of softness on either side. Additionally, there are no contact marks apparent on either side, just a few tiny planchet flakes in the obverse fields that were present on the planchet prior to the coin's striking. A very rare opportunity to acquire an early, unquestionable proof from the U.S. mint, and a coin that was saved by generations of collectors with no "improvements" made to its surfaces.(#5365) (NGC ID# 27H9, PCGS# 5365)
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