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    Description

    1804 Plain 4 Eagle, BD-2, PR65+ Deep Cameo
    Extremely Rare Early Gold Proof
    Finest of Three Known
    Ex: Sultan of Muscat-'Colonel' Green

    1804 $10 Plain 4, BD-2, JD-1, Judd-33, High R.7, PR65+ Deep Cameo PCGS. CAC. Ex: Simpson. The 1804 Plain 4 proof eagle is one of the rarest and most valuable issues in the history of American coinage. Like their more famous 1804 dollar counterparts, the 1804 Plain 4 eagles were struck for inclusion in diplomatic presentation proof sets intended as gifts for various foreign rulers in the mid-1830s. Only four pieces were struck and just three examples are known to numismatists today. One of the three survivors is included in the Harry Bass Core Collection, on display at ANA headquarters and permanently off the market. Heritage Auctions is privileged to offer the finest-known example of this sought-after early gold rarity, from the remarkable Bob R. Simpson Collection.

    Origin of the 1804 Plain 4 Eagle
    The United States sought to establish favorable trade agreements with several Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern nations in the mid-1830s. To accomplish this, special envoy Edmund Roberts was dispatched on a diplomatic mission to help secure treaties with specific nations in the area. Diplomatic etiquette of the time called for an exchange of gifts between the interested parties. Accordingly, a large program of appropriate gifts was assembled for the King of Siam, the Sultan of Muscat, and the Emperors of Cochin China and Japan. Each ruler was to receive a personalized package of maps, pistols, clocks, telescopes, cut glass, and other objects of the finest American workmanship. Each gift package was also to contain a boxed-set of high-quality proof coins of the United States.

    Apparently, Roberts' mission was initially intended to approach only the Sultan of Muscat and the King of Siam. A November 11, 1834-dated letter from Secretary of State John Forsyth to Mint Director Samuel Moore reads:

    "The President has directed that a complete set of the coins of the United States be sent to the King of Siam, and another to the Sultan of Muscat. You are requested therefore to forward to the Department for that purpose, duplicate specimens of each kind now in use, whether of gold, silver, or copper. As boxes, in which they are to be contained, may be more neatly and appropriately made at Philadelphia, under your direction, than they could be here, you are desired to procure them, if it will not be too much trouble, and have the coins suitably arranged in them before they are sent on. They should be of as small a size as is consistent with the purpose for which they are intended; and should be of wood, covered with plain morocco. The color of one should be yellow and the other crimson.

    "You are authorized to draw upon the Department for the value of the coins, and the expense of the boxes.

    "I have the honor to be, Sir, Very respectfully Your obed. serv.

    "John Forsyth"



    Just before Roberts was to depart, his mission was expanded to include the Emperors of Cochin China and Japan. Accordingly, two more proof sets were requested on March 31, 1835:

    "I will thank you to cause to be prepared two sets of the coins of the United States in caskets, similar to those already prepared for this Department. It is desired that they should be ready in time for the sailing of the United States Sloop of War Peacock. That ship is now at New York under sailing orders, but her departure will, probably, be delayed until the 10th of April.

    "As soon as they are ready, you will send them addressed to Edmund Roberts, Esq., under cover to the collector of the customs. The colors of the caskets and of the linings is left to your own taste. It is hoped that all practicable dispatch will be used in the fulfillment of this request.

    "I am Sir, your obedt. Servt.

    "John Forsyth"



    The four proof sets were struck and delivered to Edmund Roberts as instructed. Despite the best efforts of the State Department and their special envoy, only the Sultan of Muscat and King Of Siam actually received their gifts. Edmund Roberts fell ill and died in Macao before he could complete his mission and the proof sets intended for the Emperors of Cochin China and Japan were apparently returned to the State Department when the U.S.S. Peacock returned home in November 1837, along with the other gifts.

    Numismatic Discovery and History of the 1804 Plain 4 Eagle
    The State Department paid the expenses incurred in striking and assembling the presentation proof sets and it seems likely the two undelivered sets were returned to that department when the U.S.S. Peacock completed its voyage, rather than the Mint or Treasury Department. The Mint Cabinet, which was established in 1838, never included an example of the 1804 Plain 4 proof eagle, and it certainly would have if the coins had been returned to the Mint. The coins were dispersed in some undisclosed fashion, possibly simply spent on State Department business, and no record of their distribution has ever come to light.

    The 1804 Plain 4 eagle was unknown to the numismatic community until August of 1869, when Dr. Benjamin Betts exhibited an example from his collection in a photograph in the American Journal of Numismatics. The coin (which is currently in the Harry Bass Core Collection at ANA headquarters) appears lightly circulated, with a planchet flaw, or die dot, between the letters T and Y in LIBERTY. The striking characteristics of this coin are much different from those of the coin in the King of Siam proof set, suggesting they were struck at different times. From this, it seems likely that the Betts coin was from one of the two proof sets struck in April of 1835, which were not delivered to their intended recipients and returned to the State Department. This coin is easily recognized in photographs, thanks to the artifact between TY, and it has a remarkable, unbroken pedigree from Betts to the present day (see roster below).

    Despite several reports in the literature, most of them easily discredited, the 1804 Plain 4 proof eagle from the other undelivered proof set has not been traced since it was returned to the State Department in 1837.

    Edmund Roberts delivered the diplomatic gifts (including the presentation proof set) to the Sultan of Muscat on October 1, 1835. The Sultan was a powerful figure at the time, whose empire extended as far as Zanzibar, but his successors were much less successful and the country fell into financial disarray and political turmoil. The presentation proof set was either lost or dispersed by his heirs and pieces of it began surfacing in England by the mid-1860s. Most of the silver and minor coins, including the finest known 1804 dollar, turned up in the collection of Charles A. Waters, of Liverpool, England, but the gold coins were not accounted for. When American coin dealers later asked Waters how he acquired his 1804 dollar, he replied that he had purchased it around 1867 or 1868, but could not recall the details. The 1804 Plain 4 proof eagle (the coin offered here) only surfaced much later, in the fabulous collection of Col. E.H.R. Green. It passed through several famous collections before Bob R. Simpson acquired it in 2010 (see roster below).

    Roberts delivered the fourth presentation proof set to the King of Siam in April of 1836. It remained largely intact and unknown to the numismatic community until it shockingly surfaced in the possession of David Spink in 1962. It has been a highlight of several famous collections since then (see roster below).

    The Pattern Question
    Many collectors are not aware that the 1804 Plain 4 proof eagle is listed in the standard reference for the pattern series as Judd-33. The Judd reference also includes two closely related silver die trials from the same dies as the 1804 Plain 4 eagle, Judd-34 (with a reeded edge) and Judd-34a (with a plain edge). Although these issues have been listed in some references as patterns since the 1940s, and the silver pieces are legitimate die trials, the inclusion of the 1804 Plain 4 proof eagle in the series is controversial.

    Early pattern specialists, like Robert Coulton Davis, believed these coins were actually proof specimens of the regular 1804 Capped Bust Right eagle design, struck in 1804, and did not recognize them as patterns. Davis was probably unaware of the silver die trials.

    Edgar Adams and William Woodin also did not list the 1804 Plain 4 eagle as a pattern. Even though Woodin owned a gold example of the issue and Adams owned one of the silver die trials, they mistakenly believed the coins were struck from regular dies, like Davis. In their 1913-dated pattern reference, they listed the silver die trial as AW-23:

    "Eagle. Regular dies. Silver. Four specimens are said to have been struck. R13."



    However, they did not include the proof gold eagle in their listings because they thought the coins were struck from the "regular dies" in 1804. As it turns out, they were probably correct in not listing the 1804 Plain 4 eagle as a pattern, but their observations were faulty. For two such accomplished numismatists as Woodin and Adams to miss the easily identifiable Plain 4 in the date, as well as some differences in the star positions on the reverse, and believe the coins were struck from regular dies is a truly surprising error.

    When Wayte Raymond began listing patterns separately in his Standard Catalogue of United States Coins in the late 1940s, he noticed the telltale differences in design between the 1804 Plain 4 eagle and the regular issue Crosslet 4 variety. Those differences and the proof format of the coins convinced him that the 1804 Plain 4 eagle was an early pattern for a proposed new design that was not accepted. He listed the issue as follows, making sure to point out the error in the Adams-Woodin reference:

    "1804 Entirely different dies from the coin circulated. Gold and silver (23, in silver only, where it is erroneously claimed to be the regular dies)."



    When Dr. Judd published his pattern reference in the following decade, he simply followed suit in listing the gold issue as a pattern.

    Of course, when the King of Siam proof set resurfaced in 1962, numismatists finally came to understand the true nature of the 1804 Plain 4 eagle and the 1804 dollar. The coins were neither regular issue proofs nor patterns, but specially created strikings produced by the Mint decades after the date on the coins for a specific government purpose. Andrew Pollock did not list the 1804 Plain 4 eagle in his United States Patterns and Related Issues, but he did list the silver die trials as Pollock-46 and 47. The Judd book still retains the listing for Judd-33. As USPatterns.com notes about the 1804 Plain 4 eagle, "We list it here because it is clearly something beyond a regular issue."

    The Dies Question
    The somewhat ambiguous request from Secretary of State Forsyth for proof sets containing coins "of each kind now in use" presented Mint officials with a problem. Two denominations that were authorized by the Mint Act of 1792 were no longer being struck for circulation and they were the largest, most visually impressive coins in the group, the silver dollar and gold eagle. Consulting Mint records, it was determined that these denominations had last been struck in 1804 (in the case of the dollar, the coins produced in 1804 were actually dated 1803). It was decided to include examples of the dollar and eagle in the proof sets, using 1804-dated dies bearing the designs used on those denominations that year. Until recently, numismatists believed the Mint produced new specially made dies for the 1804 Plain 4 eagle to accomplish the striking in 1834. However, research by John Dannreuther, Bryce Brown, and Bill Nyberg suggests unused dies from the 1800-1806 time frame were reworked to strike the 1804-dated eagles in 1834.

    Previously, students of the series noted a diagonal die line that shows in Liberty's hair on the Capped Bust Right eagles of the 1800-1804 period is not seen on the 1804 Plain 4 eagle. This seemed to indicate that a new head punch had been used to produce the obverse die for the 1834 production. However, Dannreuther used computer overlays to compare the busts on both issues and found the major features to be virtually identical. It would have been impossible to so closely duplicate the punch with the hand-engraved technology of the time. From this, Dannreuther concluded the obverse die was actually a leftover die from the earlier period with only the first three digits of the date impressed on the obverse. The die was extensively polished in 1834 to remove rust and decay and the final digit in the date was added using a Plain 4 punch from a set of half dollar punches used in 1834. The missing die line was explained by a study of the silver die trials. Dannreuther noted that these coins had an identifiable emission sequence, with the earlier trial pieces showing extensive die rust and vestiges of the die line in Liberty's hair. As the sequence progressed, evidence of die rust faded and the die line gradually disappeared, due to polishing and reworking of the die. Some thinning of the letters and devices is evident on the 1804 Plain 4 proof eagle obverse and some tool marks show in the cap, while the die line in the hair has been entirely eliminated. The 1804 Plain 4 eagle was struck in a close collar with 200 edge reeds, but the borders exhibit the same cigar-shaped dentils of the pre-1804 era eagles, further confirming the early manufacture of the die.

    Comparing dentil counts and using computer overlays, Bryce Brown and Bill Nyberg confirmed that the reverse die used for the 1804 Plain 4 eagle was prepared from the same master die used on the half dollar reverses of 1805-1807. Nyberg also noted that the F in OF has a broken right foot, a feature that only shows on 1806-dated half dollars. From this, it is evident that the reverse of the 1804 Plain 4 eagle was actually an unused half dollar die from 1806. Present day numismatists know that some early quarter eagle reverse dies were also used to strike contemporary dimes, but this is the only eagle/half dollar die crossover usage we are aware of.

    Physical Description
    This Plus-graded Gem is the finest of the three known examples of this iconic early gold rarity. The design elements exhibit razor-sharp definition throughout, aside from some unusual softness on obverse star 3. The other stars display full centers, suggesting something might have partially clogged the die at star 3 during the striking of this coin. Notably, the King of Siam specimen shows the same flat center on star 3, while the Harry Bass example is sharply detailed in this area. A thin die crack shows from Liberty's hair to the base of the upright of the R in LIBERTY. This feature also shows on the King of Siam specimen, but is not present on the Bass coin. These different striking characteristics suggest the Simpson coin and the King of Siam specimen were struck at the same time, under the same circumstances, while the Bass coin was struck later, when the obstruction in star 3 had been cleared and light polishing removed the die crack. Since the King of Siam and Sultan of Muscat proof sets were both struck in November of 1834, we conclude the Simpson coin must be the example from the Muscat set. Accordingly, the Bass coin must be from one of the undelivered proof sets struck in April of 1835.

    The sharply detailed, frosty design elements of this delightful specimen contrast profoundly with the deeply mirrored fields to create a startling gold-on-black cameo flash when the coin is tilted in the light. The impeccably preserved yellow-gold surfaces are free of mentionable distractions and show a few highlights of darker orange and turquoise patina. Overall eye appeal is terrific. This coin has not been publicly offered since 1988, and this offering is just its third auction appearance, making this lot a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for advanced collectors. In 2009, this coin inspired numismatist Dean Albanese to write an entire book on the subject called The King of Eagles. This finest known example is indeed the "King" of this storied denomination and a Registry Set essential. Population: 1 in 65+ Deep Cameo, 0 finer (11/20).

    Roster of 1804 Proof Eagles.
    1. PR65+ Deep Cameo, PCGS. Philadelphia Mint in 1834, part of the Sultan of Muscat diplomatic presentation proof set; Sayyid Sa'id-bin-Sultan, Sultan of Muscat; unknown intermediaries; "Col." E.H.R. Green; Green estate, Chase Manhattan National Bank, executors; purchased by Stack's in 1943; probably purchased privately by Clifford T. Weihman; sold privately in 1947 for $7,500, to Farish Baldenhofer; Farish Baldenhofer Collection (Stack's, 11/1955), lot 1459; unknown intermediaries; Rare and Important U.S. Gold Coins (Stack's, 10/1988), lot 119; Spectrum Numismatics; purchased by John Albanese, circa 2002, for $600,000; sold to Lee Numismatics; John Albanese; sold to Albanese Rare Coins (David Albanese); Canadian collector, at a reported $900,000; Maryland collector, at a reported $2 million; Scott Rudolph, circa 2007, for a reported $5 million, via David Albanese; John Albanese, on consignment from Rudolph; Legend Numismatics in 2010; Simpson Collection. The plate coin in David Akers Gold Pattern reference. Note: some researchers have suggested this coin was owned by Baltimore collector Waldo Newcomer and, possibly, William Woodin before it passed to Colonel Green. This seems unlikely, as there is no record of the coin in the Newcomer Inventory. The present coin.
    2. Proof 64 PCGS. Philadelphia Mint in 1834, part of the King of Siam diplomatic presentation proof set; King Ph'ra Nang Klao (Rama III) of Siam in April 1836; King Mongkut (Rama IV), his half-brother; King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) his son in 1868; unknown intermediaries, possibly Mrs. Anna Leonowens, of The King and I musical fame; possibly Leonowens' descendants; David Spink in 1962; Lester Merkin, acting as an agent for a Pittsburgh client in 1978; Elvin I. Unterman, acting as agent for the Pittsburgh collector in 1981; King of Siam Sale (Bowers and Merena, 10/1987), lot 2209, reserve not met; purchased by a private collector via Stack's on October 18, 1987; purchased by The Rarities Group (Martin Paul) and Continental Rarity Coin Fund I (Greg Holloway) in 1989; Boy's Town Sale (Superior, 5/1990), lot 3364; Iraj Sayeh and Terry Brand; The January-February Auction (Superior, 1/1993), lot 1196; Dwight Manley (Spectrum Numismatics); Western Collection, exhibited at the Mandalay Bay Casino; West Coast business executive in 2001, via Spectrum Numismatics and Mike's Coin Chest of Torrance, California; Steve Contursi and a Western collector purchased the set, via Ira and Larry Goldberg, for $8.5 million on November 1, 2005; the Western collector bought out Contursi in 2009; Tyrant Collection.
    3. PR58 uncertified. Philadelphia Mint in 1835, part of the diplomatic presentation set for either the Emperor of Japan or the Emperor of Cochin China; never delivered by Special Agent Edmund Roberts, who died before the cased set could be presented; returned to the State Department; unknown intermediaries; Dr. Benjamin Betts, illustrated in the August 1869 issue of the American Journal of Numismatics; Public Auction Sale (Edward Cogan, 6/1871), lot 76, realized $35; Isaac F. Wood; Isaac F. Wood Collection (Cogan, 5/1873), lot 1334; Lorin G. Parmelee; Parmelee Collection (New York Coin & Stamp, 6/1890), lot 814; Charles Steigerwalt; Steigerwalt's FPL number 50, November 1894; William H. Woodin; Woodin Collection (Thomas Elder, 3/1911), lot 1200; John H. Clapp; Clapp estate; Louis E. Eliasberg in 1942 via Stack's; Eliasberg estate; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 660; Harry W. Bass, Jr.; Harry W. Bass Core Collection, on display at ANA Headquarters in Colorado Springs.
    4. Proof. Philadelphia Mint in 1835, part of the diplomatic presentation set for either the Emperor of Japan or the Emperor of Cochin China; never delivered by Special Agent Edmund Roberts, who died before the cased set could be presented; returned to the State Department; not traced since. Carl Carlson believed this coin was offered in lot 639 of Thomas Elder's sale of 2/7/1913, but the description of that lot indicates it was a high-grade business-strike example. Similarly, Walter Breen cited an example in Virgil Brand's collection, but several researchers have found no mention of this issue in the Virgil Brand Journals at the ANS. Breen also indicates the Brand coin was handled by coin dealer Charles E. Green in the 1940s, but he might have been handling the Col. Green specimen on consignment, as it came on the market in the early 1940s. Breen also cites an example in Stack's H.R. Lee Sale in 1947, but that coin is also a business-strike. Several sources indicate the fourth 1804 proof eagle is in a private collection today, but we have not been able to reliably trace any appearance of this piece since the 1830s.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# BFYV, PCGS# 537315)

    Weight: 17.50 grams

    Metal: 91.67% Gold, 8.33% Copper


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

    View all of [Important Selections from The Bob R. Simpson Collection, Part III ]

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