Elusive Matte PR68 1912 Indian Quarter Eagle, Single Highest Graded1912 $2 1/2 PR68 NGC. Ex: Lisa L. The 1900s and 1910s were a time of great innovation, artistry, and experimentation in U.S. numismatics, its impetus the great, shared vision of President Theodore Roosevelt and celebrated sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. That vision was tempered, if not totally blinded, by the pedestrian, petty, and shortsighted Mint Engraver Charles Barber, a man whose artistic gifts were considerably less than his outsized ego. Saint-Gaudens' premature death from cancer at the height of his artistic powers, in the summer of 1907, failed to dampen the spirit for coinage redesign that the teamed sculptor and president began. Quite the contrary, the mantle of artistic freedom was picked up by several of Saint-Gaudens disciples, including the Boston sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt, whose fresh, modernistic incused-relief designs for the quarter eagle and half eagle premiered in 1908.
U.S. Mint personnel also experimented during this time with different proof finishes for gold coinage. While contemporary commentators roundly condemned some of the proof finishes, which varied from one year to the next, today's numismatists largely view them as another facet of the many coinage improvements of the era, a welcome relief to the vastly monotonous, stereotypical designs of the previous nearly three-quarters of a century. While the 1907 Liberty Head quarter eagle featured the brilliantly mirrored finish (sometimes with cameo contrast) familiar from most 19th century gold pieces, the début of the Indian Head quarter eagle in 1908 offered a heavy matte or sandblast finish, which was unreflective and generally poorly received by the collecting public.
The proofs of 1909 and 1910 offered a modified "Roman Gold" finish, more yellow, more reflective, and something between a matte and a brilliant finish. In 1911 the Mint reverted to a darker matte finish, but less fine-grained in appearance. 1912 brought yet another change, as the surface shows an extremely fine-grained, multifaceted surface, one that reflects the light in microscopically different directions. The Mint appears to have changed the texture of the proof quarter eagle coinage nearly every year from 1908 through 1915, but numismatists consider the 1912 issue to be among the most attractive in its aesthetic achievement. Proof coins of this date are among the scarcest in the Indian Head series. While the mintage is recorded at 197 proof specimens, the current combined NGC/PCGS population data show only 34 proof pieces graded, counting duplications. This makes the issue slightly scarcer than the 1913 and 1915 issues, the two next-rarest in the series.
The present phenomenal PR68 example, as a coin, is the single finest graded specimen at both services (10/06). Indeed, for the entire type, there are only 20 PR68 pieces graded, the vast majority of them the much more common 1911 proof issue. The coin has bright yellow-gold color and again, as expected, magnification shows thousands of tiny granules that reflect light in a random fashion. As one would expect from a coin graded PR68, the surfaces are essentially perfect. The only pedigree identifiers we see are a couple of short shiny, diagonal streaks to the right of the M in UNUM. Simply outstanding quality for any piece of matte proof gold of any date and any denomination.
From The Dr. Robert J. Loewinger Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 289L, PCGS# 7961)
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