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    Description

    1859 Liberty Double Eagle, PR63 Cameo
    Classic Proof Gold Rarity
    Nine Examples Traced

    1859 $20 PR63 Cameo NGC. According to Mint records, 80 proof Liberty double eagles were struck in 1859, all for inclusion in the gold proof sets of that year. It was just the second year of the Mint's commercial proof set program, and the enthusiastic response to the first year's offering may have caused some undue optimism about the program's possibilities. Certainly, there were not 80 collectors in the country who were interested in collecting the higher-denomination gold issues at that early date. If that many sets were actually struck, the great majority must have gone unsold, to be melted after the end of the year.

    Of the sets that were sold, many were soon broken up, as collecting the larger gold issues was too expensive to be practical for most 19th century collectors. The proof tens and twenties commanded small premiums on the rare occasions when they were offered at auction, and some of these coins were probably melted, or just spent for face value by their owners, during hard times in the Civil War. At least one proof double eagle is known in impaired condition today. Writing in 1907, Samuel Hudson Chapman noted:

    "These proof sets are exceedingly rare, and my estimate would be that there are not over five sets in existence of the years prior to 1890, and of some of the earlier years probably only three sets ... it should be borne in mind that during the Civil War and until the resumption of specie payments a large proportion of our gold was sent abroad and remelted."



    Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth estimate a surviving population of just 7-8 proof 1859 double eagles in all grades today, including three coins in institutional collections. NGC and PCGS have combined to certify a total of seven coins, including an unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers (4/15). We have compiled a roster of all nine examples known to us below.

    The present coin is a spectacular Select proof that has been off-the-market for 53 years. In its last appearance, in Stack's Wolfson sale in 1962, the cataloger noted, "The appearance is utterly breathtaking." The design elements are sharply detailed throughout, with broad rims, squared-off edges, and a wire rim. The deeply mirrored fields contrast boldly with the frosty devices and the rich yellow-gold surfaces show just a few minor hairlines in the fields. Although two other coins have been offered in the past year, auction appearances are normally infrequent, and it may be years before a comparable example becomes available. Census: 2 in 63 Cameo, 1 finer (4/15).

    Roster of 1859 Proof Double Eagles
    1. PR66 Cameo NGC. Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), lot 5214, sold as part of a six-piece gold proof set that realized $851,875. The obverse exhibits a toning spot between the eyebrow and hairline, while the reverse features a copper spot in the dentils above E in UNITED.
    2. PR65. James Ten Eyck (B. Max Mehl, 5/1922), lot 314, realized $55; John Clapp; Louis E. Eliasberg (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 897, realized $71,500, there graded as PR65; Ed Trompeter estate (8/1998); Heritage Galleries, privately placed prior to 8/2000. There is an obverse spot between stars 3 and 4, while several dots surround Y in TWENTY on the reverse.
    3. PR64 Deep Cameo. National Numismatic Collection, likely set aside at the time of striking. Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth enumerated this example (as well as the following coin) in their 2006 study of the National Numismatic Collection (Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, 1795-1933).
    4. PR64 Deep Cameo. National Numismatic Collection, a second example.
    5. PR63 Cameo. George Seavey, part of a complete proof set purchased directly from the Philadelphia Mint; Seavey Descriptive Catalog (William Strobridge, 6/1873) lot 821, not sold, as Lorin G. Parmelee purchased the Seavey collection en bloc before the date of the sale; Lorin G. Parmelee Collection (New York Coin & Stamp, 6/1890), lot 1302, realized $21.25; Harlan Page Smith; unknown intermediaries; F.C.C. Boyd; World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 862, realized $375; Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 685; Adolphe Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 1797, realized $410; Samuel W. Wolfson Collection, Part One (Stack's 10/1962), lot 869, realized $3,500. The present coin. There is a tiny planchet flaw in the left obverse field, out from the space between stars 1 and 2.
    6. PR63. American Numismatic Society, 1908.93.370, donated by J. P. Morgan in 1908 as part of a complete 1859 proof set, previously from R.C.H. Brock.
    7. PR62+ Cameo PCGS. Louis E. Eliasberg duplicate; H. R. Lee (Stack's, 10/1947), lot 1703, realized $410; Kernochan Family Collection (Bonham's 6/2014), lot 1271, realized $210,600. The H.R. Lee catalog identifies this coin as ex: J. F. Bell (Stack's 12/1944, lot 819, realized $460), but the plate match is questionable. However, the copy of the Bell catalog at the American Numismatic Society does identify Eliasberg as the buyer. This example has an obverse toning spot between stars 12 and 13, and a reverse toning spot inside T of UNITED.
    8. PR62. William S. Hunt (J. C. Morgenthau, 10/1940), lot 364; William Cutler Atwater (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 1251, realized $445; Chadwick-Darnell (Numismatic Gallery, 5/1952), lot 814, realized $525; John Jay Pittman Collection, Part One (David Akers, 10/1997), lot 834, realized $426,250 as part of a complete 1859 proof set. There is a toning spot on the cheek, just inside the highest curl.
    9. PR58 NGC. Auction '82 (Stack's, 8/1982), lot 412; Auction '83 (Paramount, 7/1983), lot 430; Massachusetts Historical Society (Bowers & Merena, 11/1994), lot 2444, realized $9,350; Pre-Long Beach (Superior, 2/1999), lot 3430, realized $18,400; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2000), lot 413, realized $12,075; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 1/2004), lot 7588, realized $14,375; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/2006), lot 4434, realized $17,250. This example is heavily marked in the cheek.

    Additional Appearance
    A complete 1859 proof gold set appeared in the Thomas Cleneay Collection (Samuel H. and Henry Chapman, 12/1890), lot 407, realized $51.(Registry values: P8) (NGC ID# 26DA, PCGS# 89071)

    Weight: 33.44 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper


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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2015
    4th-7th Thursday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 25
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,935

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