1866 Liberty Double Eagle, PR65 Cameo
1866 $20 With Motto, PR65 Cameo NGC. Gold CAC. According to
Mint records, only 30 proof Liberty double eagles were struck in
1866. Twenty five examples were delivered for inclusion in the
proof sets on January 15, 1866, and five more were delivered on
June 8 of that year. The number actually distributed is unknown,
but the June striking might indicate the initial 25 sets had sold
out. The number of coins surviving today is much smaller, as PCGS
and NGC have combined to certify only 15 coins, including an
unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers (3/17). PCGS
CoinFacts estimates the surviving population as 14-16 examples in
all grades, while our roster of known specimens lists 10 coins,
with three pieces impounded in institutional collections at the
Smithsonian Institution, ANS, and the Bass Foundation. No example
of the 1866 proof double eagle has been publicly offered by the
leading auction companies since 2007.
Outstanding Quality and Eye Appeal, Gold CAC
Only 10 Examples Traced
The design of the double eagle was modified in 1866 to include the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse. The new reverse motif, known as the Type Two design among series specialists, may have increased collector-demand for the double eagle in 1866, accounting for the extra coins struck in June. Unfortunately, gold proofs brought only small premiums when offered at auction in the 19th century, so many owners, or their heirs, resorted to spending these pieces for face value during hard financial times, as twenty dollars represented a significant amount of spending power in those days. Walter Breen and other researchers refer to several impaired specimens of the 1866 double eagle in their writings, but none are currently listed in population data from the leading grading services. It is certainly likely that the small mintage of 1866 proof double eagles suffered considerable attrition in this manner.
We believe the coin offered here first surfaced in the collection of David S. Wilson, a collector from Pittsburgh who spent 50 years building his collection. Wilson had a remarkable run of gold proof sets from 1860 to 1905, which he apparently purchased directly from the Mint every year. Thus, this coin can trace its history all the way back to the Mint in 1866. It was owned by several famous collectors over the years, like William Cutler Atwater and Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Wilson's proof set was split up by B. Max Mehl in his sale of Atwater's collection, so this coin has been offered individually since that time (1946). It's last auction appearance was in the January-February Auction, held by Superior Galleries in 1993, which also featured the King of Siam proof set.
The present coin is a delightful Gem that shows all the diagnostics of a proof. The date is placed high and to the left, with the numerals slanting down to the right. The remnants of an errant 1 appear on the rim below the primary numeral, a feature seen on all proofs of this date. The broad rims are sharply squared off. Some faint vertical die file marks are evident on the neck below the ear and a curved lintmark shows on the cheek, next to the earlobe. The design elements exhibit razor-sharp definition throughout, with a rich coat of mint frost that creates intense cameo contrast with the deeply reflective fields. The vivid yellow-gold surfaces are impeccably preserved and show the slight orange-peel texture of the finest 19th century proofs. Housed in a prior-generation NGC holder that shows a vertical scratch in the plastic on the reverse, the outstanding quality and visual appeal of this piece is attested by the gold CAC sticker. Off the market for 24 years, with a combination of absolute rarity, incredible eye appeal, and high technical quality, we expect strong competition when this lot is called. Census: 2 in 65 Cameo, 0 finer. Gold CAC: 2 in 65, 0 finer (3/17).
Roster of 1866 Proof Double Eagles
The poor resolution of images in early catalogs makes plate matching of gold proofs very difficult. It is possible this roster contains some duplication, and a few more specimens may remain hidden in old-time collections that have not appeared at auction in many years. The grades are per the last auction appearance. Population data indicates many coins have been submitted, or resubmitted, since their last appearance.
1. PR65 Deep Cameo PCGS. A. Bernard Shore Collection (Superior, 1/1988), lot 4413; Century Collection (Superior, 2/1992), lot 2997; January-February Auction (Superior, 1/1993), lot 1508; Museum of Connecticut History Auction (Heritage, 6/1995), lot 5958; Elite Coin Auction (Superior, 1/2003), lot 1244; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 1/2004), lot 3399; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 5/2004), lot 475.
2. PR65 Cameo NGC. Possibly David S. Wilson; Wilson Collection (S.H. Chapman, 3/1907), lot 326, part of a complete gold proof set; Henry Chapman; William Cutler Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 1258; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; H.R. Lee Collection (Stack's, 10/1947), lot 1710; Forty-Ninth Catalog (New Netherlands, 6/1957), lot 116; Jerry Cohen; January-February Auction (Superior, 1/1993), lot 1507; the present coin.
3. PR64 Cameo NGC. Auction '89 (Superior, 7/1989), lot 948; Auction '90 (Superior, 8/1990), lot 1376.
4. PR64 PCGS. Nathan M. Kaufman, part of a complete 1866 gold proof set; Kaufman Collection (RARCOA, 8/1978), lot 919, proof set broken up; San Diego Sale (Mid-American, 9/1986), lot 1229; Ed Trompeter; Heritage Auctions, circa 1998; private collection; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Superior, 5/2007), lot 1096.
5. Gem Brilliant Proof. William H. Woodin Collection (Thomas Elder, 3/1911), lot 1363; John H. Clapp; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. in 1942, via Stack's; Eliasberg Estate; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 916; Hugh Sconyers.
6. Gem Brilliant Proof. Possibly F.C.C. Boyd; World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 869; Jacob Shapiro (aka J.F. Bell); Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 691; ANA Convention Auction (Steve Ivy, 8/1982), lot 1192; Buddy Ebsen Collection (Superior, 5/1987), lot 2867; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 10/1988), lot 151.
7. Choice Brilliant Proof. Heman Ely, part of a complete 1866 gold proof set; W. Elliott Woodward; T Harrison Garrett, purchased privately as part of a deal to acquire nine gold proof sets of various dates in October of 1883; Robert Garrett; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part II (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1980), lot 791.
8. PR64 Deep Cameo, per Garrett and Guth. Mint Cabinet; National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
9. Proof. R.C.H. Brock, part of a complete gold proof set; J.P. Morgan; American Numismatic Society in 1908, exhibited at the 1914 ANS Exhibition.
10. Proof. Abe Kosoff; Harry W. Bass, Jr., purchased on August 8, 1971; Harry Bass Foundation.
A. Perfect Proof. George Seavey, part of a complete gold proof set purchased from the Mint in 1866; Lorin G. Parmelee, who purchased Seavey's entire collection in June, 1873; Parmelee Collection (New York Coin and Stamp, 6/1990), lot 1349.
B. Brilliant Proof. Thomas Cleneay Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1890), lot 415, part of a complete 1866 gold proof set.
C. Brilliant Proof. William B. Wetmore Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 6/1906), lot 150, part of a complete 1866 gold proof set; Elmer Sears.
D. Brilliant Proof. S.H. Chapman; purchased by Virgil Brand on 3/25/1907, Brand Journal number 37380 (thanks to Saul Teichman for this information and the following entry).
E. Brilliant Proof. H.O. Granberg; Virgil Brand, purchased in September of 1920, Brand Journal number 99729.
F. Perfect Brilliant Proof. William Forrester Dunham Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 2308.
G. Brilliant Proof. Farish Baldenhofer Collection (Stack's, 11/1955), lot 1529.
H. Brilliant Proof. Dr. J. Hewitt Judd; Illustrated History of United States Coins (Abe Kosoff, 1962), lot 326.
I. Brilliant Proof. Alto Collection (Stack's, 12/1970), lot 423.
J. Brilliant Proof. GENA Convention (Pine Tree, 9/1973), lot 546; First Walter Breen Gold Sale (Pine Tree, 3/1974), lot 305.
K. Brilliant Proof. Memphis PM Convention (NASCA, 6/1986), catalog not available for comparison.(Registry values: P6) (NGC ID# 26DH, PCGS# 89081)
Weight: 33.44 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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