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    Marvelous 1881 Liberty Twenty, PR65 Cameo

    1881 $20 PR65 Cameo NGC. CAC. Continuing a truly miraculous string of rare Liberty Head double eagle proofs, the present specimen is a Gem proof Cameo 1881 Liberty Head twenty, a coin with a recorded proof production of 61 pieces. This is an unusual number, mostly in comparison to the tiny figure given for business strikes of the year--2,199 pieces. Walter Breen offers these comments in his Proof Encyclopedia:

    "Centered date to r., left base of first 1 over center, r. base of final 1 nearly over r. edge. Right tail feather broken, lys below beak fragmented. Under intense date collector pressure as few of the 2,200 business strikes survive."

    It is possible today that only 25-30 examples of the business strikes survive. Such a figure certainly accords with the combined populations at NGC and PCGS, where only 43 business strikes (less duplications, as always) have been certified.
    For the proof 1881, Garrett and Guth opine that fewer than 20 examples exist today, including two in the Smithsonian and others in the collections of other museums. They comment that "although 61 coins were struck, many must have remained unsold." The difficulty this poses for collectors today is that, although the Mint by this time was fairly scrupulous about reporting the number of examples originally produced, they seldom reported any subsequent meltings, and this is especially true of proof coins.
    The figure of 61 proof double eagles produced actually derives partially from the number of gold proof sets made plus individual gold coins of varying denominations manufactured later in the year, per the Breen Proof Encyclopedia. A total of 40 proof gold sets were delivered in the first quarter on March 26, with four twenties produced in the second quarter and 17 more in December. Breen notes that those coins are "indistinguishable." A complete (all denominations and types, 14 in all) proof set including the minor coinage, silver coinage, and the proof gold, today in the Smithsonian, was obtained from the Mint coiner on Feb. 25 at face value of $44.44.
    The combined certified population at NGC and PCGS for proofs is a meager 19 "pieces," a total in which duplications are surely present. Most of the coins are in the range from PR63 to PR66, although one slightly circulated proof is certified, a PR58. Of those 19 specimens, 12 are certified in Cameo, Ultra Cameo, or Deep Cameo, indicating that most of the survivors do show considerable field-device contrast.
    The numerical grade on this piece is at the upper end of the certified survivors, although there are two PR66 coins at NGC, one each in Cameo and Ultra Cameo. The sharp cameo contrast present on this piece is intense and verges on an Ultra Cameo designation. The fields show a pronounced orange-peel effect, and as expected of the Gem grade, there are no obvious signs of contact. Unfortunately from a pedigree standpoint, there are also no obvious identifiers of any kind. Clearly, this makes any attempt at pedigree tracing doubly difficult. The apparent black speck on the neck in the photo is on the holder.
    Only twice before have we offered Gem or finer examples of this issue. A PR65 Ultra Cameo NGC specimen that we offered nearly a decade ago (Heritage, 7/2001, lot 3903) failed to sell. And the numerically finest and only Premium Gem specimen we have ever handled, a PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC specimen (Heritage, 4/2006, lot 2297), brought a strong $184,000 more than four years ago.
    This coin and its siblings in this sale represent marvelous opportunities for some aspiring collectors to begin or further a cabinet that could one day rival the proof gold holdings of famous numismatists such as John Clapp, Louis Eliasberg, Harry W. Bass, Jr., or Ed Trompeter. Carpe diem! Census: 1 in 65 Cameo, 1 finer (11/10).
    From The Henry Miller Collection.(Registry values: P4)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 26E2, PCGS# 89097)

    Weight: 33.44 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

    View all of [The Henry Miller Collection ]

    View Certification Details from NGC

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2011
    5th-9th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,257

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