Superb Gem Proof 1897 Double Eagle
1897 $20 PR67 Cameo NGC. Gold proofs of the 1890s provide
collectors with an unbeatable combination of absolute rarity,
historic interest, and aesthetic beauty. The Philadelphia Mint had
perfected the techniques of proof coinage by the late 1890s, and
proofs of that era are comparable to the best products of the U.S.
Mint today. The 1897 proof Liberty double eagle is the rarest
twenty dollar gold piece of that remarkable period, and the coin
offered here is the single finest certified example of this elusive
Incredible Quality, With Cameo Surfaces
Rarest Proof Issue of the Era, Finest Certified
Noted gold specialist David Akers gave his thoughts about the 1897 proof twenty when he described the remarkable coin in lot 1171 of the John Jay Pittman Collection (Akers, 10/1997):
"In Proof, the 1897 is the rarest Liberty Head Double Eagle from 1895-1907, although one would not be able to discern this from the mintage figures. However, as I have stated before, number minted does not necessarily equate to number distributed, and it is probable that a substantial portion of the 76 Proof 1897 Double Eagles minted were never sold and thus later melted. Today, only about 18-22 can be accounted for, many of which have varying degrees of impairments, unlike this example which is actually quite close to perfection."
Current research indicates there were actually 86 proof double eagles minted in 1897, rather than the 76 pieces stated by Akers, but his estimate of the rarity of this date, and the surviving population, has held up well over the years. Writing in 2006, Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth confirmed much of what Akers said a decade earlier:
"There are just 20-25 coins known in all grades. The population numbers are higher, but these do not take into account resubmissions. There are also several mishandled examples represented in the population reports. After 1897, Proof double eagles become much more available. The 1897 issue is underrated."
As noted by Garrett and Guth, the population data from the grading services does indicate a slightly larger number of coins still extant. NGC and PCGS have combined to certify a total of 42 examples of the proof 1897 double eagle in all grades and designations (3/12). As stated above, many of these submission events are the result of coins being submitted on different occasions, because the owners have a preference for one grading service over the other, or in hopes of securing a higher grade. Reviewing auction records over the last few decades, we believe the population estimates of the experts quoted above are more accurate than the accumulated population data.
The present coin is important for its high numerical grade, but is equally notable for its aesthetically pleasing appearance. Like all coins, whether they are proofs or business strikes, gold or otherwise, eye appeal or aesthetic appearance is equally important as technical grade. This Superb Gem Cameo proof could arguably qualify as an Ultra Cameo example, with richly frosted deep yellow-gold devices that float on deeply mirrored greenish-gold fields. The fields on both sides have the usual orange-peel texture of true 19th century proofs. A tiny lintmark extends from the inside point of star 5 and should serve as a pedigree marker for future researchers. This coin would be a welcome addition to the finest gold collection or Registry Set. Census: 1 in 67 Cameo, 0 finer (3/12).
Ex: Dallas Signature (Heritage, 6/1989), lot 2245, Elite Coin & Jewelry Auction (Superior, 4/2003), lot 444; Pittsburgh ANA Auction (Heritage, 8/2004), lot 7700, realized $69,000.(Registry values: P2) (NGC ID# 26EJ, PCGS# 89113)
Weight: 33.44 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
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