Gem Proof 1881 Eagle
1881 $10 PR65 PCGS. The Panic of 1893 was, until the Great
Depression that began in 1929, the worst economic depression in the
United States. During the 1880s, the United States saw a remarkable
expansion of railroads, leading to an oversupply and a collapse of
some of the more shakily financed, notably the bankruptcy of the
Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. A wave of bank-related failures
ensued. Bimetallism and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890
dictated that silver coins or notes were exchangeable for gold at
banks, many of which failed as customers caused a run on them
withdrawing their funds. Others redeemed their silver or silver
notes for gold. The United States eventually reached its statutory
limit for the minimum amount of gold that the Treasury could hold.
Financial disaster was averted only when President Grover Cleveland
borrowed $65 million in gold from Wall Street banker J.P.
Among the Rarest Issues in the Series
What does this have to do with the proof eagles of 1881? They, along with the 1880 eagles, are among the rarest Liberty Head eagles in the entire series in proof format. Garrett and Guth write that the "1880 proof eagle is an extremely rare and underrated date, and may be one of the rarest dates of the entire series." The authors write that the "1881 Proof eagle appears to be just as rare as the 1880 issue, at least in terms of the number of certified examples." The source for both issues' rarity is likely the Panic of 1893, as collectors raided their collections during dire financial straits. Ten dollars was a considerable sum during the era, and proof gold was available from the Mint for only a few pennies over face value to cover minting costs, so collector premiums were low.
Both sides are clearly contrasted and would likely garner a Cameo designation today, although milky patina veils parts of the yellow-orange mirrors on each side. Liberty's portrait in particular is a sharply struck and thickly frosted standout. Excellent reflectivity persists through the patina. The reverse rim shows a handful of minor copper spots, most notably at 3 and 9 o'clock.(Registry values: P3) (NGC ID# 28FK, PCGS# 8821)
Weight: 16.72 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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