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    1844 Half Eagle, PR64 Cameo
    The Pittman Coin
    One of Only Two Known Examples

    1844 $5 PR64 Cameo NGC. CAC. Ex: Pittman. This is the second of a group of three remarkable proof gold coins from the Pittman collection. Along with the 1844 quarter eagle and eagle proofs, also featured in the present sale, this coin comprises a complete gold proof set for the year. The 1792 Mint Act specified only three denominations of gold, and the one, three, and twenty dollar pieces were not added until after the discovery of California gold in the late 1840s. Similar to the other 1844 proof gold coins in the current sale, only two proof half eagles are known -- the present coin, and a second piece locked away in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian. Although the Smithsonian example is graded a point higher at PR65 Cameo, the present offering certainly trumps the Smithsonian coin in terms of availability, for this is the only piece that collectors can ever hope to acquire.

    The Pittman 1844 proof set was originally accompanied by a price list printed by Manly and Orr, 45 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. The list is undated, and probably accompanied all proofs sets of the era, limited as they were. The border and title font are ornate and suggestive of a presentation purpose. The list is headlined "Complete Series of Coins of the United States of America," and the absence of the one and twenty dollar denominations allows us to place the printing date before 1849. In addition, the given weights of the silver coins reflect the pre-1853 standard. The coins are priced at face value, and the addition of a case priced at $3.08 1/2 resulted in a total price of $22.50. A century later, Pittman's purchase price for the three gold coins in the set was a mere $490 (the price for the remainder of the set was unrecorded). Needless to say, the popularity of proof sets accelerated much more rapidly in the generations succeeding Pittman's well-timed purchase.

    While the term "proof" is today ubiquitous, it was not always so. As indicated above, the circular accompanying the Pittman 1844 set merely described a "Complete Series of Coins." William E. Du Bois, as assayer at the Mint, used the term "master-coins" in Pledges of History (1846), and in 1852, the Philadelphia collector Joseph J. Mickley made the following entry in his diary for May 28: "Went to see Mr. Peale at the Mint who gave me two Proof Half Dollars of the year 1838 ... " In 1855, the cataloger of the A. C. Kline sale used "proof" to describe an 1854 silver dollar and double eagle. Mint Director James Ross Snowden, in 1860, signed a document that alternately used the terms "specimen pieces," "master-coins," and "proof coins" (see Auction Sale One Hundred, George F. Kolbe, 6/2006, lot 89). As late as 1868, Mint Director A. Loudon Snowden presented a proof set as a "sample of the coinage of 1868," (this set appeared in the October 1997 Pittman sale, lot 1713), without using the word "proof." But by now the word was well-understood, and frequently appeared in such publications as the 1867 Mickley sale catalog.

    The mintage of 340,330 half eagles for this year is high for the period, and Breen's Encyclopedia notes minor positional variances in the date for this issue. Breen further remarks that the date on the proof die was punched far to the left, and that is certainly the case here, with the foot and serif of the 1 extending as far as the left point of the bust. This is not limited to the proofs, and business strikes of the same year also exhibit a date placed to the left.

    The present coin is a jewel of the highest order, with deep yellow-gold color and a full strike. The reverse reveals a few die scratches underneath the eagle's left (facing) wing, in addition to a die defect in the second set of vertical shield stripes. The latter is curious, and appears to be the result of an errant attempt to remove a compass point (which was raised on the die). The engraver attempted to re-engrave the stripes, with mixed results.

    Proof gold is the crème de la crème of American numismatics, and opportunities such as the present are not often repeated. This is but the second appearance of an 1844 proof half eagle in nearly seventy years, and, as the only example available to collectors, a carefully considered bidding strategy is in order.
    Ex: F.C.C. Boyd; World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/946), lot 395; Jake Shapiro (a.k.a. J.F. Bell); Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 345, realized $140; John Jay Pittman Collection Part One (Akers, 10/1997), lot 833, realized $440,000 as part of a complete 1844 proof set.
    From The New Orleans Collection.(Registry values: P2)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 25ZG, PCGS# 88434)

    Weight: 8.36 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

    View all of [The New Orleans Collection ]

    View Certification Details from NGC

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2015
    22nd-26th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 12
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,488

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    17.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

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