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    Ebullient 1860 Half Eagle, PR66 Cameo
    An Important Pre-War Proof Gold Rarity

    1860 $5 PR66 Cameo NGC. Despite a stated mintage of 62 proofs, the 1860 five dollar gold is far more elusive in proof format than that figure would suggest. As Akers noted in his work on the denomination, the majority of pieces likely never left the Mint. A similar pattern appears for the 1859 and 1861 proof half eagles as well; the mintages appear high, yet those two issues are similarly elusive. In 1862, production of proof fives fell to 35 pieces, which was likely much closer to the number of specimens actually sold.
    It is perhaps unsurprising that the Mint would make a miscalculation of this kind, as proofs were not offered to the general public until 1858. In a Coin World article dated February 7, 2005, Bruce C. Goldstein and Mike Nourse, wrote about the general topic in the first of two parts to "Early Proof Coins":

    "Prior to 1858, U.S. Proof coins were primarily made as presentation pieces to dignitaries and to a few lucky souls that were close to people at the Mint. ... Starting in 1858, the United States Mint made a deliberate effort to reach out to coin collectors (there weren't very many around at the time) by producing collectible Proof coins of all the various types of coins that were minted for regular use.

    The Mint, not knowing what demand would be, likely overproduced the issue and subsequently melted the unsold remainders. The attrition of almost a century and a half claimed a number of others, and Garrett and Guth, in their 2006 work on American gold coinage, stated that "probably about 10 examples" remain today, several of which are impounded in museum collections. The number of specimens available to private collectors is very small, and the issue is an extreme rarity in the numismatic marketplace. As stated by Garrett and Guth, "It can sometimes be years between the offerings of an 1860 half eagle in Proof."
    Certified population figures further reinforce the rarity of this proof issue. NGC has graded five examples, four described as Cameo and one as Ultra Cameo; the present example is the single finest of the Cameo pieces, graded PR66 (5/08), compared to the PR64 and PR65 designations granted the other Cameo examples (and the PR64 awarded to the Ultra Cameo coin). Interestingly, the PCGS Population Report shows only a single certified example, the PR65 (no Cameo designation) that was part of the Bass collection.
    From the second part of Goldstein and Nourse, dated February 14, 2005, a meditation on early proof survival rates:

    "A final area that should be mentioned when covering the survivability of early Proof coins is discussing the likelihood of a Proof coin remaining in collectible condition from the time it was purchased until the present day. From the time they were minted until they were preserved as the collectible that you could obtain today, these coins have had a very rough life. Immediately after they were minted they were essentially loose in a drawer at the Mint available for purchase. ... It is quite amazing that any of these survive in a shape that today we call gem (Proof 65+) considering what they could have gone through."

    The elegant Cameo Premium Gem offered here, then, is one of the fortunate. It displays excellent contrast, a hallmark for the 1860 proof half eagles, and strong visual appeal. The strike is bold, and while the surfaces show a few tiny flaws (such as a small depression in the left obverse field), the overall visual appeal is remarkable, particularly when one considers the early issue. A sublimely important opportunity for the proof gold specialist who seeks to make an addition to a world-class collection. (Registry values: P6) (NGC ID# 28BV, PCGS# 88450)

    Weight: 8.36 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

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    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    26th-29th Thursday-Sunday
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