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    Elusive 1874 Liberty Five, PR65 Cameo

    1874 $5 PR65 ★ Cameo NGC. The year was 1874. The first speculative mania for rare U.S. coins, fueled by the retirement of the "old copper" cents and half cents and the formation of fraternal societies dedicated to numismatics, was less than two decades old.
    Despite the passion for all things numismatic, there were numerous obstacles to collecting. The Civil War, and the fears and insecurities it engendered, ensured that first gold and silver--and finally even copper--disappeared from circulation, replaced only by scrip, tokens, rag paper, and other inferior substitutes. It would be the late 1870s before gold, silver, and paper money finally achieved "parity" (or interexchangeability).
    Supply imbalances of the precious metals at different times in the 19th century also meant that first silver, then later gold, would be relatively overvalued and subjected to melting and exportation. The "Crime of '73" legislated the Seated Liberty silver dollar out of existence and introduced an overweight (and hence overvalued) Trade dollar, ensuring that it would not circulate domestically, while tying the United States to a de facto gold standard.
    But collecting of gold from circulation was difficult with so few pieces circulating, and few collectors had the means necessary to buy the rare proof gold coins produced yearly at the Philadelphia Mint--particularly of the larger denominations, the half eagle through double eagle.
    It is against this numismatic backdrop that the 1874 proof gold coinage mintages saw paltry productions recorded at 20 pieces each, ranging from the one dollar gold through the double eagle. It is unknown how many pieces were melted at year's end as unsold, as was tradition in those days. At least two complete gold proof sets were issued; one now resides in the Smithsonian Institution and a second in the ANS Collection, with all other sets "broken up long since," per Breen's Proof Encyclopedia. Breen calls the 1874 proof half eagle "almost a forgotten rarity," perhaps due to its proximity to the several fabulous 1875-dated gold rarities.
    Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth estimate that perhaps 10 pieces exist today of the issue. They declare the 1874 proof half eagle "just as rare" as the 1875, which they acclaim as "one [of] the great classic rarities of U.S. gold coinage." Our records show only 10 auction offerings (with duplicates) in the past 30 years among all firms, including one impaired proof graded Proof 55 and only a single example, a PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC piece, in a numerically finer grade than the present PR65 Cameo example. Another NGC specimen is graded PR65 Ultra Cameo, and those three are the only examples certified at NGC. PCGS contributes a mere three PR64 examples, with none certified in Cameo or Deep Cameo, for a total of six certified plus the two institutional pieces, leading one to believe that the number of survivors could perhaps be even smaller than 10 coins.
    This is a beautiful, rich reddish-golden proof. The fields are exceptionally deep in their mirrored reflectivity and they provide a bright, sparkling backdrop to the frosted devices. Each side is virtually free from post-striking impairments. A rarely offered piece of proof gold and an equally rare opportunity for the specialist.
    From The Las Vegas Collection, Part Two.(Registry values: P4) (NGC ID# 3ZLP, PCGS# 88469)

    Weight: 8.36 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

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

    View all of [The Las Vegas Collection, Part Two ]

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    Auction Dates
    January, 2011
    5th-9th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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