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    1875 Half Eagle, PR65 Cameo
    Seldom-Offered Rarity

    1875 $5 PR65 Cameo PCGS. As the 1875 proof half eagle's history and value are tied inextricably to its corresponding business strike issue, a recounting of the latter is in order.

    The year 1875 means a few things in U.S. numismatics, such as the transition from the use of arrows on subsidiary silver coinage that had begun in 1873. For most collectors, though, the metal that comes to mind is not silver but gold, specifically the staggeringly low mintages for circulation-strike gold coins at the Philadelphia Mint. When one looks through the figures, the temptation is to ask why the facility bothered with such token mintages at all.

    All gold denominations had unusually high mintages in 1873 or 1874, or occasionally both (as is the case with the gold dollar). Of the various values, only the double eagle, as the largest gold denomination and the only one suitable for high-volume international commerce in the metal, saw more-or-less continuous demand. With demand all but slaked by the mintages of 1873 and 1874, only token output took place in 1875: 400 business strikes for the gold dollar, 400 quarter eagles, 200 half eagles, and 100 eagles--the last three each summing up to $1,000 in face value. In the case of the three dollar gold coin, which had enjoyed a high speculative mintage in 1874, the Philadelphia Mint took the sensible approach and struck only proof coins.

    The Liberty half eagle series has its share of challenging and complex issues. Among the With Motto series, the 1875 is the lowest-mintage business strike, though the proof-only 1887 issue with a nominal mintage of 87 specimens traditionally is collected alongside the circulating series. Among No Motto issues, the 1854-S five dollar has a higher recorded mintage of 268 pieces, yet only three survivors are known. Supposedly 50 1841-O half eagles were struck as well, though no authentic representatives have turned up.

    With the combination of low mintage and massive attrition faced by the 1875 half eagle (Garrett and Guth claim that there are fewer than 10 survivors), it is little wonder that collector attention should turn toward proof examples. Despite a mintage of only 20 specimens, the existing population of proof 1875 half eagles is near-identical to that of business strikes, just under that 10-coin mark. Garrett and Guth do note, however, that several of the proof 1875 half eagles have been locked away in institutional cabinets, including a pair of them in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian and another held by the American Numismatic Society.

    This PR65 Cameo specimen, in this holder, does not appear in Heritage's records of past auction appearances. Speaking of past appearances, Heritage has not offered a proof 1875 half eagle at auction since 2001, a testament to the issue's rarity. This Cameo Gem proof has magnificent reflectivity and field-to-device contrast on yellow-orange surfaces. A fade on Liberty's descending curl is typical among other observed examples and speaks for the coin rather than against it. A few faint skiffs of patina float on each side and minor planchet flaws appear near stars 12 and 13, potential pedigree markers. Though inspection under magnification reveals a handful of long, wispy faults, this remains a well-preserved coin of tremendous importance that would have a place of honor in any collection of U.S. gold coinage. Only the strongest bidder for this lot will not have to worry about when the chance to own a proof 1875 half eagle will come again.
    From the collection of Donald E. Bently, sold for the benefit of the Bently Foundation.(Registry values: P8) (NGC ID# 28CC, PCGS# 88470)

    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 collection of Donald E. Bently, sold for the benefit of the Bently Foundation ]

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    Auction Dates
    January, 2014
    8th-12th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 14
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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