Desirable 1881 Liberty Five, PR67 Cameo1881 $5 PR67 Cameo NGC. Examples of 1881 proof fives are rarely available for sale, either privately or via public auction. The reason is simple: only 42 pieces were minted, and less than half of the total production has survived to this day. Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth comment in the Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins (2006):
"The 1881 half eagle is very rare in proof, with just 15 to 20 examples known in all grades. Of the few coins seen at auction and listed on the population studies, several are impaired. The Smithsonian example is lightly hairlined as well. Proof gold coins from this era were not always preserved with great care. Due to the high face value, many were lost after entering circulation."
Ownership of an 1881 proof half eagle, with fewer than 20 pieces extant in all grades, many of which are impaired in one fashion or another, is reserved for those individuals with much patience and financial wherewithal. Of course, a bit of luck is also beneficial, since the demand for this issue far outweighs the supply.
The current coin is clearly one of the finest known examples, if not the finest, of this elusive issue. The NGC Census Report has just two coins listed at the PR67 Cameo level, with none so graded by PCGS (11/10), and the two PR67 Cameo pieces at NGC could very well be the same coin.
The fields of this piece display the often-seen orange-peel effect, a rippling, crinkled appearance seen on many, if not most proof gold coins from the 1870s through the turn of the century. The devices are notably frosted and contrast strongly against the depth of mirrored reflectivity in the fields. High-grade proof gold is difficult to pedigree, because by definition there are few imperfections on the surfaces. On this piece it may be possible. There are two tiny planchet flakes in the obverse field by star 11, and a couple more in the reverse field below the eagle's beak. Of the few 1881 proof half eagles that we have handled during the past two decades, the current piece is superior in terms of both technical condition and aesthetic qualities.(Registry values: P3) (NGC ID# 28CJ, PCGS# 88476)
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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