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    1884 Half Eagle, PR66 Ultra Cameo
    Extremely Rare and Underrated
    The Sole Finest Known

    1884 $5 PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC. "Proofs are very rare and have appeared at auction less often than proofs of any other date after 1880." -- David Akers, United States Gold Coins Analysis of Auction Records, Volume IV (1979).

    The 1884 proof half eagle has an unbroken century-long history of exceptional rarity, which is yet to be fully appreciated. Skewing the perceived availability of this issue are artificially inflated certification figures (20 submissions at PCGS and NGC combined (11/17) ), and an unrealistically high survival estimate by PCGS of 25 to 30 coins. In reality, there are likely only 12 to 15 pieces known, and most have not been seen at auction in more than a decade. With a reported mintage of 48 coins, this begs the question, as Walter Breen phrased it in his proof Encyclopedia, "What happened to the rest?"

    The most plausible explanation is that most of the 48 gold proof sets minted in 1884 -- which were the sole mode of distribution for 1884 proof half eagles -- were never released to collectors, being either melted as unsold at the end of the year or possibly released into circulation and lost. As early as 1890, gold 1884 proof sets began appearing at auction in prominent collections that were assembled during the time when 1884 proofs could be purchased from the Mint. Original sets in the Cleneay (1890), Mougey (1910), David S. Wilson (1907), and James B. Wilson (1908) sales were offered intact, while those in Wolcott (1901) and Ten Eyck (1922) were sold as individual coins. The Clapp, Garrett, N.M. Kaufman, and Walter H. Childs Collections, formed during this period but held intact until recent years, contained the only other 1884 gold proof sets known or believed to have been acquired directly from the Mint. Including a set owned by J.P. Morgan that was later donated to the ANS, just 11 different original 1884 gold proof sets are definitively known to have been in the hands of collectors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, plus a 12th in the Mint Cabinet. This distribution estimate is strikingly similar to our current roster of proof 1884 half eagles, which lists 13 different specimens, including three housed in the Smithsonian (2) and the ANS (1) museums. Due to poor plate quality in some of the catalogs examined, one or two duplications may exist in our census. However, we are confident that there are likely no more than 12 to 15 proof 1884 half eagles known.

    This piece surfaced in public auctions a decade ago with no accurately traceable pedigree. NGC lists a numerically equal non-Cameo proof, which has either never been offered at auction or is an upgrade from one of the lesser coins in our census, but this piece is without doubt the finest Ultra or Deep Cameo known. Deeply mirrored fields and sharp, frosty devices produce cameo contrast reminiscent of a freshly struck proof. Faint die polishing lines in the fields are visible at certain angles under a loupe, not to be confused with hairline scratches. Technically and visually the finest that the 1884 proof half eagle issue has to offer.

    In his proof Encyclopedia, Breen called the 1884 proof five "one of the great sleepers of the decade." In our opinion, it remains highly underrated. Recent auction appearances are so few that no reliable pattern is discernible for how often an 1884 proof half eagle will come on the market. Being the finest known of this extremely rare issue, the present Premium Gem Ultra Cameo may just represent a now-or-never bidding opportunity.

    Roster of Proof 1884 Half Eagles
    1.) PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3569; Zurich Collection; Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 11/2010), lot 5130; The present coin.
    2.) PR65 Deep Cameo PCGS. Purchased directly from the Mint as part of a six-piece gold proof set by T. Harrison Garrett on 2/7/1884; Robert Garrett; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection (Stack's, 3/1976), lot 484; Auction '79 (Paramount, 7/1979), lot 319; Ed Trompeter Collection; Heritage Auctions, circa 1998; private collection; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2015), lot 4375.
    3.) PR65 Ultra Cameo NGC. Believed to have been purchased from the Mint by Walter H. Childs (1884); Walter H. Childs Collection (Bowers and Merena, 8/1999), lot 748; Sale of the Millennium (Bowers and Merena, 8/2000), lot 2289; ANA Signature (Heritage, 3/2008), lot 1512.
    4.) PR65 PCGS. Theodore Ullmer Collection (Stack's, 5/1974), lot 457; Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, Part IV (Bowers and Merena, 11/2000), lot 548.
    5.) Proof 65. Auction '89 (Superior, 7/1989), lot 899.
    6.) PR64 Deep Cameo PCGS. John H. Clapp; Clapp Estate to Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (1942); Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 563; Auction '88 (RARCOA, 7/1988), lot 1921; Santa Clara Signature (Heritage, 11/2002), lot 7654; Internet Auction (Heritage, 1/2003), lot 11486; ANA Signature (Heritage, 3/2003), lot 6320; Internet Auction (Heritage, 4/2003), lot 13632.
    7.) Choice Proof. Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 5/1998), lot 1061.
    8.) PR63 Cameo NGC. Frontenac (Bowers and Merena, 11/1991), lot 2373.
    9.) PR63 PCGS. Rogers M. Fred, Jr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1995), lot 2082.
    10.) Proof. N.M. Kaufman Collection (RARCOA, 8/1978), lot 848, as part of a complete six-piece proof set, offered separately. Rim mark at upper obverse.
    11.) PR64 Deep Cameo. Smithsonian Institution. (Grade per Garrett and Guth)
    12.) PR64 Deep Cameo. Smithsonian Institution. (Grade per Garrett and Guth)
    13.) Proof. J.P. Morgan; American Numismatic Society.

    Additional Appearances
    A.) Proof. Thomas Cleneay (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1890), lot 435, as part of a complete six-piece proof set.
    B.) Proof. Edmund R. Wolcott (Ed Frossard, 5/1901), lot 410, as part of a complete six-piece proof set, offered separately.
    C.) Proof. David S. Wilson (S.H. Chapman, 3/1907), lot 344, as part of a complete six-piece proof set.
    D.) Proof. James B. Wilson (Thomas Elder, 10/1908), lot 68, as part of a complete six-piece proof set; Virgil Brand.
    E.) Proof. Peter Mougey (Thomas Elder, 9/1910), lot 1249, as part of a partial (five-piece) proof set.
    F.) Proof. James Ten Eyck (B. Max Mehl, 5/1922), lot 249, as part of a partial (four-piece) proof set, offered separately.
    G.) Proof. W.F. Dunham (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 2163, as part of a partial (four-piece) proof set, offered separately.
    H.) Proof. J.F. Bell (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 408, as part of a partial (five-piece) proof set, offered separately.
    I.) Proof. World's Greatest Collection (Kosoff, 1/1946), lot 438, as part of a partial (four-piece) proof set, offered separately; Memorable Collection (Kosoff, 3/1948), lot 384.
    J.) Proof. William Cutler Atwater (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 1705, as part of a complete six-piece proof set, offered individually.
    K.) Proof. King Farouk (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 258.
    L.) Proof. ANA Sale (Paramount, 8/1969), lot 2021.(Registry values: P4) (NGC ID# 28CM, PCGS# 98479)

    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
    January, 2018
    3rd-8th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 10
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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