1888 Half Eagle, PR66 Cameo
    Rare 19th Century Proof Gold Issue
    Ex: Trompeter

    1888 $5 PR66 Cameo NGC. Ex: Trompeter. Mintage of proof half eagles peaked in 1888, following the trend of larger and larger proof gold mintages that had continued for most of the decade. The 95 proofs struck in 1888 would remain the high-water mark for the series until 1896, however, as collector interest seemed to lessen in the early 1890s. Several of the most prominent collectors and coin dealers, like W. Elliot Woodward, R.C. Davis, and T. Harrison Garrett, died in the period between 1888 and 1894. Others, like Lorin G. Parmelee, retired from the field and sold their fabulous collections in this time frame. Coin collecting in general seemed to languish in the early 1890s, until collectors like William Woodin, John M. Clapp, and Virgil Brand really hit their stride later in the decade. Proof mintages of the time tend to reflect the uncertainty of the market, fluctuating up and down from year to year.

    As for the 95 proof half eagles struck in 1888, it seems unlikely that more than half that total was actually distributed, as experts estimate no more than 25-30 examples survive today in all grades. Two coins are included in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and another specimen is in the collection of the American Numismatic Society. The two leading grading services have recorded a total of 49 certification events between them, but this figure is inflated by a number of resubmissions and crossovers (5/15).

    Six-piece gold proof sets were being offered at auction as early as the Thomas Cleneay Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1890), where the set in lot 439 realized $46, a modest return on the $43 investment ($41.50 face value plus $.25 per coin proofing charge), but not too bad for coins that were only two years old at the time. Of course, prices have risen astronomically since that era. The current record price realized at auction for an 1888 proof half eagle is the $40,250 brought by the PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC specimen in lot 2000 of the Charlotte National Money Show Auction (Heritage, 3/2007).

    The present coin shows the date positioned low and left of center, slanting up to the right, with die polish around the eye, mouth, and ear, all Breen diagnostics for proofs. The design elements are sharply detailed, aside from a touch of softness on the curl below the ear and the arrow fletching. The pristine surfaces exhibit deeply mirrored fields that create bold cameo contrast with the frosty devices. Overall eye appeal is tremendous. Census: 3 in 66 Cameo (1 in 66 Cameo), 0 finer (5/15).
    Ex: Ed Trompeter Collection; Heritage Auctions, circa 1998; private collection.
    From The Ed Trompeter Collection of Proof $5 Liberties.(Registry values: P3) (NGC ID# 28CS, PCGS# 88483)

    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 Ed Trompeter Collection of Proof $5 Liberties ]

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    August, 2015
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