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    1899 Ultra Cameo PR68 Five Dollar
    A Proof Type Coin of Incomparable Beauty

    1899 $5 PR68 Ultra Cameo NGC. The current coin is tangible evidence that the U.S. Mint at the end of the 19th century had the capability to produce proof coinage of comparable quality to that of modern issues. How such a coin managed to survive in nearly perfect condition for over 100 years is mind boggling, especially considering that only 99 proof half eagles were struck in 1899. Since the hobby of coin collecting at the turn of that century was limited by today's standards in terms of education, the mishandling and improper storage of coins was ubiquitous. Many pieces, even proofs that were produced for the sole benefit of dedicated numismatists, were cleaned or even placed into jewelry. Others were actually spent during various economic downturns since, at that time, the financial premium for a proof half eagle was not much greater than the face value. Imagine the handling of an estate of coins in the early 1900s. An 1899 proof half eagle would have been the equivalent, loosely speaking, of a modern single proof coin sold as part of an estate today. Such coins would have been either purchased for little to no premium or returned to circulation. The 1890 revised edition of George G. Evans' Illustrated History of the United States Mint notes that: "Single gold pieces, in proof, are sold at twenty-five cents each above their intrinsic value." And we must also remember that the grading of proof coinage in the early 1900s was simply "proof," with attention rarely given to superior specimens. Superb Gem proof issues, such as the piece offered here, would typically have been treated no differently than a lackluster coin.
    With the aforementioned statements regarding the handling of proof gold issues in mind, we turn to an analysis of the NGC Census Report and the PCGS Population Report. As of (3/08), the combined number of proof 1899 half eagles certified at both services is 59 coins, regardless of the grade or cameo designation. But that number is misleading. Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth opine in their Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins (2006): "The number of coins seen by the grading services is obviously inflated by resubmissions, but there are still around 35 to 40 coins known in all grades." The submission of a coin several times with the optimism of receiving a higher grade typically occurs at the higher grade levels where the cost versus reward differential is the greatest. For this reason it is likely that the majority of the artificially high population numbers exist at the PR66 and higher grades. At NGC a total of 13 coins in the entire series of Liberty half eagles (1839-1908) have been granted the PR68 Ultra Cameo designation, with four of those being 1899 fives, according to the Census Report. Only one example has ever earned the almost inconceivable grade of PR69 Ultra Cameo at NGC-a solitary 1900 coin. The exact number of 1899 half eagles existing at the PR68 Ultra Cameo level is unknown, but it is highly likely that the reported figure of four pieces is incorrect.
    This splendid proof example shows the expected deeply mirrored fields. Both sides, but especially the reverse, show the rippling, orange-peel effect seen on proof gold struck in the latter part of the 19th century. The devices are heavily frosted and the combination of frost and deep reflectivity in the fields produces a coin of incomparable beauty. The only flaw we see on this magnificent piece is a shallow planchet flake out of the reverse scroll between IN and GOD. (Registry values: P2) (NGC ID# 28D5, PCGS# 98494)

    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
    April, 2008
    16th-18th Wednesday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 24
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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