1855 $1 Type 2 Ultra Cameo PF-66★ NGC
James B. Longacre, designer
Obverse: Small head of Liberty facing left, wearing an Indian headdress with LIBERTY inscribed on the band; around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Reverse: 1 / DOLLAR / 1855, in three lines within wreath composed of agricultural elements bound with a bow.
Condition: NGC Proof 66★ Ultra Cameo (Certificate number 1963253-001 Photo Proof 10-07)
A superb example with the finest details sharply struck. Rich frosted cameo effect highlighting the deeply mirrored field. Full, rich color, with only a few minuscule lint marks (as made, these are not defects), those most noticeable,one behind Liberty's head, and one below the truncation serve to identify this example. As noted by Q. David Bowers in the Eliasberg catalogue: "Lint marks are often seen among pre-1858 Proofs." An exceptional coin.
References: This Coin Published: Breen (Encyclopedia) 6040; Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 30; Garrett & Dannreuther, Significant Auction Records 1990-1999, this piece illustrated on the cover; this piece used to illustrate the type on the NGC Coin Explorer website. Other references: Breen (Proofs) p. 99; Akers (1975) pp. 37-38; Garrett & Guth (100 Greatest U.S. Coins). (PCGS 97602)
Condition Census: Tied for finest known, with, according to NGC, only one other example graded Proof 66★ Ultra Cameo, none finer; PCGS records a single example at this grade (but lacking cameo or deep cameo designations).(07-13)
Rarity: As a proof, both extremely rare as a date, and exceptionally rare as a design type. This date is lacking in the National Coin Collection in the Smithsonian where the type is represented, according to Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins) by a "harshly cleaned" 1854. Walter Breen (Proofs) postulated a population of between six and ten examples; he identified six specific examples (but the one he noted as being in the Garrett collection was an error). Akers, in the John J. Pittman catalogue (Part One, lot 866), listed eight examples (including, in error, the Smithsonian) with the possibility of a ninth, and the two major grading services agree with this figure. In addition to the Pittman coin, one is the American Numismatic Society; other examples include those formerly in the Norman Stack, Floyd Starr, and Harold Bareford collections, as well as this example, formerly in the Clapp, Eliasberg, and Trompeter collections. The Type 2 design was struck in 1854-1856 yet only a dozen or so proofs exist for the entire series, three of which are in museum collections. Nothing even close to the quality of this Gem has appeared at auction for half a decade.
Provenance: Ed Trompeter, Superior Galleries, February 25, 1992, lot 1, Gem Brilliant Proof, "... resplendent, spotless .... On the envelope in which this Trompeter coin came was the notation 'Probably the finest of 7 known'." ($148,500); Jay Miller; Louis E. Eliasberg, Bowers and Ruddy Galleries, October 27-29, 1982 lot 26, Gem Brilliant Proof-67, "A superb, magnificent example .... a legendary piece which will be forever remembered in the annals of the series.... [its] condition sets it apart from nearly all, if not completely all of its rare companions." ($62,700); John H. Clapp Collection, 1942 (via Stack's); Elmer S. Sears, April 1909.
Note: Authorized by the Coinage Act of March 3, 1849, the gold dollar, like the double eagle, was created as a result of the vast discoveries of gold in California. Although the concept for a gold dollar coin reaches back to Alexander Hamilton's original blueprint for our nation's monetary system in 1791, it wasn't until the mid-nineteenth century that it saw the light of day. Congress forced the Mint to design and strike the denomination despite lengthy resistance from Mint Director Robert Patterson (a series of pattern gold dollars was produced in 1836). In 1849, the Mint's Chief Engraver, James B. Longacre was entrusted with designing the new denomination, whose obverse head of Liberty was enlarged and later used for the obverse of the double eagle through 1907. In the end the original design was doomed to failure, primarily because of its size (13mm) which was deemed too small for convenience.
1853 saw a change of leadership and the new Mint director, James Snowden, oversaw the change of design of the gold dollar, which he felt was too small and thick. Longacre was again entrusted with the new design (which this time resembled the newly invented denomination, the three dollar gold piece). Liberty was no longer seen as a neo-classical effigy, but an Indian princess wearing a feathered headdress in the style of 17th century Virginia. The planchet was thinned and spread to 15mm, which, with slightly higher relief cut for the head of Liberty, created technical difficulties in manufacture. The metal would not flow as intended and as a result there was an inability to properly strike up the designs, leaving the central details soft and unsatisfactory. These flaws were corrected by yet another, this time successful, redesign in 1856, which was used until the discontinuation of the denomination in 1889.
The Type 2 gold dollar has always held a certain allure for collectors, and the exceptionally rare proofs, because of the care with which they were produced, may be said to be the only examples of that design which show just what Longacre had intended; and none more so than this example, which is one of the very finest of the survivors.