1885 $2.5 Cameo PF-68 NGC
Christian Gobrecht, designer
Obverse: Head of Liberty facing left, her hair in an elaborate chignon with long curls trailing down her neck, wearing a coronet on which LIBERTY is emblazoned; around, thirteen stars; below, 1885.
Reverse: Displayed eagle, head facing left, with shield emblazoned on its chest holding olive branch and three arrows in its talons; around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; below, 2½ D.
Condition: NGC Proof 68 Cameo (Certificate number: 1963253-003 Photo Proof 10-07; previous Photo Proof 01-07 [number 959009-004]).
Rich, orange peel surfaces of deep red-gold. Deeply frosted devices accentuate amazing deeply mirrored fields. A tiny obverse planchet flake in front of Liberty's face and faint reverse lint mark behind the eagle's head are identifiers, otherwise nearly perfect.
References: This Coin Published: Garrett and Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 129; this piece used to illustrate the NGC Coin Explorer website. Other references: Breen (Encyclopedia) 6304; Breen (Proofs) pp. 179-180; Akers (1975) p. 177. (PCGS 87911)
Condition Census: The finest known, with none even approaching its perfection. NGC notes a pair in Proof 67, while PCGS has graded none finer than Proof 66. Garrett and Guth cite this specific example as the finest graded (but record the incorrect price realized in 2007); significantly finer than either of the two in the National Coin Collection (the best of which has been graded by Garrett and Guth as Proof 65). (07-13)
Rarity: Extremely rare. 1885 is one of the rarest and most coveted dates in the coronet quarter eagle series. With a mere 800 business strikes it is one of only about a half dozen dates with a mintage below a thousand. Of the 87 examples that were struck as Proofs, Breen (Proofs) speculated a survival of only about thirty pieces of which he noted "many impaired;" Akers (1975) did not suggest a survival rate, but agreed with Breen that "most proofs I have seen were marked up or even circulated." He went on to note that "Gem quality proofs are very rare, certainly more so than other proofs with comparable mintages." Garrett and Guth suggest only "perhaps 20 or so" still survive, and this example, comfortably the most perfectly preserved, is the clear exception to the rule of impairment cited by the renowned authors above.
Provenance: Dr. Robert J. Loewinger Collection, Heritage, January 4, 2007, lot 3108, Pr 68 Cameo NGC, "... phenomenal ... unquestionably the finest graded [10-06]" ($48,875); probably Superior Galleries, Pre-Fun 04, January 6, 2004, lot 805.
Note: In 1859, the reverse design was modified ever so slightly; the lettering and arrowheads were marginally reduced in size and the most obvious visual difference with the earlier issues is the shortening and thickening of the letters' serifs.
Although it seems incredible today, in 1885, the year the Washington Monument (after 36 years of construction) was dedicated, the price of a complete gold proof set (one dollar through double eagle) ordered directly from the Philadelphia Mint in 1885 was $43 (and the face value of the coins was $41.50). Yet despite these 'bargain' prices, few sets were sold, as it was still a significant expenditure for the average American. However, in the 1880s mintage figures marginally increased for the lower denominations which could now be ordered separately (a Quarter Eagle sold for only twenty-five cents above face value [plus shipping and handling]) and were more affordable. Still, the aftermarket for proofs was sluggish and eventually some were simply spent.