1885 $3 Cameo PF-67 NGC
James B. Longacre, designer
Obverse: Head of Liberty facing left, wearing a feathered headdress with LIBERTY inscribed on the band; around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Reverse: 3 / DOLLARS / 1885, in three lines within wreath composed of agricultural elements bound with a bow.
Condition: NGC Proof 67 Cameo (Certificate number: 1963253-006 Photo Proof 10-07).
Well-frosted cameo devices and richly mirrored fields ripple with ample orange-peel effect; the whole lightly toned an original deep, russet-orange. Two miniscule reverse mint-caused planchet flecks between dentils and left ribbon, and near the rim at one o'clock serve as identifiers.
References: Breen (Encyclopedia) 6399; Breen (Proofs) p. 180; Akers (1976) pp. 69-70; Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 167: they note [in 2008] that "Three PF-67 examples have been certified, but none have appeared at auction..." Since then a single example (NGC PF-67 Cameo CAC) was sold in March, 2011 (PCGS 88049).
Condition Census: Tied for finest known, with, according to NGC three other coins at this level, none finer; PCGS records a single example at this grade (but lacking the cameo designation). As a matter of some interest, Garrett and Guth note that the example in the Smithsonian (which has been there since 1885) grades a full three points less than this piece. (07-13)
Rarity: Rare. A mere 800 business strikes and 110 proofs were struck for this year. However, the survival rate has been somewhat higher than would be expected. Neither Breen, in either of his works, speculated on the survival rate; nor did Akers (1976), but Bowers in the United States Gold Coin Collection (Eliasberg, 1982) was of the opinion that there are about forty known. Few, as can been seen from the condition census, can match this example for perfection of preservation. Only the second example to have been offered at auction certified at this high grade.
Provenance: The Tacasyl Collection; possibly Auction '80 (Superior), August 14-15, 1980, lot 381, Gem Brilliant Proof, "Certainly among the finest..."
Note: The Three Dollar denomination is today a collector's favorite, but while it was being produced it was barely used by the American public. Authorized in early 1853, its design was essentially an enlarged version of the Type 3 Indian Head one dollar gold piece, also by James Longacre. The reasons for creating such an odd denomination remain somewhat hazy, but the first suggestion for the denomination dates back to June, 1832. Whether historically founded or not, numismatists have suggested with some common-sense that the denomination was created to pay for large purchases of 3-cent postage stamps (100 to a sheet). Regardless of the reasoning, the denomination was never popular. (Professor John Alexander, one of the first proponents of an international coinage in the mid-1850s, called the denomination "an excrescence"). During its entire thirty-five year production from 1854 until 1889 only about 16,300 three dollar gold pieces were produced in total (compared, for example, with the nearly 600,000 Quarter Eagles struck in Philadelphia in 1854 alone). Of that total a meager 2,000 pieces were struck as proofs, and a fraction of those have survived.