1863 $20 Cameo PF-65 NGC
James B. Longacre, Designer
Obverse: Head of Liberty facing left, wearing a bejeweled coronet on which LIBERTY is emblazoned; around, thirteen stars; below, 1863.
Reverse: Heraldic eagle, head facing left, with spread wings and shield emblazoned on its chest holding olive branch and three arrows in its talons; above, an oval of thirteen stars amidst rays of Glory; around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; below, TWENTY D.
Condition: NGC Proof 65 Cameo (Certificate number: 1963253-013 Photo Proof 10-07 "...tied with just two others as the finest Cameo pieces certified by NGC."; previous Photo Proof 07-06 [number 1633877-039]) "...tied with just two others as the finest certified by NGC.").
Excellent, rich orange-peel surfaces, with crisply defined cameo contrast against nearly "black" deeply-mirrored fields with minimal hairlines. Insignificant planchet specks between the last star and head of Liberty, a 'smudge' of inclusions above the eagle's head, and a minuscule 'accent' above the T of TWENTY, confirm the amazing pedigree of this gem.
References: This Coin Published: Breen (Proofs) p. 122; Akers (1982) p. 65; Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 495; Bowers (Guide Book of Double Eagles) p. 108, this piece illustrated. Other references: Breen (Encyclopedia) 7215. (PCGS 89075)
Condition Census: One of the finest known, NGC cites one example of equivalent grade (with a star), and one finer; PCGS has graded none this fine (Proof-64 Cameo, finest). (07-13)
Rarity: Extremely rare, only thirty proofs were produced. Walter Breen (Proofs) was able to pinpoint ten specific examples, a figure that he slightly expanded (12-15) in his Encyclopedia. Breen quoted from coin dealer S. Hudson Chapman (though cautioned as to the veracity),who had been told by John F. McCoy (a prominent collector in the 1860s) that "he knew only 30 pieces were struck and of these some were remelted at the mint." Akers estimated a survival of 11 to 12 pieces, an estimate with which Garrett and Guth essentially agree (including those in the Smithsonian and American Numismatic Society Collections); they also note that in addition to the impaired examples, the population estimates are skewed by multiple re-submissions. Regardless, the present lot, formerly in the collections of Harry Bass and Gaston DiBello, has been cited as one of the very finest known, exceeding in grade even the lovely (Cameo Proof 64 NGC CAC) Henry Miller specimen (ex Johns Hopkins University, Garrett [1976, lot 404] and Ely collections [though not so-noted in the catalogue]), whose catalogue description noted presently offered coin as a noteworthy example.
Provenance: Harry W. Bass Collection, Part II, Bowers and Merena, October 2-4, 1999, lot 1759, Proof-64 PCGS, "Dazzling ... A Fantastic Rarity ... None Finer Graded" ($66,700); Gaston DiBello Collection, Stack's, May 14-16, 1970, lot 1224.
Note: The double eagle was created as a result of the huge discoveries of gold in California in 1848 and the ensuing Gold Rush. It was an event that put the United States on the map as a world power of immense wealth and with an unlimited future. However, just over a decade later the Civil War rocked the optimism of the nation to its core.
It seems difficult to imagine that the United States government, mid-way through one of the most traumatic and tragic episodes in American history, continued to make Proof coins for collectors. Even though they were made in extremely limited quantities, most remained unsold and were later melted. In addition to the wartime drag on the economy, beginning in 1862 the Mint required all purchasers of Proof gold coins to buy complete sets only, making their acquisition that much more expensive. And, to make the transaction ever more difficult, the Mint required that the gold Proofs had to be paid for in gold (or a gold draft) as the then circulating paper money was valued at a discount.