1870 $20 Ultra Cameo PF-67 NGC
James B. Longacre, Designer
Obverse: Head of Liberty facing left, wearing a bejeweled coronet on which LIBERTY is emblazoned; around, thirteen stars; below, 1870.
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, the motto, IN GOD WE TRUST within an oval of thirteen stars amidst rays of Glory; around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; below, TWENTY D.
Condition: NGC Proof 67 Ultra Cameo (Certificate number: 1963253-014 Photo Proof 10-07; previous Photo Proof 01-07 [number 1560799-001]).
A superb coin with incredible, deeply mirrored fields, rich orange-peel effect and intense and nearly perfect cameo devices. Fresh dies, a faint pair of mint-caused specks that flank the lowest point of the ninth star serve to identify this example, as does a tiny inclusion through the arrowheads. The apparent planchet flake at 10 o'clock on the reverse, breaks in the frost on some of the reverse lettering, and the 'dimple' on Liberty's cheek are characteristics apparently shared by all specimens.
References: This Coin Published: Breen (Proofs) p. 140, 5; Akers (1982) p. 93; Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 498; this coin used to illustrate the date on the NGC Coin Explorer website. Other references: Breen (Encyclopedia) 7234; Bowers (Guide Book of Double Eagles) p. 130, (PCGS 99085).
Condition Census: The finest known, NGC lists no other examples this perfectly preserved; PCGS lists none this fine (Proof 65 cameo the finest). In fact, an examination of the combined population reports of both services reveals that this coin is tied with only one other as the finest known specimen of the entire design type. A splendid coin with a fantastic pedigree. (07-13)
Rarity: Exceptionally rare, thirty-five proofs are recorded as having been made. Breen (Proofs) was only able to trace the whereabouts of eight examples, more accurately seven, as he noted two coins that were probably identical; he later refined this figure to 10 to 12; Akers (1982) estimated that "no more than 10 proofs still exist" (a figure which falls midway in Bowers assessment [A Guidebook of Double Eagle Gold Coins]); Garrett and Guth, in their Encyclopedia note an example in the American Numismatic Society (ex J.P. Morgan and Brock Collections), two in the Smithsonian (neither of which is nearly as fine as this example), and estimate less than ten examples in private hands (with the population reports swollen by re-submissions). However, the recent 2011 auction of probably the second finest known example (NGC Ultra Cameo Proof 65 CAC), noted that only 4 to 5 examples were confirmed in private hands and cited (as number 1 in their census) the presently offered example as the finest known. Following its most recent (2007) auction appearance, the presently offered coin, according to the Red Book (2009 ed.), ranked among the 250 most valuable U.S. coins ever sold, and among the ten most valuable 19th century double eagles ever sold [including examples of the 1861 Paquet, 1854-O, 1856-O and 1870-CC].
Provenance: The Orlando Sale, January 2, 2007, lot 1410, Proof-66 PCGS, "Magnificent ... stunning ... superlative condition" ($368,000); Ed Trompeter Collection; Louis E. Eliasberg Collection ("The United States Gold Coin Collection"), Bowers and Ruddy, October 27-29, 1982, lot 924, Proof-65 ($28,600); "Believed to be from the John H. Clapp Collection, 1942 [via Stack's]. Earlier from the Richard Collection (New York Coin and Stamp Co., June 1899.)"
Note: In 1866 the double eagle saw its first change in design since being issued in 1850 with the addition of the motto, IN GOD WE TRUST to the reverse in the ellipse of stars above the eagle's head. Eleven years later the design was changed once again, but during this post-Civil War period demand for proof gold was minimal. Mint records indicate that a paltry 335 proof double eagles were struck of the entire design type (fewer even than the initial eight years of proof coinage of the No Motto variety).