1891 $20 Ultra Cameo PF-68★ NGC
James B. Longacre, William Barber, designers
Obverse: Head of Liberty facing left, wearing a bejeweled coronet on which LIBERTY is emblazoned; around, thirteen stars; below, 1891.
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, IN GOD WE / TRUST in two lines within an oval of thirteen stars amidst rays of Glory; around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; below, TWENTY DOLLARS.
Condition: NGC Proof 68★ Ultra Cameo (Certificate number: 1963253-015 Photo Proof 10-07; previous certificate number [on or before 11-05]: 1704497-001).
An absolutely amazing, nearly indescribable gem of the first water. An intense, razor-sharp strike, fathomless, mirrored surfaces with devices that are as richly and fully frosted as can be imagined. A minuscule (mint-caused) dimple on Liberty's cheek is diagnostic, which with an infinitesimal (also mint-caused) depression to the right of the upper serif of the F in OF serve as pedigree points of identification. Virtually as perfect as the day it left the dies. Immaculate, and by consensus without peer.
References: This Coin Published: Breen (Proofs) p. 192, 7; Akers (1982) p. 199; Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 505 ("Finest Proof $20 ever seen."); Bowers (Guide Book of Double Eagles) p. 183, this piece illustrated . Other references: Breen (Encyclopedia) 7307. (PCGS 99107)
Condition Census: The finest known, not only for the date, but for the entire Liberty Head series (1850-1907): Jeff Garrett has lauded it as the "The finest Proof $20 ever seen." Needless to say, this is the finest graded by NGC, and PCGS has graded none finer than Proof 66. A review of the combined census reports for both NGC and PCGS reveals that of the more than one million Liberty Head double eagles graded (both proof and business strikes) a mere six have been graded as 68, and this example gains pride of place as the only example with the star designation; simply put, no Liberty Head double eagle has ever been certified as perfectly preserved as this coin. (07-13)
Rarity: Extremely rare, one of the key dates of the entire denomination, with a mere 1,390 business strikes and 52 proofs produced. Breen (Proofs) specifically identified fourteen examples (including the present lot); Akers (1982) estimated a survival of 20 to 25 pieces, an estimate with which more recently Garrett and Guth have concurred. Regardless of the number of survivors of the date, this specimen, which has been published as the most perfectly preserved of all Liberty head proof double eagles is, for all intents and purposes, unique.
Provenance: The Clausen Family Collection, Heritage, January 5, 2006, lot 3581, PR68★ Ultra Cameo NGC (11-05)[certificate number: 1704497-001], "Spectacular ... phenomenal ... virtually flawless" ($299,000); Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, Part II, Bowers and Merena, October 2-4, 1999, lot 1906 Proof-67 PCGS, "Memorable ... incredible ... no peer" ($166,750); Gaston DiBello Collection, Stack's, May 14-16, 1970, lot 1281; believed to be (according to Breen [Proofs]) "A Memorable Collection" [Jacob Shapiro/J.F. Bell], Numismatic Galleries [Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg], March 1-2, 1948, lot 711.
Note: The 1891 Double Eagle displays the third and last design change for the Liberty head double eagles. In 1877 the reverse design was altered to spell out the denomination in full: TWENTY DOLLARS. Since the denomination's inception as a circulating coin in 1850, for reasons unknown the value had only been abbreviated TWENTY D. It may be that Mint officials used the abbreviated version to keep a degree of uniformity with the other then-circulating denominations (quarter eagle through eagle) which also abbreviated the word dollar (of course the tiny gold dollar, which was developed as a contemporary of the double eagle, had the word spelled out in full from the start, as did the three dollar gold piece). The larger size of the double eagle planchet would certainly have not been an impediment to spelling it out in full (as the re-design in 1877 proves). In 1891 the design had another 16 years to run before Theodore Roosevelt hatched his plan to have Saint-Gaudens design a coin worthy of the ancients (though ironically the inspiration for Liberty's portrait on this coin was the enormous cult statue heads of the ancient Romans).