1859 $20 Proof 62+ Cameo PCGS
When researching the true rarity of the 1859 double eagle as a Proof, the Breen Proof Encyclopedia discusses complete proof sets issued in 1859: "It is possible that the odd 13 (of 1513) double eagles minted Jan. 22, 1859 might have been proofs: no more twenties were coined prior to the date when the mint cabinet obtained its proof set." Breen goes on to say in April, 1859, based on expectations from previous years, as many as 50-70 complete gold proof sets could have been made. It is likely, however, many of these went unsold and found their way to the "Melter & Refiner" at a later date. Although the actual mintage is unreported by the Mint, the production of Proof 1859 double eagles is estimated at 80 pieces in the Guidebook of U.S. Coins, 50 pieces are currently reported by PCGS. Notwithstanding those amounts, currently prominent numismatists such as Akers, Jones, Garrett and Guth concur there are fewer than 10 identifiable Proof specimens that survive today in all grades.
As Garrett and Guth put it, "The high face value of most gold coins prevented all but the wealthiest of collectors from obtaining them. When times got tough, collectors often sold their collections, or spent the coins at face value including proof gold coins." This is the kind of rare gold coin that makes history-minded numismatists marvel, to think of all the hardships and economic challenges this coin's owners must have endured for this piece to survive in such a well preserved condition. A chronological list of these events would include the Civil War that began just two years after this piece was minted, in 1861. Many troubled times would follow, including the Reconstruction Period, the Panic of 1893, the Panic of 1907, two World Wars, the Great Depression, innumerable recessions and stock market crashes, any one of which might have been the cause for attrition of a Proof double eagle, whether for profit or mere survival.
The present coin, housed in a Proof 62+ Cameo PCGS holder, displays soft green-gold with deeper honey-gold colors at the center of the reverse. All details are razor sharp as is the high wire edge prominently presented on each side. Of course there are a few scattered light handling marks and hairlines in the fields, but the unquestionable deeply mirrored fields reflect nicely against the richly frosted devices. For pedigree purposes, we mention a tiny mark in the left obverse field midway between stars 1 and 2 and Liberty's chin, a couple of tiny parallel marks under star 9, and a spot in the right reverse field under the eagle's wingtip. All of the above are inconsequential compared to the remarkable aesthetic appeal of this extremely rare specimen. Considering the unmistakable popularity and resultant price increases of Proof gold (and gold in general) in recent years, we predict that this piece will result in a standout performance when it crosses the auction block.
When studying specimens that exist today, the NGC Census shows five examples including a Proof 58 that entered circulation, two in Proof 63 Cameo, and one Proof 66 Cameo. PCGS lists only one example -- this piece that was recently graded.
Based on our provenance research presented below, we believe that there may be seven or eight specimens surviving; two of the survivors are permanently housed in museum collections (Smithsonian and ANS), presumably off the market forever. Two examples are also known in complete 1859 proof sets, one set formed by the late John J. Pittman. He purchased the double eagle in 1952 for $525. In 1997, the Pittman 1859 proof set sold for $426,250. It should also be noted the 1859 proof set from the Royal Mint Museum Collection recently sold in London (3/2013) by Morton & Eden (Sotheby's) was missing the 1859 Proof $20.
1. Bonham's, (6/2014), the present coin, Proof 62+ Cameo PCGS (recently certified and the only example certified at PCGS)
2. Bowers & Ruddy, United States Gold Collection (10/1982), lot 897, Proof 65 (Uncertified) realizing $71,500. Note: This was the finer of either the Bell Collection (Stack's 1944) or the Ten Ecyk-Clapp coin. The previous owner possessed both specimens at one time, then sold one, and kept this one as the better of the two. This is believed to be the original Clapp specimen.
The following four auctions feature the same coin:
3. Superior Galleries, (2/1999), lot 3430, Proof 58 NGC, realizing $18,400
4. Bowers & Merena, (1/2000), lot 413, Proof 58 NGC, realizing $12,075
5. Heritage Auctions, (1/2004), lot 7588, Proof 58 NGC, realizing $14,375
6. Heritage Auctions, (9/2006), lot 4434. Proof 58 NGC, realizing $17,250
Ex. The Kernochan Family Collection