Proof 1876-CC Dime To Be Auctioned
by Greg Reynolds
In Orlando, on the evening of Saturday, Jan. 5, 2008, Superior Galleries will offer the only Carson City Mint dime, of any date, that has been certified as a Proof! It is an 1876-CC dime that has been graded Proof-65 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). As will be explained below, it is definitely a Proof.
Photo used courtesy of Superior Galleries
In regard to the Proof status of this dime, it is important to note that the fields are mirrored, and that many design elements (including numerals) are ‘squared,’ which means that these were ‘struck up’ such that they are relatively perpendicular to the adjacent fields (flat areas). Further, the dies employed to strike this 1876-CC dime were heavily polished for the purpose of creating at least one aesthetically superior coin. Crucially, it was struck more than once to bring about additional detail.
In a public and widely read Internet forum, one prominent and respected researcher (RWB) boldly declared, in a discussion related to this very dime, that for a coin to be a Proof, it must have been struck on the medals press, not a coin press. There were probably no medals presses at the U.S. Branch Mints in the late 19th century. RWB went on to say that Proofs could not have been struck at any U.S. Branch Mint before 1915. A medals press expends more pressure than a coin press, and is ‘set up’ differently.
If I have properly identified him, I beleive RWB is best known for writing articles and books that stem from his historical and archival research, rather than from the examination of coins themselves.
RWB’s theory is far outside of the traditions and definitions central to the history of coin collecting in the United States. Walter Breen and David Akers, two of the foremost coin experts of all time, have both declared a substantial number and a wide variety of coins to be definite Proofs that were not struck on medals presses. These include 1894-San Francisco dimes and many Philadelphia Mint silver coins from the 1820s, plus 1838-O half dollars, among other issues.
Of all the experts that have closely examined the Parmelee 1844-O Eagle ($10 gold coin), none have challenged its Proof status. It was PCGS certified as Proof-64 and is now NGC certified ‘Proof-65 Ultra Cameo.’ I am not aware of any evidence that it was struck in Philadelphia. Did the New Orleans Mint have a medals press in 1844?
Andy Lustig, a former owner of this dime, asserts that its Proof status “is as convincing as any Branch Mint Proof, including 1893-CC and 1879-O silver dollars, which are generally considered to be unquestionable Proofs.” Of the leading one hundred coin graders in the nation, I probably know more than half of them, including Lustig. My impression is that no widely regarded expert grader has ever questioned that there exist Proof 1893-CC and Proof 1879-O Morgans. Some such coins fulfill all Proof criteria.
Matt Kleinsteuber is a leading grader and coin analyst. He examines almost every single rare U.S. coin that is offered in major coin auctions. For NFC Coins, he competitively bids on a large number of them, and is certainly a player on the auction circuit. Kleinsteuber asserts that, in his “opinion, most of the Branch Mint Proofs that have been certified by PCGS or NGC are true Proofs.” Kleinsteuber cites particular “1879-O Morgan dollars and 1894-S dimes” as examples of “obvious Proofs,” and adds that “it just does not make a lot of difference whether these coins were struck on a medals press.”
In order for a coin to be a Proof, it does not need to exhibit all plausible Proof characteristics for a coin of the respective type. I am certain that many Philadelphia Mint Proof coins, especially nickel and silver Proofs from the 1880s, were not fully struck, though these were struck on medals presses. Kleinsteuber concurs and adds that he has “seen many 19th century Proof silver coins that are weakly struck.”
The use of a medals press does not ensure that a coin will have more detail, or any other superior characteristics, than it would have if it were struck on a press that is used for routine coinage. A coin struck several times on a coinage press, for the purpose of bringing up more detail, will usually be extremely sharp.
There is not space here for a full discussion of the criteria that defines a Proof. I maintain that my definition, incompletely sketched below, is very consistent with the traditions of U.S. coin collecting and the technical realities relating to U.S. coins struck from around 1820 to around 1930.
(1) For a coin to be a Proof, it must have been struck more than once for the purpose of bringing about greater detail than is (or would be) found on business strikes of the same type. (2) The dies must have been deliberately given a different finish that distinguishes the resulting coins from business strikes, with the idea of greater OR markedly different aesthetic appeal. (3) Proofs usually exhibit qualitatively different relationships between the devices (raised design elements) and the adjacent fields (flat areas). This third factor is hard to explain, especially since the nature and magnitude of such relationships vary among types or even among Proof coins of the same type.
(4) The overall look of a coin is a factor in the determination of a Proof. This is not a necessary condition, as a coin does not need to possess what most experts would regard as a ‘strong Proof look’ to be a Proof, and many coins that look like Proofs at first glance are not Proofs. When a coin lacks some other proof characteristics, however, the overall look may be a strong factor in determining its Proof status. There are additional criteria, including factors relating to the planchet (prepared blank), but these are less important than the four factors just mentioned. No one factor is sufficient to demonstrate that a coin is a Proof. The first factor is necessary in all but a few strange cases.
To most experts who have examined a great many 19th century Proof coins, it is readily apparent that the Richmond, Eliasberg, Norweb, and BRS 1894-San Francisco dimes are all Proofs. Indeed, it is almost certain that all 1894-S dimes were struck as Proofs. Some have been worn or mishandled in ways such that their Proof status cannot be fully evaluated. The higher grade 1894-S dimes, however, clearly have strong mirror surfaces, evidence of multiple strikes, at least some design elements in relatively high relief, and an overall look of Proofs, plus other Proof characteristics.
I am fortunate enough to have been able to closely examine the unique Proof 1855-S quarter and the unique Proof 1855-S Three Dollar gold piece, plus the only Proof 1855-S half dollar that has been seen in many decades. Indisputably, all three of these are Proofs. There is no need for them to have been struck on a medals press, and it is likely that these were struck on coins presses.
The prominent collector who refers to himself as ‘TradeDollarNut’ has publicly stated recently that the PCGS refused to certify the above-mentioned 1855-S quarter and half as Proofs, when these two coins were first submitted to PCGS. If so, this is a very misleading point.
For one or more time periods during the history of PCGS, some apparent Proofs were not PCGS certified as Proofs unless there were government records that indicated that Proof coins were struck during the year and at the Mint indicated on the respective coin. I have heard, from a former PCGS grader, that this policy, of requiring historical documentation, still pertains to coins dating from 1916 to 1930 that are claimed to be Proofs or Specimen Strikings.
Within the ranks of PCGS, there were always conflicting opinions regarding this policy, and exceptions were made. My guess is that most or all PCGS experts were always in agreement that the three above-mentioned 1855-S coins had the physical characteristics of Proofs. If it true that the 1855-S quarter and half were ever denied Proof designations, I hypothesize that it would have been because of the absence of historical documentation.
Eventually, both the PCGS and the NGC certified all three above-mentioned 1855-S coins as Proofs. Long before the PCGS and the NGC were founded, leading experts in more than one era were certain that this 1855-S quarter and at least two 1855-S half dollars were Proofs. Besides, the Proof 1855-S quarter has more Proof qualifications than quite a few Philadelphia Mint Proof Liberty Seated Quarters that were (probably) struck on medals presses.
There are several 19th century coins for which strong logical arguments could be put forth either way regarding their respective Proof status. I have never heard, nor can I easily imagine, a strong set of arguments that challenges the Proof status of the unique PCGS certified Proof 1876-CC dime.
It has been regarded as a Proof ever since it was purchased at auction by Andy Lustig in 1983. Lustig later “sold it to a client.” In 1987 or 1988, Lustig arranged for a New York dealer to offer this dime. This dealer does not generally wish for his name to be mentioned. He submitted it to PCGS and it was then certified as a Proof.
During the 1990s, Jay Parrino owned it for several years. Curiously, this unique Proof 1876-CC dime has never been in an epic collection. Important coins with very famous pedigrees generally command much more attention. As Parrino is widely recognized and he owned it for a substantial period of time, it might be fair to call it the Parrino 1876-CC dime.
The Superior Galleries cataloguer does not mention any of the previous owners of the coin, nor does he provide any information about the consignor, “Irene,” other than to imply that it is the consignor’s belief that that there is another Proof 1876-CC dime in the collection of the Smithsonian. I am skeptical about this point. I would be surprised, though not frightfully shocked, if it turns out that the Smithsonian contains a Proof 1876-CC dime.
In terms of concluding whether coins are Proofs, the late researcher Walter Breen was more liberal than current experts. If there was a Proof 1876-CC dime in the Smithsonian, there is a good chance that he would have seen it and mentioned it. Decades ago, Breen spent a lot of time examining the coins in the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian. A few other U.S. coin experts have spent significant time there during the last fifteen years, and none of them came across an 1876-CC dime that was worthy of an announcement, or even of a rumor.
The current cataloguer of this dime, who identifies himself as “JRJ,” does not reveal that it was offered in any previous Superior Galleries auctions. I am certain that it was in one in August 1992. It has been reported, on another website, that this 1876-CC dime was in at least one Superior Galleries auction during the year 2000.
Lustig has never seen another 1876-CC dime that he would regard as a Proof. I have not either. Lustig points out, though, that there are “several special 1876-CC dimes.” There are “two in copper,” one of which Lustig “bought at a Bowers auction in the early 1980s.” Lustig reports that “neither” of the copper 1876-CC dimes “have the characteristics of a Proof.”
There is also an 1876-CC dime pattern struck (probably) in a nickel alloy. It is NGC certified MS-64 (and thus not as a Proof). Saul Teichman, an expert in patterns, suggests that it may have been struck over a Three Cent Nickel. Mint officials in Carson City could easily have used existing Three Cent or five cent nickels to mint ‘nickel’ examples of silver denominations.
The cataloguer mentions auction appearances of Specimen strike 1876-CC dimes. It is understandable that he did not address the difference between a Specimen and a Proof, as this is one of the most complicated subjects. A Specimen was (usually) struck only once while a Proof was struck at least twice, often three or four times. Specimens were intended to look aesthetically distinct from business strikes, but not meant to possess the refined technical characteristics of Proofs. The relationships between the devices (design elements) and the fields (flat areas) are much more developed on Proofs than on Specimens, and are usually qualitatively different rather than being just differences of degree.
The Superior Galleries cataloguer suggests that one Specimen 1876-CC dime, NGC certified SP-65, keeps showing up at auctions since 1990. Lustig has owned two different Specimen 1876-CC dimes, and believes that there may exist “four or five.” Lustig emphasizes that the two that he owned have “nearly identical characteristics.”
I closely examined one Specimen 1876-CC dime, very recently, and I saw another long ago. I do not believe that the five certified by the NGC are all one coin, and I doubt that this total constitutes five distinct coins. A fair guess may be that there are three different Specimen 1876-CC dimes certified by NGC, and zero to two not so certified pieces, thus three to five in total.
The Specimen 1876-CC dime that I recently examined, like many Specimen silver coins, has a reflective surface that is of a texture that is much different from the mirror surfaces of a corresponding Proof. It has neither the aesthetic appeal nor the detail that would be expected of a Proof. Nonetheless, Specimen 1876-CC dimes are entertaining and amazing in their own way. The unique Proof 1876-CC dime is regarded as being much more desirable than a Specimen 1876-CC dime.
When I last saw this one Proof 1876-CC dime, there was no question in my mind that it was a gem quality coin. Indeed, it is certainly of higher quality than a fair number of Philadelphia Mint Liberty Seated Dimes that have been certified as “Proof-65.”
It had never been dipped. It had evenly and well blended natural toning. It had (and probably still has) several neat, natural shades of green, mixed at some point with gray or russet hues. There were touches of brownish russet and apricot tones. The current images and the cataloguer’s description coupled with my recollection of examining this coin in the past suggest that this coin’s appearance may not have changed very much over the years. If so, it is a great coin, and I hope that no one dips it in the future. It would be terrific if its next owner is a collector who truly appreciates it.
©2008 Greg Reynolds
About the Author
Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.
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