Proof Turtle Dimes to be Auctioned by Superior
by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
On the evening of Feb 12, Superior Galleries of Beverly Hills will auction an astounding collection of early Proof dimes. These dimes, from an unnamed consignor, are the centerpieces of the “Turtle Rock collection,” and thus will be referred to here as Turtle dimes. Superior will also auction a wide variety of other U.S coins, from several different consignors.
Turtle capped bust dimes of the following dates are certified as ‘Proofs’ by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC): 1820, 1821, 1824/2, 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830/29, 1831, 1833, 1834 and 1835. Most of these are NGC graded Proof-65 or higher. Even if the Proof status of one or two of these were to be questioned, not an unusual occurrence in the coin collecting community, it would still be one of the all-time finest groups of Proof Capped Bust dimes ever assembled. Unfortunately, I left my notes regarding past offerings of Proof Capped Bust dimes in another State. So, I cannot here rank the all-time finest groups of Proof Bust dimes, nor can I now trace the Turtle dimes to epic collections. Even so, the greatness of this group is indisputable. The nature and tremendous importance of early Proofs warrants discussion, particularly for the benefit of those collectors who have never seen any of them.
It is not easy to explain the special nature of early Proof coins. After all, these are among the most elusive and fascinating of all U.S. coins, especially silver and gold Proofs from the 1820s.
Usually, business strike silver coins from the 1820s were very unevenly struck. Indeed,choice uncirculated Bust silver coins often lack substantial detail, and their design elements may be characterized by noticeably smooth areas. Moreover, Proof silver coins from the 1820s tend to be much less pristine than Proofs of later years. By the early 1840s, Proof silver coins tended to look fabulous and were produced with hardly any Mint-caused imperfections. In the 1820s, silver Proofs were typically characterized by poorly struck highpoints, slightly rough areas, indentations present before striking, and other, sometimes hard to explain, imperfections stemming from the manufacturing process.
Even so, true Proofs, from the 1820s, look dramatically different from the business strikes of era. The relationships between the design elements and the fields are different and superior. Further, mirror surfaces, certain extra detail, and relatively more elaborate borders, plus other factors, distinguish Proofs from business strikes. It is a difference of kind, not of degree.
The only pre-1820 silver or gold coins that the NGC has certified as Proofs are three 1818 half dollars. I have seen at least one, the Eliasberg piece. I may have seen one or both of the others before these were so certified. One of the Queller collection’s 1818 halves and one of the Byers 1818 halves are each substantially prooflike, though neither, in my view, is a true Proof. I understand why others may disagree with me. I maintain, though, that my framework for analyzing Proofs is consistent with the logical rules and traditions of coin collecting in the U.S.
In the future, I will further explain my criteria and demonstrate its similarities (and some differences) to the respective approaches of analyzing Proofs of Walter Breen and David Akers. I outline several key criteria below in my discussion of the Turtle 1820 dime.
I have never seen a coin minted before 1820 that I am convinced is a Proof. I seriously wonder whether any 1818 halves really are Proofs, and I am not alone. Over the years, I have discussed these issues with several other experts, and I have found no one who will assert ‘on the record’ that any specific, pre-1820, U.S. silver or gold coin is a Proof.
I have not had the opportunity to examine the pre-1820 large cents that the NGC has certified as Proofs. As far as I know, the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) has not certified any pre-1820 coins in any metal as Proofs, except one 1817 large cent.
The Turtle 1820 Proof dime is thus of tremendous importance as one of the first true Proofs ever minted in the United States. I have seen it before, and have given it much thought. I am not yet prepared to discuss its ownership history, which is noteworthy.
Fortunately, there is some information readily available regarding the pedigrees of at least two Turtle dimes. The Turtle 1828 is in a NGC holder that indicates that it was part of the “Starr” collection. This almost certainly is meant to indicate that it was part of the portion of the Floyd Starr collection, probably including all of the late Starr’s silver coins, that Stack’s auctioned in October 1992. The Turtle 1827, NGC certified “Proof-67,” is identified by the Superior cataloguer as the Bareford 1827 dime that Stack’s auctioned in 1981. My recollections confirm this point. I tentatively remember that it was also part of the Allen Lovejoy collection that was auctioned in October 1990 and is the same dime was auctioned again in the summer of 1991 by Superior Galleries. At the latter event, a New Jersey dealer obtained it on behalf of a client. This 1827 dime was NGC certified as “Proof-67″ in 1990 or earlier.
While another Proof 1820 dime probably exists, and in theory two others may exist, this is the only one that has been seen in a long time. Pre-1860 coins that have been catalogued as Proofs in past decades are often not Proofs, and even some pre-1860 coins that have been recently catalogued as Proofs are not either. So, until another shows itself in public, the Turtle coin can be regarded as the only known Proof 1820 dime.
How do I know it is a Proof? There is not one factor that conclusively proves that a coin is a Proof. Generally, a coin must be struck more than once to be a Proof, but not all coins that are struck more than once are Proofs. This 1820 dime was struck at least twice, probably three times. I wish there was space here to explain the evidence of multiple strikings. Second, it has reflective surfaces that are a consequence of deliberate extra-polishing, for aesthetic purposes, before this dime was placed in the press (machine).
Third, several design elements are squared (or nearly so). Such squaring has to do with the physical definition of the design elements and their relationships with nearby flat surfaces (fields). Fourth, the planchet (prepared blank) was specially wire-brushed before striking. The resulting texture is interesting, and clearly different from that of typical business strikes.
Fifth, the head of Miss Liberty on the obverse (front) and the eagle on the reverse (back) are frosted. This frosting came about due to a special treatment of the dies with an acidic liquid. The frosting of design elements on Proofs continues until this day. There are many Proofs, however, that never had frosted elements and there are business strikes with frosted elements. Again, no one factor proves a coin is a Proof. Sixth, the height and dimensions of the rim on the reverse (back) is more complex than that of a business strike. The seventh reason cannot be explained and has to do with the overall fabric and look of the coin. Proofs have special textures, though there is more than one kind of Proof texture.
The Turtle 1820 dime has cool natural toning and is extremely attractive in general. On the obverse (front), medium russet tones blend well with metallic blue and various shades of green. The toning is even and balanced. The frosted head of Miss Liberty, the “Bust,” awesomely glows. The fields (flat areas) on the reverse (back of the coin) are characterized by several, mostly light shades of russet and red. Additionally, there are red patches across the shield and on both wings. Otherwise, the eagle is tinted in a stunning bright, fluorescent blue, with touches of orange-russet. The outer design elements are mostly green with blue spots. The eagle and the motto, E PLURIBUS UNUM, once exhibited a very strong cameo contrast, but have now faded to an appealing, soft, varying white glow. Although the Turtle 1820 has a few miniscule contact marks, it is an amazing coin, and one of the coolest, early Proof dimes.
Another Turtle dime that especially warrants attention is the 1824/2. It is NGC certified Proof-65. As the coin is missing some detail, it is unsurprising that someone who is not familiar with the series may believe that it is not a Proof. In contrast to the prevailing theory that missing detail on uncirculated or Proof Bust coins is typically due to the dies being spaced too far apart, I maintain that the dies were lacking such detail when Proof 1824/2 dimes were struck. Grinding, lapping and re-polishing of the dies eliminated some of the detail that existed, and not all dies of the same design type have an equal level of detail at the onset of their lives.
Regardless of the reason for the weakly detailed areas, however, it is clear that Mint personnel were doing the best that they could to make this dime a very special coin. It was struck at least three times. It has fully reflective fields. The outer elements are defined in a manner that is vastly superior to the same elements on business strikes. The reverse dentils are shaped in a way that screams “Proof”! It exhibits other Proof characteristics as well. It is definitely a Proof.
The Turtle 1824/2 has really neat, natural toning. The obverse is mostly a deep blue-green tone. The reverse has tannish-russet design elements and really pleasant, mellow green fields. This dime has never been dipped, and probably has never been cleaned.
This Proof has almost zero contact marks and is very attractive overall. It is a prize for the collector who truly understands it. Keep in mind that coins of the 1820s, especially dimes minted before 1828, were made with technology that is much less advanced than the technology that was incrementally adopted a relatively short time later. The letters, numerals, stars, and borders on this 1824/2 are fantastically formed, for a dime from the mid 1820s.
There are other, very desirable Proof dimes in the Turtle Rock collection. I will discuss more of them in the future. The offering of these dimes is a landmark event.
©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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