1863 Three Dollar Coin Deserves Attention
By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink - February
dollar gold coins were minted from 1854 to 1889. Three dollar gold coins and
one dollar gold coins were the first issues to depict an American Indian, or a
portrait that is generally interpreted as being an 'Indian.' Indeed, she is
often referred to as an 'Indian Princess'!
A Proof $3 gold coin dated
1863 became 'news' when it was auctioned on Feb. 13 by the firm of Ira and
Larry Goldberg, at the Crowne Plaza Beverly Hills. The Goldbergs auction was
held just prior to the Long Beach (CA) coin, stamp and collectible expo, Feb.
15 to 17. This 1863 proof three is certified Proof-65 Cameo by the Numismatic
Guaranty Corp. Coins that grade '65' or higher are gems.
|1863 $3 Gold. NGC graded Proof 65
While it is rarer than several
of the Proof $3 gold issues of the 1880s, it is far from being the rarest proof
three. Indeed, it is widely believed that at least half a dozen dates are rarer
in proof format. Nonetheless, 1863 dated coins were minted while the Civil War
was raging, and coin collecting was just 'taking off.' Three or four great
collections of U.S. coins had been formed, and several others were in their
infancy. A Proof 1863 three has more historical and cultural significance than
most other dates in the series.
Proof 1863s may be much rarer than most
advanced collectors and dealers realize. The widely reported mintage figure of
thirty-nine may not be accurate, or could be misleading as some could have been
melted for future gold issues. The totals reported by the NGC and the
Professional Coin Grading Service probably include a large number of
As there are so few people who have
collected proof threes by date, much pedigree research has not been done
regarding several dates.
I am not convinced that the PCGS
and the NGC have certified more than ten different Proof 1863 three dollar gold
coins. Auction records are few and far between, and also include repeat
appearances of some of the same coins.
John J. Pittman was a specialist
in early proof silver and gold coins, and he collected all series by date up to
a point that varied among series. If a 19th century date was very rare in proof
format, but not nearly as rare in business strike format, then he certainly
sought to obtain a proof example.
In 1998, when David Akers auctioned
Pittman's proof $3 gold coins, an 1854, an 1856, an 1867, an 1869, an 1872 and
an 1876 were featured. Pittman did not, however, have a proof 1863!
B&M, a division of Spectrum, auctioned a proof 1863, also NGC
certified Proof-65 Cameo, in October 2004. It was formerly in the Rod Sweet
collection, according to the online catalogue. Although I never saw this coin,
the very good images at the firm's website suggest it might be approximately
equal to the one that the Goldbergs just auctioned. It does seem certain that
it is a different coin. I wish I had seen it.
As there are so few
people who have collected proof threes by date, much pedigree research has not
been done regarding several dates. As the 1875, 1876, and 1873 'Open 3', are
proof-only issues, these get much more attention than the 1863. Traditionally,
a collector who could not find a proof 1863 would then just buy a business
strike, which is not that rare. In contrast, collectors of business strikes
often enjoy obtaining examples of the proof-only dates, and thus add to the
attention that these proof-only dates receive.
Buyers of proof threes
tend to be type coin collectors, speculators, or connoisseurs of gold coinage.
Further, there is the occasional collector who seeks cool, trophy coins and
tends to make acquisitions in a whimsical manner. Someone who collects coins by
'design type' rather than by date, or variety, needs only one example of each
type for a set.
Often, type coin collectors find that acquiring one of
the least rare examples of a particular series is just too easy, and not enough
fun. A Gem Proof-65 example of one of the least rare dates in proof could be
obtained for less than $35,000, in a very short period of time. At any major
show, there is likely to be more than one dealer or an auction that is offering
a Proof-65 $3 gold coin. Gem quality examples of dates from the 1880s appear
frequently enough such that a collector would not have to wait very long to buy
one for a type set, perhaps just hours.
|1863 $3 Goldberg Auction #39 Lot
Type coin collectors probably makeup
most of the demand for the proof 1863 that the Goldbergs just auctioned. Also,
its Proof-65 Cameo certification is appealing to someone who is buying just one
proof three dollar coin.
Proofs with a cameo contrast are usually,
though not always, more highly desired than proofs with a more uniform finish.
Before 1908, the design elements (devices) on all regular issue U.S. coins, and
their proof counterparts, were raised during striking; they were struck in
relief. Design elements include the central portraits, such as Miss Liberty, an
Indian Princess or an eagle, plus wreaths, stars, numerals, rays, and letters.
The design elements are higher than the fields, which are relatively
flat surfaces that surround the design elements. If the design elements on a
proof coin are given a milky, frosted finish at the Mint, and the fields are
given a substantial mirror finish, then the respective coin has at least some
Both the Professional Coin Grading Service and the
Numismatic Guaranty Corp. will attach a 'cameo' designation to proofs with
considerable cameo contrast. If the cameo contrast is exceptionally strong,
then PCGS will label such a coin Deep Cameo, while NGC employs the
term, Ultra Cameo.
In the PCGS and NGC registries, there
are no serious current collections of proof three dollar gold pieces. Of the
four extensive collections listed by PCGS, three were assembled by collectors
who have been dead for years. They are Louis Eliasberg, Sr., Ed Trompeter, and
Harry W. Bass. Eliasberg's gold coins were auctioned by Bowers & Ruddy in
1982. Some of Trompeter's coins were auctioned in 1992, probably including his
proof 1863, and all the others were sold privately at a later time.
Most of Bass's coins were auctioned by B&M (New Hampshire) in 1999 and
2000, though the core of his collection remains intact and at least some of it
is on display at the ANA museum. A complete set of three dollar gold coins is
part of the Bass core collection, including the unique 1870-S. Bass did not
have a proof 1855-S three, which will be the topic of a future article.
The fourth collection mentioned in the PCGS registry is not
really an assembled collection. It is the set of proof threes that is part of
the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution.
PCGS officials have
estimated that the Bass 1863 three dollar gold piece would be
certified as Proof-67 Cameo if it were submitted to PCGS. Evidently, one or
more PCGS officials or associates viewed it. Likewise, the Eliasberg 1863 is
estimated to grade Proof-65 Cameo, and the Smithsonian's example is
estimated to be Proof-64 Deep Cameo. For estimated grades in the
PCGS registry, it would be more educational if the names of those who
formulated the 'estimates' along with the respective dates of the 'estimates'
It is said that Trompeter's 1863 has been PCGS certified
Proof-64, in 1992? Could the Trompeter piece have been 'cracked out' and
resubmitted without any mention of Trompeter's name by a dealer who was hoping
it would upgrade to Proof-65?
Also, could the Eliasberg Proof 1863 have
been submitted in recent years by a dealer who did not know that he was
submitting the Eliasberg piece, or was unsure? If so, it could be one of the
coins that is currently listed in the PCGS population report.
|B&M October 2004 - Rod Sweet
Collection, Part II Lot 561
Is there really solid evidence of
more than ten different proof 1863s existing? A plausible case could be made
that there are fifteen or more. But, there are not images and pedigree records
to prove it. In any event, it does seem that there are two to four that are of
higher quality than the piece that the Goldbergs just auctioned.
existence of finer examples does not dampen my enthusiasm for this coin. It is
a mid-range to high end 65. There is a small cluster of contact marks and short
scratches from a light to moderate cleaning of a small portion of the coin.
These marks, between the Indian Princess's chin and the letters 'UNI' of
United, are the only imperfections that are readily apparent to the naked eye.
Such imperfections are normal for a Proof-65, though they certainly could not
exist on a properly graded Proof-68 coin.
magnification, very light crisscrossing hairlines can be seen in the inner
fields on both sides. Such hairlines are typically found on 19th century proof
gold, and are usually longer and deeper than those found on this coin. Indeed,
most Proof-65 grade gold coins have more noticeable hairlines than can be seen
on this coin.
The cluster of very small marks, just mentioned above,
probably prevented this coin from grading 66. Otherwise, it may have the
technical merit and aesthetic requirements of a 66 grade coin. There is no
doubt about it deserving a Proof-65 Cameo certification.
contrast is bold. The design elements (devices) were frosted white at the
Philadelphia Mint, and have toned a pleasing tan color over time. The
originally 'black' mirrored fields have toned a color that I call 'deep
russet.' This color is very often found on proof gold, and it is hard to
This 'deep russet' does not look exactly like the color of
any autumn leaves. I understand that others may dispute my choice of words for
this color. Nevertheless, among terms that are widely understandable, 'deep
russet' is the best label for this color that comes to my mind. Suggested
alternatives are welcome. In any case, this 'deep russet' is a very appealing
natural tone. Like most characteristics of high quality coins, it needs to be
seen to be appreciated.
When this Proof 1863 three is tilted under a
light, it becomes stunningly apparent that its fields have full, very strong
and thick mirrors! These mirrors show great signs of life and dynamically flash
back at anyone who properly views the coin.
On the whole, this Proof
1863 $3 coin is very attractive plus. Each time I encounter a pre-1870 coin
that is well preserved, I am fascinated. Many other coins have endured a lot of
painful experiences since 1863! It is lucky, as is its buyer. While $51,750 is
a strong price, it is a coin that deserves attention. © 2007 Greg Reynolds