Reported mintage: 112 Estimated number of pieces known: 12-16
(11-14% of original mintage) Characteristics: 1860 Proof Quarter Eagle
date lightly impressed, with the numeral 1 punched high,
close to bust, other numerals further down to the right,
with numeral 0 close to dentils. 8 6 punched slightly higher
into the die than other numerals, 0 much lower. Reverse
is that of the new reverse, type II with small lettering
and arrowheads. No Proofs are known with the old reverse,
but business strikes have been reported so the existence
of one such piece might be possible. Second A in AMERICA
usually with top part filled, other letters are clear. Per
Breen, reverse stripes in shield are thin, especially so
in the middle. All dentils are widely spaced on the reverse,
with lettering heavy.
Comments: The first Proof
quarter eagle from the turbulent 1860s has a reported mintage
of 112 pieces. However, perhaps no more than thirty pieces
were actually distributed, with the remaining number melted.
That number has been quoted in classic references as the
estimated number of survivors, but we think that number
of true survivors is much lower. Auction appearances are
very rare, and perhaps less than once a decade an example
turns up at public auction or in the inventory of a dealer.
When it appears on the market, it usually attracts a lot
of attention from specialists who understand the true rarity
of this early Proof quarter eagle.
In his Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial
Proof coins, Walter Breen identified a total of fourteen
different examples, with perhaps twenty to thirty in existence.
Some coins in his listing might be duplicates or kept of
the market since the 1970s and earlier, as identification
by pictures and descriptions is difficult. Complete Proof
gold sets of the gold denominations were delivered on April
30, with the regular total being thirty sets. Two complete
sets of 1860 Proof gold coins are still known to exist,
one in the Smithsonian and the other in the American Numismatic
society collection. All other sets are now broken up, or
were never sold in the first place, and were later melted
at the Mint.
The 1860 Proof quarter eagle appears to
be the 3rd rarest Proof issue of this decade. The next year,
1861, appears to be slightly rarer than this issue. While
the 1863 is a famous Proof rarity with no circulation strikes
struck, only the 1868 comes close to the rarity of these
1860 and 1861 Proofs. That issue has a reported mintage
of 25 coins and an estimated dozen pieces believed to be
still in existence. The finest known that has been graded
is the Harry W. Bass collection example, last sold at that
auction in 2000 and graded as PCGS PR-66. Other examples
are known in lower grades, mostly around the PR-64 level
with moderate to full cameo surfaces. It would not be a
great surprise to discover a circulated Proof of this date,
as some Proof gold coins are known to have entered circulation
after the American Civil War, only to be retracted from
it once their true value was realized.