GOLD SET - GOLD PROOF SET
- PROOF GOLD COINS
Proof 1879 Gold Dollar
- Proof 1889 Quarter Eagle - Proof 1879 Three Dollar - Proof
1876 Eagle - Proof 1887 Double Eagle
Gold Set - This Proof Gold Set consists
of five exceptionally rare, extremely attractive pieces. They
are the 1879 gold dollar in proof 64 cameo, the 1889 quarter
eagle in proof 64 “plus,” the 1879 three-dollar
gold piece in proof 65 cameo, the 1876 eagle in proof 64 ultra
cameo, and the 1887 double eagle in proof 62 cameo. The dollar,
three-dollar, and the double eagle were all designed by James
B. Longacre while the older motif for the Liberty Head quarter
eagle and eagle was done by Christian Gobrecht.
The 1879 gold dollar was Longacre’s
third of gold dollar design. The first type was a Liberty
Head that was issued from 1849 to 1854. It showed a profile
of Liberty facing left surrounded by 13 stars on a tiny
13 millimeter coin. The reverse has the inscription UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA at the periphery and the denomination,
1 DOLLAR with the date below it on three lines in an open
wreath of laurel, which is tied at the bottom with a bow.
The design was criticized because of their extremely small
size and similarity to silver coins that were in circulation.
So Longacre redesigned the gold dollar and created the Indian
The Type 2 dollar, which was issued from
1854 to 1856, shows a profile of Liberty facing left. She
is surrounded by the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Some of her hair is tied at the back of her neck with the
rest in loose curls that extend just past the truncation.
On her head is a highly stylized, Indian feathered bonnet.
On the headband in the incuse word LIBERTY. The tops of
the feathers turn outward, and their ends along with the
hair at the lower end are the high points of the obverse.
On the reverse is a wreath of corn, cotton, tobacco, and
wheat. Within the wreath are the denomination, written as
1 DOLLAR, on two lines and the date. The coin has a finely
reeded edge. This new dollar was made on an enlarge planchet
of 15 millimeters. However, to maintain the same weight
as the Type 1 dollar, the coin was made thinner. The relief
was too high, and many of the coins of this type were weakly
struck. They also suffered from an excessive number of clashed
The Type 3 design, minted from 1856 to 1889,
of which the present coin is an example, attempted to ameliorate
the previous problems by making the portrait wider and lowering
the relief of the coin. However, the branch mint business
strike coinage was still poorly made.
Proof coins, on the other hand, are attempts to make a perfect
specimen. Originally made to check the dies and to have
a sample or two for inspection and the archives, they were
often used as presentation pieces for dignitaries.
Cornelius Vermeule in Numismatic Art in
America writes of the Indian Princess design, “The
‘princess’ of the gold coins is a banknote engraver’s
elegant version of folk art of the 1850s. The plumes or
feathers are more like the crest of the Prince of Wales
than anything that saw the Western frontiers, save perhaps
on a music hall beauty. …The figureheads of ships
and the sculptures before tobacconists’ shops sported
faces, tresses, and bonnets of this type.”
The Type 3 business strike mintages ranged from a high of
1,762,936 in 1856 to a low of 400 in 1875. Proof mintage
ranged from 1,779 in 1889 to 7 to 9 in 1856. In addition
to Philadelphia, circulation strikes were made in Charlotte,
Dahlonega, and San Francisco; however, all proof coins were
struck at the Philadelphia Mint. It is estimated that 8,700
Type 3 proof gold dollars were struck for all dates combined.
The 1879 proof gold dollar had an original
mintage of 30. Only 15 to 20 pieces are known to exist today
in all conditions. In its population report, PCGS shows
5 in PRCA64 with 1 better. NGC shows 4 in PFCA with 4 better.
These numbers do not account for crossovers or resubmissions.
As of October 2012, CAC has confirmed only this coin in
PR64 CAM with none better.
The second coin in the set is the 1889 proof
quarter eagle. It was designed by Christian Gobrecht and
first issued in 1840. The quarter eagle remained a popular
denomination and was minted until 1907. The design is similar
to Gobrecht’s half eagle and eagle, which were first
issued 1838 and 1839 and continued in use for approximately
the same number of years as the quarter eagle. The design
is the most enduring of the 19th century. Its use for the
quarter eagle spanned 67 years. It was the longest period
of time for any American coinage design without interruption
or substantial modification. No doubt Christian Gobrecht
would never have suspected that his design would outlive
him by more than 60 years.
The design shows a portrait of Liberty facing
left in profile. She is surrounded by 13 six-pointed stars
with the date below. Her hair is tied up in beads with a
bun in the back. Two loose curls flow down; one is on the
back of her neck and the other is on the side under her
ear. On her head she wears a coronet that is inscribed LIBERTY.
The design is called the Liberty Head or the Coronet Head
quarter eagle. The reverse shows a heraldic eagle facing
left. On its breast is a Union shield. The eagle’s
wings are outstretched and raised. In its talons are arrows
and an olive branch. The latter is held in the right claw
and the former in the left. The required inscription UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA, interrupted by the wing tips, is at the
periphery with the denomination, written as 2 ½ D.,
below. In 1866 the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to both
the half eagle and the eagle. However, the quarter eagle
was deemed too small to accommodate the new motto.
Cornelius Vermeule in his book Numismatic
Art in America finds the motif charming because of its use
of only 13 stars and the date in the field. The result is
that the design is …”an even simpler, less-active
design than the Liberty Seated obverse of the comparable
denominations in silver. The motivation for this Roman head
of Liberty stems from vast, varied Roman neoclassicism of
the Napoleonic era. Typical of the sources is a small painting,
a free study for a larger composition by Pierre Guerin,
Pythagoras or The Earth is Round, painted about 1800….
[In it] is the diademed or coroneted, white-robed, seated
Minor modifications of the design were made
in 1859. James B. Longacre, the new Mint Engraver, changed
the reverse creating a second type. It had smaller, short
arrowheads that were spaced further apart, and the eagle’s
talons are open.
The highest points of the design on the
obverse are the lines of hair at the top of Liberty’s
head and the top point of the coronet. On the reverse the
high points are the tips of the eagle’s wings and
its neck above the shield.
As an anti-counterfeiting device, the quarter
eagle dies were completely hubbed. This process minimized
variation and mechanically reproduced all of the design
elements except for the date, which had to be entered by
The quarter eagle was made at the mints
in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, and
San Francisco; but proofs were made only in Philadelphia.
Business strike mintages ranged from 1,372,748 from the
Philadelphia Mint in 1851 to a low of 246 from the San Francisco
Mint in 1854. The total business strike mintage was 11,921,171.
Of course proof mintage was significantly lower throughout
the years. It ranged from 223 in 1901 to 2 or 3 pieces in
1842 and 1847. In total it is estimated that 4,232 Liberty
Head proof quarter eagles were struck for all dates.
The 1889 quarter eagle had an original mintage
of 48 pieces. Researchers believe that 26 were made in June
with the remainder struck in the second half of the year.
Some of the business strikes for the year are prooflike,
but they are easily distinguished from proofs. The prooflike
coins have the date low with the 9 close to the border.
Needless to say, the 1889 quarter eagle
is a fundamentally rare coin in all grades. It is estimated
that only 35 exist in all conditions. In its population
report, NGC shows 1 1889 quarter eagle in PF64+ condition,
the present coin, with none finer. The “plus”
means that the coin is of premium quality because it is
at the high end of the assigned grade range with above average
eye appeal. At PCGS there are 6 shown in PRCA64 condition
with 6 better; however, none are in the “plus”
category. At CAC, as of October 2012, there is only this
coin confirmed at PF64.
The third coin in the set is the 1879 proof
three-dollar gold piece. Like the gold dollar, it was designed
by James B. Longacre and uses a similar motif, the Indian
Princess Head. The use of the female Indian was common in
the colonial era and the early 1800s in American art. Introduced
in 1854, the denomination using only this design remained
in use until 1889. Its original purpose was to enable people
to purchase sheets of 100 postage stamps. In those days
stamps were three cents each. The coin has been called “the
rich man’s three-cent piece.”
On the obverse the coin has a large head
of Liberty facing left in profile. She wears a feathered
headdress. The feathers are set closely in a beaded headband
which is inscribed LIBERTY. The feathers curl outwards at
the top. Liberty’s heavy hair curls fall to the truncation,
and she is encircled with the inscription UNITED STATES
OF AMERICA. The reverse shows the denomination written as
the numeral 3 followed by the word DOLLARS with the date
below. All are in three lines. The entire design is encircled
by an open wreath of cotton, corn, wheat, and tobacco.
With just one major design type, the three-dollar
gold series has been called one of the simplest. The coins
were produced continuously, and the only variation is that
the word DOLLARS is in smaller letters in the first year
The highest points of the design are the
feather tips and the hair just above Liberty’s eye.
Fully struck pieces have all the hair details below the
headband as well as the tips of the feathers. On the reverse,
the wreath details and the vertical division of the ribbon
knot as well as the two central numerals of the date are
The three-dollar gold pieces were made in the mints at Philadelphia,
Dahlonega, New Orleans, and San Francisco; however, all
proof coins were made in Philadelphia. Business strike mintages
range from a high of 138,618 in 1854 to a low of 500 in
1881, excluding the unique 1870-S that was part of the Bass
Foundation Collection. The total business strike mintage
was 538,074. Proof mintage, which was significantly lower,
ranged from a high of 291 in 1888 to a low of 4 to 8 in
1855. In total it is estimated that 2,060 proof three-dollar
pieces were made.
Like the gold dollar, the 1879 three-dollar
gold proof piece had an original mintage of 30, although
there are some conflicting reports. Approximately 20 pieces
in all grades are known to exist today. It is a fundamentally
rare coin and is extremely valuable in all grades. This
coin is tied for the finest at both NGC and PCGS. In its
population report, NGC shows 5 in PFCA65 with none finer.
At PCGS there is 1 in PRCA65 with none better. These numbers
do not account for resubmission or crossovers.
The fourth coin in the set is the 1876 eagle.
Like the quarter eagle, it was designed by Christian Gobrecht
and uses his Coronet Liberty Head motif. This design was
the most used motif for 19th Century United States coinage.
In the eagle series, proof Liberty Heads were made from
1838 to 1907.
The familiar design shows Liberty facing
left with her hair tied with beads in the back. Two loose
curls flow down her neck. She is surrounded by thirteen
six-pointed stars with the date below. On her head is a
coronet, hence the name of the design, on which the word
LIBERTY is inscribed. The whole is surrounded by dentils
as is the reverse. Unlike the quarter eagle, which was deemed
too small, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to a banner
above the eagle on the reverse in 1866. The remainder of
the reverse is similar to the quarter and half eagle denominations.
The heraldic eagle faces left. Its wings are outspread and
it holds three arrows in its left talon and an olive branch
in its right. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
interrupted by the wing tips surrounds the eagle with the
denomination, TEN D. separated by dots, below.
The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added because
of changing religious sentiment in the United States prior
to and during the Civil War. The Reverend Mark Richards
Watkinson was the first to write to Secretary of the Treasury
Salmon Chase requesting that God’s name be added to
our nation’s coinage. He suggested that the motto
be “God, Liberty, Law.” Chase asked Mint Director
Pollock to prepare a motto that would be suitable for the
coinage. Pollock has several suggestions, “Our Trust
is in God,” for example, but Chase decided on “In
God We Trust.” The coinage law required that this
motto be added to all coins large enough to accommodate
it; the eagle was one of these.
The highest points of the obverse are the
hair and top of the coronet and the hair above Liberty’s
ear. On the reverse the high points are the eagle’s
neck and the area to the lower left of the shield.
In his Numismatic Art in America Cornelius
Vermeule pointed out that, “Neoclassicism liked the
cold profiles and positive outlines of statues and reliefs
in marble; these experiences could be easily excerpted and
reduced in sketches, mechanical and otherwise, to the coinage.”
He goes on to indicate regretfully that at that time, engravers
of coins and tombstone cutters used similar sources.
Circulation strike gold eagles were made
at the mints in Philadelphia, Carson City, New Orleans,
San Francisco, and Denver. In total over 42 million business
strike Liberty Head eagles were made, of which Type 2s were
over 37 million. Proof mintages, all of which were made
in Philadelphia, were significantly lower. The estimated
proof mintage of all Type 1s is about 400. For all Type
2s, the proof mintage is 2,327.
With an original mintage of 45, all 1876
proof eagles are rare. Only about 20 are known to exist
today. This coin is tied for second finest known with one
other at NGC in PFUC64 and is the finest known at PCGS,
which has none in the ULTRA or PRDC grade for this year.
The other PF64 UCAM is part of the Smithsonian collection.
At CAC as of February 2013, there is only the present coin
with none finer.
The 1887 proof double eagle completes the
set. In his book Buyer’s Guide to United States Gold
Coins, Dave Bowers said, “The Liberty Head [double
eagle] series is studded with a number of prime rarities…such
as the 1883, 1884, and 1887, made only with Proof finish….”
Here is a proof cameo of one of these prime rarities in
the double eagle series.
Designed by James B. Longacre, the Liberty
Head double eagle has enjoyed popularity because of its
impressive weight and size. With a net weight of almost
one ounce of pure gold, the double eagle has been a widely
accepted collectible and storehouse of value since its issuance.
Proof double eagles are particularly rare because of their
low mintages. In total 2,426 proof double eagles were issued
for all of the Type 3 coins from 1887 to 1907. Every proof
date in the series is fundamentally rare.
On the obverse there is a large head of
Liberty facing left in profile. Her hair is combed straight
back and ends in a loose knot at the back of her head. Two
large curls fall down below the truncation. A LIBERTY inscribed
coronet is pressed firmly on the front of her head. Thirteen
six-pointed stars surround her head at the periphery with
the date below. The main device of the reverse is a stylized
heraldic eagle. It holds an olive branch in its right talon
and three arrows in its left. Above the eagle’s head
is an oval of thirteen six-pointed stars. Within the oval
is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, which was added to the design
in 1866. Above the stars in an arc arrangement are sun rays
with longer and heavier rays alternating with smaller lighter
ones. This pattern gives the rays a scalloped effect. Ornate
scrolls are on either side of the eagle. These symbolize
the new denomination, the double eagle. The left scroll
is inscribed E PLURIBUS, and the right is inscribed UNUM.
The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is in an arc at the
top, and the denomination, which was changed from TWENTY
D. to TWENTY DOLLARS in 1877, is below.
The highest points of the design are the
hair at the top of Liberty’s head and the hair below
the front and back of the coronet. Fully struck pieces have
full details at the centers of the obverse stars, Liberty’s
hair, and the design elements of the reverse especially
In Numismatic Art in America Cornelius Vermeule
points out that Longacre probably “…thought
of die designs as developments of themes and motifs worked
out initially as engravings. His ideas very seldom depart
from flat surfaces. He liked outlines, heads in profile,
and eagles flattened into poses of twisted heraldry. …The
double eagle or $20 gold piece was his major coin, and the
reverse is like a frontispiece for a patriotic brochure.”
Regular issues of the double eagle were
struck in Philadelphia, Carson City, New Orleans, and San
Francisco. All proofs were struck in Philadelphia. While
business strike mintages range from a high of 6,256,699
in 1904 to a low of 571 in 1882, proof mintages range from
158 in 1903 to 1 or 2 in 1850. (Note: the earliest certified
proof double eagles are dated 1859. A branch mint specimen
dated 1856-O has also been certified.)
The 1887 double eagle is an especially desirable
coin because of its grade and rarity. It is one of three
proof-only dates in the series. Only famous collectors like
Ed Trompeter could include a run of proof double eagles
in his cabinet. Although 121 proofs of this date were minted,
about 28 are known in all grades. Only 18 have been certified
by both PCGS and NGC in all grades and this number does
not account for crossovers or resubmissions. It is likely
that Breen’s estimate of 20 to 25 pieces extant is
correct. At PCGS in PRCA62, the present coin is the finest
known. At CAC, as of October 2012, there is 1 in PRCA62
with 1 better.