Proof 1876CC Dime To Be Auctioned
By Greg Reynolds
01/04/08
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 1876CC dime that
has been graded Proof65 by the Professional Coin Grading
Service (PCGS). As will be explained below, it is definitely
a Proof.
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 1876CC
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 1894San Francisco dimes and many Philadelphia
Mint silver coins from the 1820s, plus 1838O half dollars,
among other issues.
Of all the experts that have closely examined the
Parmelee 1844O Eagle ($10 gold coin), none have challenged
its Proof status. It was PCGS certified as Proof64 and is
now NGC certified ‘Proof65 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 1893CC and 1879O 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 1893CC and Proof 1879O 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 “1879O Morgan
dollars and 1894S 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 1894San Francisco
dimes are all Proofs. Indeed, it is almost certain that all
1894S 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 1894S 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 1855S quarter and the unique Proof
1855S Three Dollar gold piece, plus the only Proof 1855S
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 abovementioned 1855S 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 abovementioned 1855S coins had
the physical characteristics of Proofs. If it true that the
1855S 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
abovementioned 1855S coins as Proofs. Long before the PCGS
and the NGC were founded, leading experts in more than one
era were certain that this 1855S quarter and at least two
1855S half dollars were Proofs. Besides, the Proof 1855S
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 1876CC
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 1876CC 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
1876CC 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 1876CC 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 1876CC 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 1876CC 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 1876CC 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 1876CC dime was in at least one Superior
Galleries auction during the year 2000.
Lustig has never seen another 1876CC dime that he would
regard as a Proof. I have not either. Lustig points out,
though, that there are “several special 1876CC 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 1876CC dimes “have the
characteristics of a Proof.”
There is also an 1876CC dime pattern struck (probably)
in a nickel alloy. It is NGC certified MS64 (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 1876CC 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 1876CC dime, NGC certified SP65, keeps showing up
at auctions since 1990. Lustig has owned two different
Specimen 1876CC 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 1876CC 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 1876CC
dimes certified by NGC, and zero to two not so certified
pieces, thus three to five in total.
The Specimen 1876CC 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 1876CC dimes are entertaining and
amazing in their own way. The unique Proof 1876CC dime is
regarded as being much more desirable than a Specimen
1876CC dime.
When I last saw this one Proof 1876CC 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 “Proof65.”
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.
