Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins 1722-1989

U.S. Presentation and Proof Coins: Overview
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The date on this letter appears to be 1829, and it is filed with other 1829 documents, but it gives rise to some doubts. Enough varieties of every denomination of U.S. coin exist dated 1829 in proof state to make inescapable the conclusion that 1829 proof sets could have been struck, both before and after half-dime coinage resumed (July 4). But the Newman-Bressett book says that Edmund Roberts began his diplomatic mission in 1832, and the abundant correspondence about the contents of the caskets intended for diplomatic presentation to the King of Siam and the Imaum of Muscat all dates from 1834. Is the letter then actually an 1835 product misfiled? The handwriting of dates in that period could have given rise to such an error. Many Archives documents, today filed loose in boxes arranged by date, got into those boxes by the activities of WPA workers in the 1930's. Sloppy or sand-blurred writing (there being no blotters in those days) might easily have resulted in misfiling.

In any event, the earliest proof sets intended for diplomatic or other presentation, from about 1820 on, were presumably made up pursuant to verbal orders, as no correspondence about them survives. The triumphal return of the Marquis de Lafayette to America might have occasioned the presentation of several of them to him and his retinue - even as with other historical events of the period, important then at least locally, but forgotten today, such as the Washington Centenary of 1832, the Declaration of Independence jubilee in 1826, Constitutional Convention jubilee 1837-39, etc.

But in 1834 the State Department engaged in extensive correspondence with the Director of the Mint, the object of which was the securing of proof sets specially cased for transmittal to Edmund Roberts, special envoy, and ultimately for diplomatic presentation to the King of Siam, the Imaum of Muscat (1834), the Emperor of Cochin-China and the Mikado of Japan (1835), as part of extensive gift exchanges necessary to establishing favorable trade and political relationships with these countries. The cased set intended for (and actually delivered to) the King of Siam survives in private hands today, containing all but two of the coins originally there (the quarter-eagle with motto and thehalf dime having been lost in the meantime). It is now in England, so far as I know, after its historic exhibition at the 1962 ANA convention. Its containing the 1804 dollar of first type and the 1804 eagle with plain 4, both in brilliant proof state, provided the key necessary to unlock the last remaining mystery box in the puzzles heretofore surrounding those two issues.

Sporadic references in 1835 and later years survive in the Archives, but in no instance prior to 1860 do they enable even a reasonable guess of the numbers of proofs sets made in a given year. (They do sometimes enable us to know at least how many proof coins of a given denomination were made in some particular years, though they do not exclude the possibility of additional proofs of those denominations having been made. Figures like [15+] in the mintage listings refer to instances of this kind.) In many such instances more specimens survive than are so accounted for, conspicuous exceptions being the gold proof sets of 1850 and 1854 for which see pp. 92-98.

The 1850 proof set, from gold dollar through double eagle, has not been located, and none of the gold coins of this year are at present located in proof state. Yet the set was routinely ordered and presumably the order filled, as per the following letter from the Director of the Mint, Robert Maskell Patterson, to the Secretary of Treasury, Hon. W. M. Meredith, Sept. 26, 1850. (Meredith is the same one whose portrait appears on the common fifth issue 1¢ fractional currency. He owned an 1849 double eagle, later handled by Stephen K. Nagy.) Acknowledging receipt of Meredith's letter dated Sept. 25, respecting application by the Congressional Committee on the Library for a set of "specimens of gold coins," it continues:

I presume that these specimens include one set of Gold Master Coins, and I have the satisfaction to say that these can be furnished without delay.

The number of coins will be five, and their cost $38.50.

Very Respectfully,
Your obedt Servt
R.M. Patterson
Director

This letter, incidentally, establishes that the term "specimens" as used in official correspondence did in fact mean what we now call proofs; that the pre-1858 term for them was Master Coins; and that for dignitaries no charge above face value was then made (the proof sets furnished Edmund Roberts for diplomatic presentation were sent at cost of coins plus cost of special cases, which is confirmatory).

There must have been struck more than one 1850 proof double eagle, as the 1870 auction of the James Barton Longacre estate (the former Mint Engraver, who died on New Year's Day, 1869) included as lot 178 a proof twenty of 1850 "from the first die used for the double eagle".

It is also on record that at one or possibly both visits by M. Alexandre Vittemare, 1839-41 and 1847-50, the very same R. M. Patterson was able to furnish this French dignitary with proof coins of various years, which he presented to the Bibliotheque Nationale (known for some years after as the Bibliotheque Imperiale since the accession to the throne of Napoleon III) in Paris. Records of the accession have been kept, and the coins appear to be still intact in the Bibliotheque Nationale. Raymond H. Williamson examined the collection some years ago and reported seeing, among other rarities, a proof set of 1850, from half cent to dollar, filed in different trays, lacking the half dime (which may still be in the collection, filed somewhere else). He adds that Vattemare applied to Congress for proof sets of 1850-1855 inclusive, which were to have been deposited in an "American Museum and Library" in Paris, but all trace of them has been lost, if the coins were ever shipped. Vattemare, though a Great Boaster with Great Plans for what he intended to do to improve the Public Image of France in U.S. eyes and vice versa, actually was instrumental in founding the Boston Public Library, today one of the few really great libraries in the United States. The record of the American coins he presented to the Bibliotheque Nationale exists in two sources -the manuscript accession volume at the Paris Library, and Vattemare's very rare (1861) privately pamphlet describing them: Collection de monnaies et medailles de l'Amerique du nord, offerte a la Bibliotheque Imperiale, de M. Alexandre Vattemare, & c.

Probably at the time Patterson presented the proofs to Vattemare, extras of earlier years with the then current reverses were made to fill gaps in the date sequence should many other dignitaries require them. This may account for the varying numbers of extant proof coins dated between 1840 and 1848 and the much smaller numbers 1849-51. In particular, the sequence of dollars dated 1842-50 and 52 sharing a single reverse die, and the far more familiar sequence of half cents dated 1840-49 sharing a single (large berry) reverse die might have some such origin. (The explanation for the 1852's with large berry reverse must be sought elsewhere; see the chapter on Restrikes and Fantasy Pieces, below.) Whatever the purpose, it is clear that proof sets of all denominations from half cents through eagles were made for each date from 1840 through 1848. Badly cleaned remnants of such a group of sets are still on exhibit at the Smithsonian, from the Mint Collection, in a few instances good proofs having been traded away to collectors by former curators in order to gain rare type coins then still lacking in the Mint Collection. A few other sets of this period, some in cases, others in paper wrappers or rehoused in plastic holders, remain intact. Some of these are complete save for the three gold pieces and were probably given out that way. Sets from 1840 through 1850 inclusive, complete from half-cent to dollar, or in a few instances lacking one or more denominations through mishap, have been auctioned, at least two more being in cases, others in paper wrappers. Matthew A. Stickney, of Salem, Mass., had such sets from 1844 on, obtained directly from the mint. (Why he had no 1843 set is unknown, especially since he was at the mint on May 9, 1843 for the very purpose of trading Massachusetts silvercoins and other Colonials including one of the only two known 1785 gold IMMUNE COLUMBIA pieces for a proof silver dollar of 1804, first type. I personally suspect that some of his earlier proof coins or sets were privately traded away or sold before the auction of his collection in 1907.) A set of this kind dated 1842 (filed in denomination sequences) is in ANS, ex J. Pierpont Morgan bequest, ex Robert C. W. Brock. Supposedly Brock had obtained this together with his later (1858-1907) proof sets directly from the Mint in the year of issue, though the presence of a few undoubted restrikes in this group casts doubt on the claim.

In every instance where a proof set of the 1840's period is known in original presentation case, the case is of the following description: Red morocco leather, lined with plush, showing gold trim but no inscription; two hinges and a single small question-mark-shaped clasp, approx. 4 1/2" x 5". Those sets that contained the three gold pieces were accompanied by descriptive cards reading as follows:

U.S. Presentation and Proof Coins: Overview
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