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

U.S. Presentation and Proof Coins: Overview
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MANLY & ORR, PRINTERS, 45 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

This pretty well speaks for itself. I first knew of such a cased set with card from an 1844 set formerly owned by Dr. J. Hewitt Judd, hearing of it via the late Stuart Mosher (1951). A similar set dated 1843, originally found in Amsterdam, Holland, and auctioned as lot 2292 of the Neil collection in 1947, also contained the card. The presence of a price on the card suggests sale of such sets to collectors, but other evidence is lacking.

Use of such cards might have occurred as early as December 1838, but no later than May 1849. The reason is clear: the new style eagles began in the former month, and beginning in 1849-50 two new denominations -the gold dollar and double eagle - were added to the coinage. Yet no sets of the period 1849-57 are known in cases or with any kind of invoice or card. The only evidence that any such sets were made is in the coins themselves, complete sets of 1852, 1854-57 having been auctioned and partial sets remaining available for examination at ANS and elsewhere. There is also the set of five gold proofs of 1850, earlier mentioned, and the set of 1854 proofs, from half cent through double eagle, made up for presentation to the city fathers of Bremen, Germany, in July 1854, in exchange for those officials' gifts to the Mint Cabinet of a series of local coins. (I believe that these coins are presumably still in the Mint Collection, on exhibit at the Smithsonian, but had no opportunity to check up after learning of the inventory.) The coins sent by the Bremen officials included the following:

Gold Double Ducat, 1667; Ducat, 1672

Silver Double Thaler, 1668; Thaler, 1660; Halves, 1643-61; Quarter, 1651; Third, 1749 (2); Sixth, 1657; Twelfths, 1671-2; 24th or Three Grote, 1635, 1677, 18th or Four Grote, 1645 (2); 36th or Two Grote, 1639, 1642; 72nd or Grote, 1627-1733 (4 pcs., various dates); 144th or Half Grote, n.d. and 1697

Copper, Fifth Grote or 1/360 Thaler or Schwaren, 1781, 1798, Craig 1

Billon, 1/6 Thaler, 1841-46 (3 pcs. in all), Craig 19;
1/2 Thaler or 36 Grote, 1840 (2), 1846, Craig 21;

1/72 Thaler or Groten, 1840, Craig 11;
1/144 Thaler, 1849-1853 (3 pcs. in all)

It is nowhere claimed that any of these pieces are proofs, though the set of U.S. coins sent in exchange for this assortment certainly consisted of proofs (see below, under 1854).

Presumably other such exchanges took place with both foreign and domestic sources at various times, to the benefit of the growing Mint Cabinet of Coins . This had been started with a gift in 1838 by the retiring Chief Coiner, Adam Eckfeldt, and Congress voted a small yearly appropriation to the curators for adding to the collection. I judge that such exchanges must have been the source of many Mint Cabinet -Smithsonian coins, to judge by their excellent preservation and the lack of evidence of purchase after 1859. It is possible that details of their acquisition may exist in National Archives documents not yet available to me when I was there in 1951-53, and will be published subsequently by R. W. Julian or some other thorough researcher. Others, not so well preserved, appear to have been rescued by Adam Eckfeldt from consignments of gold or silver coins intended for melting down and recoinage into U.S. issues, by exchange of equal weights of gold bullion therefor.

What can be learned from this early material, and from the die variety information yielded by the coins themselves, is that in the earlier years (prior to 1860) proof coins were in general not mentioned nor accounted in the mint records, whether as bullion or as coined pieces. Nor were they struck in quantity at the beginning of the year (as in later decades) but rather in tiny amounts, a few at a time, on various occasions in a year when proofs were called for. In at least 2/3 of the known instances before 1840, and apparently all prior to 1834, when proofs were needed for some visiting dignitary or diplomatic presentation or celebration, dies already in use - or prepared for use - for production coins (regular uncirculated pieces or business strikes) would be removed from the press, given extra burnishing on a buffing wheel, wiped to remove any fragments of metal left by this process, and replaced in one of the heavier screwpresses; blanks would be specially burnished, or in some cases apparently strips would be burnished before going into the blank-cutting machine. After inspection (not always too careful) and cleaning, these blanks would be fed into the press, stamped, caught in a chamois or heavy leather glove upon automatic ejection, replaced on the lower die (after 1828, within the close collar), given another blow, sometimes as many as four blows in all in as nearly as possible perfect alignment with as careful repositioning as possible for the succeeding impressions. Possibly from one or two to as many as 30 proofs of any given denomination might have been made at a given occasion. In a few instances dies cracked during the proofing (1841 half-cents, some 1837 cents, various half dimes during the 1830's etc.). The cents of 1834, Newcomb 7 (see below), 1841' Newcomb 1, and a few other dies of various denominations, once used for making proofs, were retained for proofs and afterwards discarded instead of being placed in the regular presses for subsequent service in making uncirculated coins. A quarter-eagle reverse first made in 1830 was used for proofs, then for making 4540 uncirculated coins of the same date; then repolished for making proofs of 1831, then replaced in the press for the 4520 regular strikes; then repolished a third time for proofs of 1832, afterwards replaced in the press for the 4400 regular strikes; then repolished a fourth time for proofs of 1833, afterwards replaced in the press for some 4160 regular strikes. In early 1834 it was repolished a fifth time, the recutting on U of UNITED now being quite faint, used to make at least three proofs, then replaced in the regular press for making the 4000 quarter eagles with motto, May, 30, 1834, after which it was retired because an Act of Congress authorized a weight change, marked also by a change of design. The single half-cent reverse used in 1833-34-early 35 (S T spaced apart) was also used both for proofs and uncirculated coins in all three years. There are technical arguments against the guess that all these variously dated proofs sharing a single reverse die were made at the same time, largely having to do with the progressive wearing down of the die, appearance and buffing off of clash marks, etc.

It was at one time believed that certain small mintages of which proofs were known to survive had consisted in entirety of such proofs. The instances in question: 1827 quarters (4000), 1831 half-cents (2200), 1851 silver dollars (1300), 1852 silver dollars (1100). In recent years this belief has been demolished by the discovery of uncirculated specimens, or of coins near enough to uncirculated to retain some vestiges of mint bloom and no evidence of proof quality of striking, of each of these mintages. (The mere presence of VF or worse examples would not have provided refutation, as proofs in a few cases did get into circulation, and as a result we have records of circulated half-cents in the 1840's when only proofs were made. Only pieces with some mint bloom would prove decisive.) One of the 1827 quarters now surviving is apparently a business strike; three uncirculated and half a dozen worn 1831 half-cents of 1831 remain; and there are uncirculated dollars of both 1851 and 1852 with mint frost. This disposes of a lot of folklore, and incidentally helps in establishing distinctions between originals and restrikes of various issues.

U.S. Presentation and Proof Coins: Overview
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