The following enumeration is first by year, then by denomination within the year. This somewhat unorthodox manner of listing has the intention of reconstructing what might have been contained in any proof or presentation sets in any given year. In the price supplement, giving estimates of value based on auction prices realized, I revert to the normal method of listing first by denomination, then by date (half cents 1825-57, then ents 1817-57, small cents 1856-1975, etc).
All purported "proofs" or presentation coins dated before 1817 are controversial. In every instance possible, some occasion for the presentation is sought. Sometimes this will have been only the presence at the Mint of some distinguished foreign visitor; at other times the occasion is some important anniversary, or the introduction of a new denomination, a new design, or the resumption of coinage of a denomination after a long intermission. I realize that in enumerating presentation pieces I am to a certain extent violating the rather strict ground rules for identification of coins as proofs, but at the moment I see no alternative. The coins exist, the real presentation pieces show evidence of unusual care in striking on carefully selected blanks, and in a few instances the intended recipients have been identified beyond peradventure. Even if Coiner's Department personnel had not yet perfected the technique of burnishing strips, inspecting blanks before striking, burnishing dies and giving the blanks repeated blows, still these presentation pieces do represent beyond question some attempt at a special mintage. In making this admission I know I am leaving open the road for a jail full of dishonest dealers motivated solely by cupidity to seize on the slightest remnants of a shiny field as evidence that their prized coins are suddenly transmogrified into the fantastic elite of presentation coins. But were I to omit the 1792-1811 pieces altogether from consideration, I would be leaving untouched a very real chapter in the history of minting practice at Philadelphia.
The section to follow may be for many collectors pure caviar and truffles: few have ever seen a real presentation coin (after all, not many were made to begin with), and American proofs dated before 1858 are rarely seen except at occasional major convention exhibits or on infrequent visits to the Smithsonian Institution. What will be of more interest to some of you, perhaps, is the historical material scattered throughout this and subsequent chapters, if not merely the list of values at the end. But a lagniappe for others, surely, will be seeing photographs of incredible, legendary, fabulous coins, coins you would not believe without the visual evidence -something to stimulate your Sense of Wonder (as seeing them did mine), after one has been so long dulled by continual exposure only to the kind of stereotyped items weekly quoted in the gray sheet and the Trends Pages.
1792 Disme. Copper, plain edge. Ex Adam Eckfeldt, Mint Cabinet, 1838, by trade to Dr. Edward Maris, private coll. Excellent striking, prooflike surfaces.
- Copper, reeded edge. Same diagonal reeding as on Silver Center Cent and small copper cent without silver plug (known to have been struck around Dec. 17-18, 1792). Because of the proof earmarks on the Eckfeldt, Mint Cabinet, SI specimen and one other, Dr. Judd (1950-1, during early stages of compilation of his book on patterns) raised the question of their being restrikes. If so, they are of very early date; diagonal reeding was abandoned as early as 1794, and I see no reason to postulate any later date than 1792. The two or three silver dismes all show evidence of circulation, and their striking characteristics are not in a class with these few copper pieces. It is, however, doubtful if the latter received more than one blow from the dies in John Harper's screwpress at 6th and Cherry Sts., Philadelphia. It is probably significant that the 1,500 half dismes struck about July 13, 1792 come in all grades from Good to Unc., but no specimen known to me shows any earmarks of proof status; the finest ones have the typical mint bloom of uncirculated coins, they are usually on blanks showing minute cracks or adjustment marks, and they generally show some unevenness of centering and of striking. George Washington may have given many of them to his friends, but others certainly went into circulation, and there is no specimen comparable to the copper Dismes above mentioned.
Cent. Chain type, periods. Sheldon 4, Crosby 4-C. Struck around March 12, 1793. Light golden olive prooflike presentation piece, struck on brilliantly burnished blank from polished dies, early state. Calif. Specialist, ex Mickley, Crosby, Dr. Hall, Brand, Hines, Dr. Sheldon. It has been speculated that Mickley may have traded this away from the Mint Cabinet. Among EAC people (the Early American Coppers society) this incredible piece is mentioned - in awe-struck tones - as "The Coin!"