Stack’s Bowers Galleries is pleased to present an exceptionally rare early Proof Liberty eagle as part of our June 25-27 official auction of the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Baltimore Expo. Graded Proof-62 by NGC, it is one of the few known today from a mintage of just 25 Proof $10 pieces struck that year. There are believed to be approximately a dozen known today according to CoinFacts, although the exact number known is difficult to ascertain, Walter Breen only eight to ten survived. There have been two other auction appearances of this issue in Proof in the last 15 years.
In April of 1865, the Civil War was finally winding down, but that was a month after Proofs were struck (March 8 is the recorded issue date) and distributed. Of the perhaps dozen known at least two are permanently impounded, one the Smithsonian and another in the ANS collection. The paucity of auction records for this issue would seem to indicate fewer survivors than even the experts believe.
The strike is needle sharp and there is a satiny texture on the devices, which cause the frosted areas to contrast appreciably with reflectivity in the fields — although not quite enough to support a Cameo designation. A subtle orange peel texture is discernible in the fields as the coin is examined with the aid of a loupe, but not even such close inspection reveals more than a few singularly mentionable blemishes. The surface quality and rich eye appeal combine to offer superior quality for the assigned grade. A trio of faint alloy spots over and around Liberty’s portrait, a thin contact mark in the field before the chin, and a more expansive mark in the left reverse field are useful identifying markers, but the extreme rarity of this issue and the infrequency of auction appearances and sales have combined to thwart our best attempts at establishing a pedigree.
Numismatic legend David Akers notes that the eagle of 1865 is a tougher date to find than the earlier 1862, 1863, or 1864 dates. 1865 also represents the final year of the No Motto style for the eagle design, as the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was adopted and included on 1866 and later. Two pattern 1865 eagles are known with the addition of the motto on the reverse, one of these resides in the Smithsonian, the other in private hands. The Harry W. Bass, Jr., Foundation had a gilt copper pattern example with the motto that was offered in the first of the four Bass Collection auctions.
Stack’s-Bowers sold an example of this rare issue in August 2013 in our ANA auction — probably the finest known — for a record price of $528,750 for this issue. That particular coin is graded PR-66+ Deep Cameo by PCGS. This same coin was offered previously in our James A. Stack Sale on March 1, 1995. Proof gold rarities like this 1865 Liberty eagle, have attracted considerable numismatic interest in the last decade, as a result of their rarity and beauty; we suspect this trend will continue.