confused by PFCA designation on Walking Halves

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by Gallienus, Mar 9, 2018.

  1. Gallienus


    Occasionally I've thought about buying an old proof set. A friend of mine years ago got a run of these from his dad (1936-1942) who bought from the Gov't when issued. While a kid and he traded the extras away to an old guy for some 2c pieces.

    Anyhow these classic proof sets are kinda dead these days and I'd like to get a set with a non-dog half dollar. I've seen some slabbed pf-67 1942's halves for sale on Heritage and they appear to be normal business strikes. No proof finish.

    Do I have to buy a PFCA to get a proof-like surface? Why are there only six PFCA's in the NGC pop report and only for 1942? I thought all proof walking halves would have a cameo proof finish?
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  3. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    Did you look at them in person or just images online? Images can be deceiving.

    No, the mint did not go out of their way to create a cameo finish on the proofs. The first few coins from a new proof die would have a cameo and it might be just a light cameo contrast and often just on one side unless they changed both dies at the same time. MOST proof coins in the 1936 to 1972 are brilliant proofs with no contrast between the fields and devices. Proof coins were not consistently cameo until 1973 and later.

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Conder is quite correct. It's not only a matter of historical record but those who lived through most of it know it well. I collected original Mint and Proof sets for almost 40 years, searched through hundreds of thousands of sets, by hand, always trying to find the cameos. For most dates, I would not say they are rare, (at least as I define rare), but cameos are most certainly quite scarce.
  5. Gallienus


    The thing that triggered this inquiry was looking at some pix of 1942 PF halves on Heritage. I'll try to post the pix in question. The context of course is now that proof sets are so out of favor, it may not be a bad time to pick up an attractive, classic, (36-42) proof set. Today this of course means selecting a nice slabbed half dollar which makes the set.

    Aside from my friend's collection, I'd be SCARED to inquire about such sets in person from a US dealer at a coin show. They're often quite nasty. However, the main issue is that these halves seem to illustrate a normal frosty business strike type finish: complete with little bagmarks commensurate with a circ strike.

    I see no signs of a proof finish cameo or otherwise. Am I reading the label right? PR67 means proof-67, not some 4-circulation issue struck in Puerto Rico?

    Also a correction to my original comment. Cameo proofs of walkers are known for the years 1938,39, & 42. They seem to be very uncommon in terms of pop and about 2x the price: indicating a lack of interest.

    And the full image below for ref:
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2018
  6. Gallienus


    Well I think I've somewhat answered my question. I usually collect foreign so I'm not too familiar with US coins. Even in US, I've always collected business strikes. So the question now is: Since the PFCA attribute was an accident, are there degrees between regular frosted finish and the cameo finish? I'd assume the CA finish was for newly prepared dies, thus as they're used the Cameo Effect should gradually lessen with every strike?

    Here's a PFCA-66 1942 half pix (from Heritage).

    Also these things seem quite scarce [unfortunately] from the pop reports. The lower prices may also mean that people think there are a lot more of them out there, unslabbed, in people's old 1942 proof sets sitting in closets?

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Your questions have had me wondering, namely why the questions to begin with. But your last post kind of explains a bit, I think you just lack some basic knowledge, a basic understanding, about US Proof coins, and specifically the cameo effect, or lack thereof.

    In regard to the '36-'42 Proof coins you first have to be aware of the numbers minted - they were few in number. With only enough coins even being minted to produce 21,000 sets in '42, and less in all preceding years on down to under 4,000 in '36. And then you need to understand how Proof coins are made and minted - which is what explains the cameo or lack of it. And then you need to understand how they were sold. All of this plays a part.

    You've been talking about the half dollars and the low number of cameo examples - NGC has a total of 10, and PCGS a total of 8 for the entire '36-'42 period. But have you looked at the other denominations from the same period ? The number of cameo examples for them is much, much higher. Cents for example number over 400 (combined) that have been designated cameo.

    But let's back up a bit and start with how they are made. The fields of brilliant Proof dies are highly polished to a mirror finish. But the devices, legends, numerals, etc are frosted. This frosted effect was produced back then by sandblasting or acid etching. Then when the coins are struck this frosted effect is present on the coins, but only until the frost is worn off the dies, and that doesn't take very long to happen. Nobody really knows for sure exactly how long, it may only last for a few hundred coins, it may last for a thousand, but it's suspected it doesn't last any longer than that. And the denomination being struck also plays a part in that the larger the coin the sooner the frost wears off. This is due to the amount of metal flow - more metal flows across the dies with larger coins, thus more wear in a shorter time period. So simply by that measure alone there are going to be much fewer cameo examples of halves than there are cents.

    Then you have to look at individual mintage for each denomination. Typically the larger the denomination the lower the mintage so there's a whole lot more cents minted than there are halves. This also contributes to the number of cameos being higher with the lower denomination coins.

    Then you have to look at how the Proofs were sold. Back then, very, very few people bought entire sets, they simply didn't do it. Instead they bought individual coins to fit their individual collections. Some only collected cents, so they would only buy cents. Others dimes, nickels, and so on and so on. This translated into very, very few sets even existing. And I can speak to that.

    I collected original Mint and Proof sets for about 40 years. When I stopped I was missing 2 dates in the Mint sets, and all of the Proofs from '36-'42. In 40 years of searching I had only ever even seen, or heard of 1 single set, a '41, from that entire period - 1 in 40 years ! That was in 2002 I believe. At the time I found it, it was so expensive I couldn't buy it. But does give you an idea of how just how rare original sets from this period were ? 40 years of searching and I found 1. And it wasn't just me either, I had dozens of dealers searching for me too at any given time.

    And, your comment of sets sitting out there in somebody's closet - they're not because the sets don't even exist. Oh there may be 1 or 2 or even 10 out there someplace, but even that is doubtful.

    So in '42 when there were just over 21,000 halves minted, probably only a few hundred of them even had the cameo. Over the years simple attrition wipes out a lot of them. They are lost or destroyed one way or another - floods, tornadoes, fires, etc etc. Even toning destroys a large number of them. That's why so few exist today. Hopefully this will have helped to answer your questions. But if you still have others feel free to ask.

    Now a couple of years, maybe it's been a few now I don't recall exactly, a member of this forum, a dealer, LostDutchman, ran across an original '42 set. It was only the 2nd set from this period I have seen in my entire life. And I've been involved with coins since 1960. But here's a few pics of it, I made sure to save those.

    original '42 Proof set a.JPG original '42 Proof set b.JPG original '42 Proof set c.JPG original '42 Proof set a eJPG.JPG
    McBlzr, TheFinn, mynamespat and 3 others like this.
  8. Gallienus


    Thanks very much for your detailed response. Since posting, I've also looked at proof cameo Mercuries which are another important element in the sets. These seem pretty rare also so I missed seeing the trend that PFCA would be much lower with the larger denominations.

    Also I should clarify my terms. From my 1st photo: the closeup of the 1942 half: this coin doesn't even appear to have a mirror-like surface. It seems to have a regular finish. From my 2nd photo of Heritage's PFCA-66, this coin has a mirror-like surface but I can't discern any true cameo effect. I guess I should find a Walker specialist at a major show and ask him. It seems that the exact difference can be very subtle in appearance? Is a PFCA Walker (or Mercury) a true cameo or merely a mirrored finish?

    Regarding sets: my experience has been very different than yours. My friend, the son of a high school teacher, got a bunch of complete proof sets from 1936 - 1942. His Dad bought them & even duplicates in 1939-42 sets from the Gov't back then under the advice of a relative who was a famous numismatist: Richard Hoover or something. He had a lot of fantastic ms 20th century dates, many ms comm halves, but no type coins as those were too expensive for his dad back in the 40's. One exception was a Fine grade 1799 Bust dollar: a coin I've always desired. Thus, while a high school kid, he traded all the excess proof sets to an older experienced dealer in exchange for some 2c pieces: as he had almost 0 type coins.

    I have a run of PF sets 1956-70 bought from a guy who's Dad bought them from the Gov't. They've never been slabbed or even seen by anyone since I bought them in the late 70's for 2.6x the silver face value. Hence my impression of "a lot of original PF sets out there". I also have a single proof cent: 1906 bought for $30 which has mirrored fields. Also went for the Stack's advertised deal of $60 for a 1953 PF set some years back.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    You've got it backwards - as a general rule, the larger the denomination the less likely it will be cameo.

    You were just very lucky to meet and or know that person. If you searched for 20-30 years I doubt you could find another like him. Were there people like that back then ? Yes, of course, but they were very few and far between. And even fewer, or their families, still have the coins.

    But I must ask you to confirm something, these sets your friend has, are they all in those small cardboard boxes like the one I pictured ?

    After '42 Proof sets were discontinued until 1950. And by then things had changed in regard to the number of collectors of who sought out and bought full Proof sets - they had increased greatly ! Proof sets were still issued in the cardboard boxes I pictured above until 1955, but in '55 only a few of them in boxes, the rest were in pliofilm flatpacks. Bottom line, the sets from '50 on in the original boxes are much more common than those from '36-'42 period, but even they are hard to find. And expensive when you do find them. As I said, I had all of '50 and later sets. But the cameo examples of Proofs continued to be scarce, very few in number, until 1973.

    In '73 the mint made a point of only issuing Proofs that were cameo. So the tables did a complete flip - Proofs dated '73 and newer that were not cameo became downright rare. And in just a few years unheard of.

    Examples of the original Proof sets, dated '50 to '55, in the cardboard boxes have been very hard to find for 20-30 years now. You can still find some, but rarely. And many of those you do find today are fakes. The coins are real, but the packaging is fake. That has also been true for 20-30 years. There are no large numbers of original Proof sets, dated '55 and earlier out there. They simply do not exist.
  10. Gallienus


    Please note that my friend was from high school and I have no idea if he still has any of the proof sets. This is the 1st I've heard that they're worth more in the original boxes. It's very possible that he sold them years ago as he didn't go into a profession and likely needed the $. While your pictured box does seem sort of familiar, I don't recall if his proof sets were in those boxes. I believe the '53 set I bought from Stack's ca. 2010 is in one of those boxes; I'll get a photo if interested.

    I corrected my post {before your reply} as I originally had it backwards. PFCA should be rarer on larger flans but still PFCA Mercuries appear to be quite scarce. PFCA silver war nickels and Lincolns appear available, the only difficulties seem to be with the copper-nickel 5 cents and the quarters.

    While somewhat experienced in grading foreign silver dollars between the grades on AU-53 and ms-64 - 65, determining the degree of cameo finish is a subject not well suited to a web site.
  11. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    I readily agree it's best done in hand as pics can be very deceiving if taken by somebody without experience in photographing cameo. But with the experience it's not hard at all. And if cameo exist it's quite evident in the pictures.

    I would also add that due to the scarcity of cameo examples with mid 20th century Proofs, faking the cameo effect on the coins, (actually adding frost to the coin), is not all that uncommon. And that is very hard, if not impossible, to detect in pictures.
  12. Gallienus


    Okay, I dug up my oldest US proof set and it was 1954, not 1953. I do have a run of PF sets from 1956 to 1970 minus the years for which none were issued. None were bought from the Gov't and all were bought in the original packaging from different sources. Here's the one I got from Stack's. One day, years ago, I was reading Coin World and they ran an ad in the back; advertising to sell specific years of US pf sets for a specific price.


    I did remove the staple holding the cellophane bags together as it was rusting. That's the source of those dark holes in the plastic. That's why I imagined everyone bought PF sets like this: even back to '36.

    I'll investigate further. I've applied for the ANA summer scholarship, if I win, then I'll go this year and perhaps can ask some people there about the earlier 20th century cameo proofs. As pointed out I'm really a foreign collector but wouldn't have minded getting a choice original 42 PF set in one of these boxes for ~ 1K.

    I know what I'll do. I'll send these pix to Stack's and ask them to sell me more of their pf sets in the original boxes: preferably from the early 50's or 40's. I have no idea what the numerical grade of this 1954 set is, but it seems attractive enough. Some things shouldn't be slabbed.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2018
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