Featured Gold Dollars from the 1880s, Proof vs. Proof-Like

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by johnmilton, Apr 3, 2019.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    During the 1880s, the Philadelphia Mint produced some beautiful gold dollars. The mintages were generally low, and one result was that the dies often kept their die polish for much of the production run. One result of this was that it became difficult for many people to tell the difference between a Proof and a Proof-Like. Here are a couple of examples.

    This 1880 gold dollar is a Proof-Like. It is quite lusterous, but there is some mint frost in the fields. Still if you don't know the difference you could scammed into thinking that this one of the rare proofs, which has a mintage of 36 pieces.

    1880 Gold Dollar O.jpg 1880 Gold Dollar R.jpg

    Here is an 1883 gold dollar that is a Proof. PCGS graded it PR-65, Cameo and CAC has approved it. Note the the mirrors in the fields are not subject to any frost and that the devices are all sharp and clear. The Proof mintage for this year was 207.

    1883 Gold Dollar O.jpg 1883 Gold Dollar R.jpg

    Here is a less deceptive gold dollar that as some P-L characterists. It is high grade, not has deception as the 1880 gold dollar I posted earlier.

    1882 Gold Dollar O.jpg 1882 Gold Dollar R.jpg
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  3. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Back before certification became widespread, one of the problem that many collectors and dealers faced was how to tell the Proofs from the Proof-like coins in this series. The rule of thumb for honest people became, "When doubt, sell it as an Uncircualted coin."
    Cheech9712, GeorgeM, micbraun and 2 others like this.
  4. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random guy on the internet

    My favorite look is the PL-with-mint-frost fields like on your 1880. Pretty coins!
    Cheech9712 and johnmilton like this.
  5. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Here is one more high grade example that is arguably better than any of the pieces shown above. NGC graded this 1881 gold dollar MS-67, and it has a green CAC sticker. When I was shopping for this “ultimate grade” type coin, I compared it to a couple of PCGS graded MS-67 pieces and thought that it was slightly better.

    1881 Gold Dol A O.jpg 1881 Gold Dol A R.jpg
  6. micbraun

    micbraun coindiccted

    Awesome coins, John! I like the 1882 most and it’s a cool year (I was born in 1982 :)
  7. Kirkuleez

    Kirkuleez 80 proof

    Is there any information about earlier proof like gold dollar populations? I just got these the other day and they are both PL. maybe not enough for the designation necessarily, but nicely reflective anyway. A24490E1-BF83-41AE-B84A-4A1EFEF32235.jpeg
  8. bradgator2

    bradgator2 Supporter! Supporter

    Great old thread. I’ve read how the highly reflective surfaces can form due to newly polished dies but I’ve never heard a good explanation on how “frost” gets there. Is it some sort of metallic flow crystallization that forms on the devices? I’ve never seen a gold one but have several heavily frosted PL and DMPL Morgans. I’ve always found them stunning.
  9. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    There are quite a few examples of auctions where a coin was listed as a proof, but it is now considered to be a PL example. Before reputable certifications, all you needed was a Breen letter and your coin became a proof!

    Anyways, here's mine, graded NGC MS-65PL. It definitely shows the traces of luster in the fields, despite the clearly mirrored surfaces. This distinction does get a bit harder when you see a DMPL dollar - you then need to rely on the distinctions in strike and rim:

    JPA900 obverse.jpg JPA900 reverse.jpg
    Insider, Jaelus, kaparthy and 7 others like this.
  10. Cheech9712

    Cheech9712 Every thing is a guess

    You have amazing taste
  11. ToughCOINS

    ToughCOINS Dealer Member Moderator

    There are lots of folks with amazing taste. Fortunately, @johnmilton is able to act on his desires with less compromise than most.

    All things are relative. Just as you may be awestruck over the coins he has been able to acquire, so may he be over coins acquired by Col Green, Buddy Ebsen or D. Brent Pogue.
    Last edited: May 15, 2020
    GoldFinger1969 likes this.
  12. kaparthy

    kaparthy Supporter! Supporter

    The coins are pretty. The design is nice and the Proof (or PL) appearence does it justice. We have had this discussion before. It is not clear that the coins were needed. The low mintages suggest that they had little demand. They did find a place in commerce after the War Between the States when the economy expanded and the average laborer's wage was a dollar a day. The other end of that spectrum is the Morgan dollar, also pretty in Prooflike, and also a useless make-work for the Mint. The coins of commerce in America of the time were the Cent, the Half Dollar and the Half Eagle. Others (half cent, 5-cent/half-dime, dime, 25 cents, quarter eagle) were needed to fill in the spaces for convenience. The other experiments, the 3-cent, the 2-cent, the 20-cent, were interesting and perhaps justifiable in theory. Mostly, the Mint's economic theories were as crude as the astronomy and physics of the time. They did the best they knew how and you have to give them credit for that.

    The standard reference now is the Whitman book by Bowers.
    Gold Dollars Bowers cover.jpeg

    On the matter of "a letter from Breen" in his time, it was the 3rd party opinion. I know that Walter Breen takes a lot of criticism, as do third party graders today. The fact remains that he and they were and are recognized authorities. You can disagree with their findings (or opinions), but you need facts, specific facts, not just general facts -- "They were wrong once about something else; so, I feel they are wrong here." The book above by Q. David Bowers with David Akers makes estimates of early Proof populations, often citing Danreuther in support, but relying on Breen, also. Just to put that in context, Bowers says, page 64: Walter Breen (Encyclopedia, 1988, page 477) stated that "at least seven" are known but did not reconcile that with his earlier comment that about half a dozen were struck (Major Varieties of US Gold Dollars, 1964). In 16 years, Breen went from 6 to 7 for his "opinion" of their population. Nobody else was working at his level. Another "physics fan" I worked with held Breen as the originator of the scientific method in American numismatics.

    If you like pretty coins, we have many discussions here.

    Last edited: May 15, 2020
  13. GoldFinger1969

    GoldFinger1969 Well-Known Member

    Wow, I didn't know Buddy Ebsen was a coin collector. Had some bigtime coins, too, from what I see.
    kaparthy likes this.
  14. Penna_Boy

    Penna_Boy Just a nobody from the past

    Proof Like, Semi Proof Life, DMPL, Cameo, Ultra Cameo, Star, Plus, Full Bands, First Day of Issue, etc etc. etc. Created by dealers for dealers to add 'special' premiums to get the common collector to fork over more money for otherwise Business Strike coins. If it isn't a Proof coin it isn't. Just my opinion on the latter; nothing more.
    GoldFinger1969 likes this.
  15. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    Some of these distinctions, like PL and FB, are real and significant. Passionate collectors pay premiums because these coins are special and distinct from other coins. Have you ever held a regular business strike gold dollar, and compared it side by side with a PL and a Proof? There is a big difference, and it is worth a premium in the minds of many collectors.

    Some of these distinctions, like FDOI, are marketing schemes.

    Not all designators are marketing!
    kaparthy likes this.
  16. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    You and Physics Fan can duke out that opinion. A P-L coin with strong luster and perhaps frosted devices can be very pretty and therefore worth a premium price. Ditto for a Cameo Proof coin.
    GoldFinger1969, kaparthy and micbraun like this.
  17. bradgator2

    bradgator2 Supporter! Supporter

    I have never seen a semi-prooflike label. "First day of issue" doesnt move my needle. But PL and DMPL coins really rev my engine.

    The NGC Star is an interesting one.
    kaparthy likes this.
  18. ToughCOINS

    ToughCOINS Dealer Member Moderator

    Yeah, if I recall correctly, I was underbidder on a proof 1864 SM 2c in his collection (Superior Galleries, I think). A very rare coin. That's one of the real good ones I let get away.
    GoldFinger1969 and kaparthy like this.
  19. Penna_Boy

    Penna_Boy Just a nobody from the past


    Attached Files:

  20. micbraun

    micbraun coindiccted

    Coins with exceptional eye appeal, i.e. 1) amazing toning or 2) good cameo contrast (proof coins) get a star. As Jason mentioned, PL is a technical grade, or an addition to a grade. "Semi-prooflike" is not an official designation, but rather a term to say "almost" PL.
  21. bradgator2

    bradgator2 Supporter! Supporter

    Oh I fully understand the definition and have read the thread where this is discussed in great detail (regarding NGC Star). I actually love the Star designation. I will always take a closer look when I see that label. It adds confusion though. I have a killer 1879 S Star Morgan with full deep mirror obverse. The reverse is probably “just” a normal PL. I got that coin at a steal because of that Star label. It’s even worse on proof coins. The Proof Star coins I have purchased should have cameo labels instead. They certainly are not adding much (if any) premium. Not that I am complaining.

    Maybe I have said too much lol
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