1855-S Proof $3 Gold Piece, a supreme rarity, in Heritage Chicago U.S. Coin Auction

Part of a trio of exceptional 1855-S proof coins, offered in Aug. 11 Platinum Night auction

A trio of 1855-S proof coins from the Golden Gate Collection, including the possibly unique $3 PR64 NGC. CAC., being offered by Heritage Auctions as part of the company’s Aug. 11-12 Chicago Signature® U.S. Coin & Platinum Night Auction, is generating serious buzz in the realm of high end collectors.

1855 S 3 proof ha chicago2011 1855 S Proof $3 Gold Piece, a supreme rarity, in Heritage Chicago U.S. Coin Auction“Just looking at the three dollar coin from the front, it has every outward appearance of a Philadelphia Mint proof,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage Auctions. “Turn the coin over, however, and the ‘S’ mintmark on the reverse elevates this coin into a whole other realm. This is a supreme rarity and will be highly coveted by the top collectors in the world.”

While the $3 1855-S is drawing most of the attention from the top echelon of numismatists, the coin is being offered along with two other important 1855-S proofs: an 1855-S 50C Arrows PR65 NGC. and an 1855-S 25C Arrows PR64 NGC.

The 1855-S $3 is unique as a proof and is arguably the single most important coin in the Platinum Night auction, while the 1855-S Seated Liberty Half Dollar, PR65 is one of just two known proofs and the only currently available specimen. The 1855-S Seated Liberty Quarter, PR64 NGC is equally alluring as a unique branch Mint Proof, believed to be the first-struck San Francisco Mint quarter dollar.

“These coins will be cornerstone pieces in whatever advanced collection they end up,” said Rohan. “We fully expect the bidding to be spirited and the prices to reflect the extreme rarity of the coins themselves.”

The 1848 discovery of gold in California forever changed the region and the nation. As the Western population quickly swelled with prospectors, the scarcity of coinage made life extremely difficult. Gold dust was the medium of exchange in California and the individual prospectors typically received less than half its real value. Eventually the Federal Government stepped in, opening the United States Assay Office following Congressional legislation passed on Sept. 30, 1850. The first issues appeared early in 1851. The Assay Office was a temporary measure, however, and a full-fledged branch of the U.S. Mint opened in San Francisco in 1854.

1855-S Three Dollar Proof ( From the Auction catelog)

When Walter Breen penned his Proof Encyclopedia, published in 1977, the proof 1855-S three dollar gold piece was unknown to him. It made its first public appearance in the 1984 Apostrophe Sale. Breen’s 1989 revision to his earlier work suggests a second proof example was known to him, but he gave no further details, other than to say it was in a “private collection.” Until such time as the second piece makes its appearance, this proof 1855-S three has to be considered unique.

Jeff Garrett purchased the newly discovered gold piece at the 1984 ANA convention, and later described it as “a supremely rare Proof that any serious collector would love to own.” Although he writes in his Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795-1834, that the coin first surfaced at the 1984 ANA convention, it actually appeared just prior to the convention as it was consigned to Paramount’s session of Auction ’84, held the preceding weekend.

The existence of the proof 1855-S three dollar piece was apparently known to a few individuals the previous decade. In The United States $3 Gold Pieces, 1854-1889, Q. David Bowers writes:

“The known example was shown to one of the authors (Bowers) by John Struzan in the 1970s. It later was acquired by David Stagg III, who sold it in 1983 to Jimmy Hayes and John Dannreuther, after which, graded as Proof-63, it appeared in Paramount’s section of Auction ’85 [sic] as lot 881 and later was in several other sales, still as Proof-63, now certified by NGC.”

David Akers, associated with Paramount in 1984, wrote the first description of the 1855-S proof three dollar piece, the same coin that is offered today. A keen numismatic observer, then as today, Akers commented:

“Its proof status is, in our opinion, absolutely certain and the coin was surely struck to mark the first minting of the Three Dollar denomination at the San Francisco Mint. … We have examined this coin for many hours, comparing it both to business strikes of the period and to proofs, including an 1855 Philadelphia Mint proof $3. It is totally unlike any business strike 1855-S $3 in overall appearance and texture (albeit from the same dies) and it is remarkably similar to the 1855 $3 proofs struck at the Philadelphia Mint. In fact, if there were no ‘S’ mintmark on the reverse, one would immediately take it for an 1855 Philadelphia Mint proof.”

The next auction appearances in 1988 and 1990, offering this piece as PR63 NGC, essentially reprinted the Akers description. In the January 2000 Rarities Sale, Bowers and Merena offered this 1855-S proof three dollar piece, now certified PR63 PCGS, according to the catalog. Little further information was offered about this coin in the Bowers and Merena catalog.

Akers aptly provided the physical appearance of this proof 1855-S three dollar gold piece in Auction ’84:

“A very attractive, brilliant proof with a 100% full strike, a sharp, square edge and deep mirror fields that have considerable ‘orange peel.’ (This ‘orange peel’ texture is one of several characteristics of virtually all 19th Century U.S. proof gold coins.) The color is a rich greenish-gold and orange. There are some light hairlines on the surfaces but virtually no contact marks or abrasions. In front of the face and behind the head there is the ‘porosity’ (resulting from double striking and conforming exactly to the shape of the wreath on the reverse which received the metal flow) that is seen on almost all proof threes. From the standpoint of quality and overall appearance, this coin is very pleasing, better than most 1854 proofs we’ve seen as well as most of the 1856 and 1857 proofs.”

This piece exhibits every design detail exactly as it appeared in the dies, with obvious cameo contrast between the lustrous devices and fully mirrored fields. As others have noted, it has every outward appearance of a Philadelphia Mint proof, except of course for the S mintmark on the reverse.
Call it “Supremely Rare” or a “Landmark Rarity,” the 1855-S is unique as a proof and it is arguably the single most important coin in the present sale. Add its numismatic history, and this specimen is a must for any serious numismatist.

From a Sierra Foothills Estate, according to Walter Breen; David Stagg III; Jimmy Hayes and John Dannreuther; Auction ’84 (Paramount, 7/1984), lot 881 as PR63; Auction ’88 (Superior, 7/1988), lot 345 as PR63 NGC; Auction ’90 (Superior, 8/1990), lot 1294 as PR63 NGC; The Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2000), lot 340 as PR63 PCGS; Stack’s (10/2004), lot 2025 as PR63 PCGS. (#8054)

While the three coins are being offered as individual lots, their shared history makes them prime candidates to go to a single dedicated collector.

“Perhaps the same buyer will acquire all three 1855-S proof coins in this auction,” said Rohan, “and keep a remarkable trio together.”

Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $700 million, and 600,000+ online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.

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