By James McCartney, Numismatist & Cataloger – Stack’s Bowers …..
The Matte Proof Indian quarter eagles and half eagles of the early 20th century occupy a special niche in United States numismatics. The innovative sunken-relief design (courtesy of collaboration between Bela Lyon Pratt and William Sturgis) certainly captured the attention of the contemporary public, but the bold matte finish also set these coins apart from the norm.
Whereas Proofs of the preceding Liberty design had been produced using either a cameo or all-brilliant finish, the Proofs of the Indian series used specially prepared, satin-finish dies, and were usually sand blasted after striking to provide a heavy, coarse-grain texture. Although a radical departure from Mint tradition, this technique had already seen widespread use by the mint masters in Europe by the early 20th century. Additionally, the U.S. Mint itself had used this finish in preparation of certain medals during the later years of the 19th century.
Instituted with the Proof issues of 1908, the Matte finish proved to be unpopular with the contemporary public and considerable quantities remained unsold at the end of each of the year, and fell victim to the melting pot. Perhaps just a third of the 125 Proof coins struck in 1914 remain available, a far higher attrition rate than would be normally expected. Thankfully, public opinion had drastically swayed over the past century, and these Matte Proof treasures are now cherished for their rarity and beauty.
Even within this exclusive subset, the example to be offered in our March 2017 Baltimore Auction is a glorious anomaly. It is the sole finest survivor of the 1914 Proof issue graded by PCGS, and is one of just two coins in the entire Indian half eagle series to have been certified Proof-68 by that firm.
Predictably, the surfaces are flawless. Examination with a glass reveals nothing beyond glimmering facets and delicately sculpted motifs. The olive-gold patina is uniform and rich throughout, imparting a warm complexion that glows beneath illumination. A wire rim projects from much of the obverse border, testifying to the exceptional strike that rendered this magnificent jewel.
This Matte Proof-68 Gem will be featured among otherworld-class rarities in our March 2017 Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo, sold in conjunction with the D. Brent Pogue Collection Part V. To secure your copy of these exciting catalogs, please contact our offices today at 1-800-458-4646.