Heritage Auctions is proud to present a 1971-S $1 Eisenhower Dollar Prototype, Specimen 67 PCGS, as a part of our Platinum Night offerings in the January 5-10 FUN Signature Auction. This prototype is one of the rarest of all silver dollars struck since 1794, and it has been poetically described as the “birth certificate of America’s last silver dollar.”
Only three prototypes in total are known since being struck 50 years ago. Two of the three originate from this prototype’s die pair, with a third struck from a different obverse prototype die. It is also one of the three earliest-known of all Eisenhower dollars and bears a prototype design featuring an unfinished moon. This is the inaugural public sale of the “discovery” example of a U.S. Mint working prototype for a coin issued for circulation and in its actual precious metal of issue. This is likely a historic numismatic first since the establishment of the United States Mint in 1792.
The three known prototypes are lacking from the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection, the United States Mint collection, all of the Federal Reserve museum collections, and the collections of the American Numismatic Association and the American Numismatic Society. We would not be surprised if the new owner has the opportunity to place this coin on loan to any of these worthy institutions, among many others, and hope that he or she would accept such an invitation.
As there have been no public offerings of any of the prototypes, meaningful comparables are elusive. However, we view the 1975 No S Proof dime, which sold for $456,000 USD in a Heritage auction in 2019, as a coin of similar rarity and mysterious origin. Similarly, the unique 1976 Eisenhower dollar No S Proof appears in the PCGS Price Guide valued at $850,000. Numismatic history may well be made in Orlando when this coin crosses the block.
Pattern vs. Prototype
For centuries, no working prototype of any American coin destined for circulation in its actual metal of issue was known in private hands. That all changed when the three Eisenhower dollar prototypes first appeared via this discovery coin in 2008, followed by the second in 2010, and a final example in 2013.
Unfortunately, the terms “pattern” and “prototype” are often used interchangeably and inappropriately. What, then, is a “pattern” coin, and how does it differ from a “prototype”?
A pattern coin is generally thought to be a concept coin, struck to evaluate a purely conceptual design never officially approved for circulation. Likewise, many pattern coins were struck in unrelated metals to that of any approved and issued coin series. Often they are nothing more than fantasy pieces, deliberately struck for sale or trade to collectors by mint officials. A vast number of pattern coins remain in collectors’ hands, and many were actually traded by the Mint to collectors in exchange for items that it wanted. A famous example of this would be the fabulous 1877 Half Union gold patterns, traded by William Woodin to the Mint for, ironically, vast quantities of pattern coins. Pattern coins are specifically identified as patterns by their Judd catalog numbers, drawn from the Judd pattern reference. An excellent website we often recommend for studying pattern coins is uspatterns.com.
Prototypes, by contrast, are coins produced within the Mint for the chief engraver’s actual day-to-day working use (hence, our term “working prototype”). They are a tool to perfect an officially approved coin design for circulation. There is nothing fanciful with a prototype as with most patterns; rather, prototypes are among the tools required to evolve a circulating coin from inception to production. One would also expect a true working prototype to be struck in its proper metal of issue. As, in turn, are the three known 1971-S Eisenhower dollar prototypes on their 40% silver planchets.
Likewise, they lack Judd pattern numbers as they are appropriately recognized by PCGS and others as true mint prototypes and not patterns. Experts have even suggested that they were created to help determine the correct striking pressure for the first production coins struck on full-sized dollar planchets since 1935. At least two of the three prototypes may even have small handmade indentations on their reverse sides, possibly done to test the planchet’s “hardness” after striking.
As prototypes, they bear an exclusive numismatic classification. However, we believe they would also have exceptional complementary series interest to pattern collectors, too. They have much in common with traditional patterns, and we believe would nicely complement that venerable series. After the auction, Heritage will thus nominate these coins for inclusion in the Judd pattern reference as pieces from a complementary series. And, also, for a new Red Book listing to record their official prototype status. If issued a Judd number, these will be the only three coins in existence with both official U.S. mint prototype status and a Judd catalog number. They are truly unsurpassed as being among the rarest and most fascinating coins in American numismatics.
This surreal prototype is now housed in a PCGS “Rarities” holder graded SP-67 and labeled “Discovery Coin“. It has a stunningly beautiful and almost metallic high relief appearance, with some doubling evident on the motto and date. The letters in LIBERTY have lighter serifs than the lettering on the 1971-S 40% silver Proofs. The design elements are sharply detailed in most areas, with just a touch of softness evident on the moon and eagle’s breast due to the design’s high relief. The rims are perfect and square and the devices richly frosted. The reeding is identical to that on the low-relief 40% silver Ike dollars in the Blue Packs. Strong prooflike reflectivity is evident in the fields, and many die polishing lines show on both sides. The virtually flawless surfaces add to the terrific eye appeal. A small depression near the eagle’s tail may be the result of mint personnel testing the planchet hardness. Significantly, a similar mark shows in nearly the same spot on another prototype.
This magnificent superb gem is the discovery coin for the extremely rare Eisenhower dollar prototype. It is one of only three examples discovered in the half-century since their creation, the unique “discovery coin”, and one of only three pieces available to collectors. It combines the highest available technical quality, profound historic interest, and absolute rarity in one irresistible package. It may be decades before it returns to the market if placed on long-term institutional loan, and discerning parties will want to bid accordingly.