By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
An extraordinarily rare original and complete 1888 Proof Set returns to the market as GreatCollections has posted it for sale with a May 21, 2023, 8:26 PM PST (11:26 EST) end time. As of this article’s publication, 54 bids have been placed for the set and the current bid sits at $325,000 USD.
This is the second time that the set has been offered in less than a year. At a September 24, 2022, Spink sale, the set brought $520,000.
In the run-up to the sale, Spink displayed the entire set at their booth at the August 2022 ANA World’s Fair of Money. Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC) issued a press release about the pending sale on their website a week before the lot closed, and various hobby publications and collector forums paid notice to the historic offering. Andy Smith wrote an excellent piece about the set in the April 2023 issue of The Numismatist. Smith writes that the set’s original owner, John Robert Fletcher, a British paper mill owner, purchased the set from the Philadelphia Mint during a U.S. visit. Fletcher paid $46 for the coins. Fletcher’s original personalized case for the set was offered alongside the coins in the Spink sale and is offered again in the present auction.
Complete original 1888 Proof Sets are extremely rare.
Only two intact complete 1888 Proof Sets were known by the late 1980s. The first resided in the collection of the National Numismatic Collection, delivered to the Mint Cabinet on February 19, 1888. The second set was purchased directly from the Mint by the American Numismatic Society (ANS).
The arrival of this set, including all 13 pieces struck as Proofs in 1888, marks only the third original complete set known and the only one in private hands.
What makes this offering different from last year’s is the grading service. The set has been crossed over from NGC holders with a custom insert to PCGS holders with the company’s gold foil insert.
|Denomination||NGC GRADE||PCGS GRADE|
|Liberty Head Double Eagle||PF64+CAM CAC||PR64+CAM CAC|
|Liberty Head Eagle||PF64+CAM CAC||PR64+CAM CAC|
|Liberty Head Half Eagle||PF64CAM CAC||PR64 CAM CAC|
|Three-Dollar Gold||PF65CAM CAC||PR65CAM CAC|
|Liberty Head Quarter Eagle||PF65CAM CAC||PR65CAM CAC|
|Liberty Head Gold Dollar||PF64CAM CAC||PR64CAM CAC|
|Morgan Dollar||PF65 CAC||PR65 CAC|
|Liberty Seated Half Dollar||PF65 CAC||PR65 CAC|
|Liberty Seated Quarter Dollar||PF66 CAC||PR66 CAC|
|Liberty Seated Dime||PF65 CAC||PR65 CAC|
|Liberty Head Five-Cent Piece||PF65 CAC||PR65 CAC|
|Three-Cent Nickel||PF 64 CAC||PR64 CAC|
|Indian Head Cent||PF65 RB CAC||PR65 RB CAC|
Little of consequence has changed as the coins went from one third-party grading service holder to the next. All of the coins graded on par. CAC approved each and every one of the coins in this set.
The gold coins are rare. The double eagle is one of 20 or so known and is among the finest. The three-dollar gold rarely exhibits Cameo frost, but the Fletcher example is one of the finest. While there are no standout “top pop” coins, this is a quality set on a coin-by-coin basis. And with a set this rare, the value lies not in the quality of the individual coins but in the history and exclusivity of the offerings.
We will see if the effort to cross the set over was worth it for the consignor and we hope this set lands where it deserves to be, in a sophisticated collection of superb U.S. coinage.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Liberty Head Half Eagle was downgraded by one point and that the Liberty Head Eagle was graded PR64*CAM by NGC. The article has been updated to present the correct grades.