The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
The decade of the 1900s was characterized by a number of mostly unsuccessful Mint attempts at 'improving' (or at least altering) the quality of proof gold. The first such change came in 1902 during the Liberty Head gold coinage era, when the Mint changed from the former mirrored fields-frosty devices format to a 'semibrilliant,' contrastless appearance for proof gold, for reasons that are undocumented and forgotten today. That format lasted through 1907, when the changeover to the Saint-Gaudens designs provided the Mint personnel with another opportunity (if they needed one) to change the surfaces of the nation's proof gold coinage. Roger Burdette's Renaissance of American Coinage 1905-1908 describes the different methods that characterize proof gold (and other coins), paraphrased below (emphasis ours):
Brilliant Proof Gold 1858-1907 (Burdette does not mention the 1902 change). Polished mirrored surfaces and devices, struck on hydraulic press from new, carefully impressed dies. Dies and planchets usually polished.
Cameo Proof Gold 1858-1907. Polished mirrored fields and frosted devices (lettering, portrait). Struck on hydraulic press from new, carefully impressed dies. Only field of dies polished, planchets usually polished. Seen on proof coins sold to collectors as consequence of incomplete die polishing. Highly prized today.
Sandblast (or 'Matte') Proof Gold 1908, 1911-15. Dull, nonreflective surfaces. Struck on hydraulic press from new, carefully impressed dies. Dies and planchets not polished. After striking, coins lightly sandblasted, like medals. Delicate, easily marred surfaces.
Satin Proof Gold 1909-1910. So-called Roman proof. Lustrous nonmirrored surfaces lacking mint frost commonly seen on circulation strikes. Struck on hydraulic press from new, carefully impressed dies. Hubs lightly buffed before annealing to remove stray metal. Planchets unpolished, no post-strike treatment. Easily confused with early circulation strikes made the same way on normal coining presses.
Burdette continues to describe sandblast vs. satin finish silver coins as seen on 1921-22 Peace dollars, a discussion that does not concern us here. The Mint went back and forth from 1907 through 1910, unable to satisfy all collectors' wishes regardless of whether a 'dull' or matte finish were chosen (as for 1908 and 1911-1915), or a Roman or satin finish (for most coins produced in 1909 ad 1910). An Aug. 25, 1910, letter Burdette quotes from famous numismatist William Woodin to Assistant Treasury Secretary A. Piatt Andrew sheds light on the debate: 'Your letter of August 24th has just been received. Thank you very much for your letter to Mr. Landis. I certainly understand your position with regard to proof coin matters, but it seems to me that the difference between the dull proofs and the proofs that are now issued is so great and so obviously in favor of the dull proof coins, that I should think the Mint Dept. would be justified in making them, as certainly the most artistic results are desired for coins of this class that go into the hands of collectors. I can get quite a number of letters favoring dull proof coins from collectors, but I could not get all collectors to agree on anything. They are a very peculiar class of people as a rule, and you would be amused if you could hear some of their ideas.'
To Woodin, the 1909 and 1910 so-called 'proofs' represented little more than imitations of the circulating coinage.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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