Branch Mint Proof Coinage
Posted by Jeff Garrett on 3/14/2013
In the last two installments of my articles I have discussed US Proof coinage. The first was a general overview of Proof coinage and some of the common ways to collect them. My second article was about Early US Proof coinage, pre-1858. Early Proof coinage is a complicated subject, and hopefully readers found the information enlightening. The final article in this series is about what is commonly referred to as Branch Mint Proof coinage. Prior to 1968, nearly all Proof coins made for collectors or presentation purposes were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. These are well documented after 1858, with mostly exact mintage figures provided by the Mint. On rare occasions, however, Proof coins have been struck at mints other than Philadelphia. These coins are usually struck to recognize a special occasion or event. I have included in this list coins that have been deemed as true Proofs by most researchers. There are quite a few other issues known that have been certified as Specimens. Many of these were clearly specially struck, but lack the proper surfaces and strike to qualify as Proof.
In many cases there is no official documentation of why Branch Mint Proof coins were made. For some coins the reasons for their existence is easy to assume, such as the last or first year of issue for the design. It is my guess that some were struck for collectors’ friends as well. Regardless of why many of these coins were struck, they are among the most intriguing and ultra rare coins ever created by the US Mint. Most are out of reach for average collectors, but everyone can agree they are quite interesting. The following is a brief overview of each of the known Branch Mint Proof coins struck by the US Mint prior to 1968.
1851-O Three Cent Silver. There are two or three coins of this issue with claims to having been struck as Proof examples. The coins are sharply struck with partial, mirror surfaces. None have been certified as such, but this could change in the future. The coins could have been struck as the first of the denomination from the New Orleans Mint.
1839-O Seated Dime. One or two examples of this issue exist. A PF 65 example sold in 2008 for about $75,000. Probably struck as the first of the denomination from the New Orleans Mint.
1876-CC Seated Dime. Surprisingly, there are four or five examples of this issue known. No one knows the reason for the coins being struck. These are quite popular, and have sold for over $100,000.
1891-O Seated Dime. One or two probably struck to mark the end of Seated Dimes struck in New Orleans. A Gem Proof example was recently offered privately for $150,000.
1894-S Barber Dime. This issue is one of the most famous US coins ever produced. Supposedly, 24 coins were struck and there is great debate as to whether the coins were struck as Proofs. The surfaces vary on the known examples, and the issue is unresolved. At least one or two of the known examples are unquestionably Proof in my opinion. Choice examples of this great rarity sell for solid seven figures!
1875-S Twenty Cent Piece. There are two to three examples of this issue that were clearly struck for special purposes. The coins have mirror surfaces, and very broad and sharp rims. The coins are not as fully mirrored, however, as the Philadelphia issues. These were probably struck to mark the first of the denomination from the San Francisco Mint. A Choice Proof example sold for around $100,000 in 2009.
1855-S Arrows Seated Quarter. This extremely rare coin is represented by a single known example. For some reason, the San Francisco Mint struck a Proof set for the year 1855! Other denominations are known of this issue and will be mentioned later. The known example is fully mirrored and there is no doubt of its Proof status. The coin sold at auction in 2011 for $276,000.
1838-O Bust Half Dollar. This issue is another great US classic and is highly desirable. The reported mintage figure for the issue is 20 examples, but none were struck for general circulation. Interestingly several examples are known that have been circulated to various degrees. Choice examples have sold for over $500,000 in recent years.
1839-O Bust Half Dollar. Unlike the 1838-O, over 100,000 1839-O Bust Half Dollars were struck for circulation. There are several examples known with deeply mirrored surfaces, but with striking problems that disqualify them as true Proofs. Five or six coins have been certified as Proof examples, and these usually sell for high five figures.
1852-O Seated Half Dollar. One or two examples of this issue are known with deep, mirror surfaces and a sharp strike. The reason for this issue is unknown.
1855-S Arrows Seated Half Dollar. Two or three examples of this rare coin are known. These were clearly struck for special purposes, and are highly desirable. An example sold for over $275,000 in 2011.
1876-CC Seated Half Dollar. A single example has been certified by NGC. The coin is deeply mirrored and nearly Gem. The reason for this issue is unknown. It was possibly struck for presentation purposes.
1879-O Morgan Dollar. These were struck to mark the first of the denomination from the New Orleans Mint. Four or five examples are known, with one in the National Collection at the Smithsonian. A choice Proof example sold at auction in 2010 for nearly $200,000.
1883-O Morgan Dollar. Two or three examples of this date and mint are known to exist. NGC has certified two examples. The reason for the issue is unknown. A superb example sold for $121,000 in 1997.
1883-CC Morgan Dollar. The reason for this issue being struck is unknown. A single Gem example has been certified by NGC. A popular issue from the Carson City Mint.
1884-CC Morgan Dollar. Two gem examples of this incredible rarity have been certified by NGC. The reason for the striking is unknown.
1893-CC Morgan Dollar. These were probably struck to commemorate the end of the denomination being struck in New Orleans. Surprisingly, four or five examples are known of this really cool issue. The known coins are deeply mirrored and their Proof status is unquestioned by anyone viewing them.
1895-O Morgan Dollar. There is some debate of the true Proof status for this issue. The known coins are deeply mirrored and extremely well struck. I have seen one or two examples that are truly special, and were clearly made for presentation purposes. This issue is extremely rare in high grade for circulation examples as well. These special coins are among the most desirable for the series.
1921-S Morgan Dollar, Zerbe Proof. One or two coins of this issue are known. The coins lack the deep mirror surfaces of traditional Proof Morgan Dollars, but very closely resemble the known Zerbe Proof Dollars struck in Philadelphia. There is some debate among experts as to the Proof status of this issue.
1855-S Three Dollar. Only one example of this issue is known to exist. It first surfaced at the 1984 ANA Convention, and was purchased by me from San Francisco area coin dealer, David Stagg. The coin is deeply mirrored and unhesitatingly a true Proof. As mentioned earlier, the San Francisco Mint created special coins in the Proof format for this year. I sold the coin in 1984 for about $75,000. The coin sold two years ago for over $1,300,000. Not my best long term coin decision!
1844-O Half Eagle. This incredible coin is deeply mirrored and without question a true Proof. The coin first appeared in the 1890 sale of Lorin Parmelee. The coin later showed up in the sale of the Woodin collection. It has remained off the market for decades. It is one of the few coins that I could not round up an image of for my Encyclopedia of United States Gold Coins. This coin will make great headlines when it shows up someday!
1844-O Ten Dollar. This incredible coin is one of the most interesting of this series. Like the 1844-O Half Eagle, the Ten Dollar first showed up in the 1890 Parmelee sale. The coin was sold to William Woodin, and later to Virgil Brand. The coin disappeared until 1994, when it resurfaced and was purchased by the late rare coin dealer, Mike Brownlee. The coin was later handled by my late great friend, Robert Lecee. This amazing coin has been certified by NGC as PR 65 Ultra Cameo. Easily a seven figure coin on today’s market!
1854-S Double Eagle. This amazing coin lay hidden in plain sight in the Smithsonian Collection until it was first noticed by Walter Breen and Stuart Mosher in 1951. The coin has been universally declared a Proof, but in my opinion the coin would be more accurately described as a Presentation strike. The surfaces are deeply prooflike, but lack the deep, orange-peel appearance of true Proofs of the era. The coin was probably struck to mark the first of the denomination from the San Francisco Mint. Luckily for today’s collectors the coin is on display in the Legendary Coins exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
1856-O Double Eagle. Although this coin might be classified by some experts as a Specimen rather than a true Proof, it deserves mention in this article. The 1856-O Double Eagle is a major rarity in any grade. The discovery of a deeply mirrored and choice example was a numismatic landmark when it was found in the 1970s. The reason for the coin having been struck is unknown. This coin sold for nearly $1.5 million in 2009.
1907-D Double Eagle. The single example of this rare coin is deeply mirrored and is unquestionably a Proof. The coin was probably struck to mark the end of gold Liberty Double Eagles being struck at the Denver Mint. The lone example known has been graded by NGC as PF 62 and sold for $188,000 in 2012.
Branch Mint Proof coins are an interesting subject for further study by numismatic researchers. New examples have been discovered in just the last few decades. Much more about these intriguing issues is yet to be known. Keep an eye out, maybe you can uncover one of these numismatic treasures!
Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.