Jim Bisognani: Proofs, Pajamas and the Pandemic

Posted on 1/21/2021

It's worth getting out of bed for Proof Cameo Seated Liberty Quarters.

Late January offers a tantalizing prospect to us in New England, as spring is but a mere two months away — we hope. Hey, what was once thought to be impossible, like having an NFL season during the pandemic — one featuring games mostly played in empty stadiums — turned out to go very well. The NFL is raging toward the conference final games this weekend.

Now, with heated playoff action at hand, a limited live crowd of spectators, consisting of pandemic protocol patrons allowed to enter the arenas and cheer on their teams, has made for a visual semblance of order of what used to be normal in sports just a short while ago.

Yet, as I type away this morning, our 46th President, Joe Biden, has just been sworn into office amidst a scene that was very different, one lacking the pomp, huge crowds and spectacle, than we have been accustomed to. It has indeed been a year for the history and record books.

For the rest of us in the numismatic world, it is still a work in progress and an adjustment. Many still working remotely have had their challenges with logistics and family. One collector, Jeremy H. from Newark, New Jersey, shared with me that the pandemic has necessitated a reworking of the family’s home layout, as both he and his wife are working from home.

“We had to pick up a few things, office furniture and the like. We also had to reorganize the limited living space, so the kids and pets aren’t afoot,” explained Jeremy.

As for his hobby of over 20 years, the Newark man sounded excited.

“Personally, I am having a great time. Swinging from office mode to hobby mode is such a smooth transition. I don’t have the nearly hour commute from my office place to home. I just kind of fall out of bed and start my workday in my pajamas or sweats.”

Most days, this fine gent has been spending his free time learning more about the coins in his collection and what the market has been doing by catching up on auctions and the like.

“The NGC website has always been a great tool, and I have enjoyed it like never before the last six months.”

As for his purchases and want list: “I have always been attracted to early Proofs and Type coins. I read in your 10th annual market report that Kevin Lipton and — I guess a collector like me — James Sibley were both hot on Proof Three Cent Nickel coins in the under $1,000 range. Those definitely fit in my budget, and I have always liked them as well. Now that I have had a chance to spend more time and research them, I find them even more appealing.”

The man from the Meadowlands confirmed that he likes lower-mintage coins in high grade and pointed out that he was excited to learn that, from the inaugural 1865 through the Proof-only 1877 and 1878 installments to the series, only two coins reported in with over 1,000 Proof strikes.

Jeremy then voiced rather excitedly, “I made a ‘discovery’ after looking at the NGC Price Guide. I took a look at Seated Liberty coinage. I have always liked the Seated Liberty Quarters but thought that those Proofs were out of my budget! Well, the later dates in PF 63 to PF 65 are within my budget!”

The collector did a bit of research and told me that he was going to target a Proof set: A Seated Liberty Quarter run from 1860 to 1891, when the long-lived series concluded. I then did a bit of research, and I relayed to Jeremy that only four coins registered a mintage above 1,000 from 1860 onward to the series conclusion in Proof format.

I too have long enjoyed the Seated Liberty Quarter. For me, while I admire the Seated Liberty Half Dime and Dime, it is the quarter that has the wonderful patriotic eagle on the reverse! My fellow NGC Price Guide coworker Kevin Stoutjesdyk concurred that he really likes the Seated Liberty Quarters in Proof at the present price point. Per Kevin, he would rather find a Cameo or Ultra Cameo in say PF 62 or PF 63 than a regular designated Proof coin in PF 64 or PF 65.

“You get so much more flash and the all-important eye appeal even at the lower numeric grade level,” commented Kevin. I concur with my learned colleague.

This of course prompted me to investigate a bit. Presently, according to the NGC Census from 1860-1891, a total of 7,295 Seated Liberty Quarter coins appear as Proof.

The breakdown:

5,872 appear with standard Proof designations, which equals 80% of that total.

1,334, or only 18.3% have the Cameo designation.

Yet, those designated as Ultra Cameo account for only a slim 89 examples — a mere 1.22% of all those Proofs!

For this exercise, I pulled data for the most populated grade within the desirable Proof Cameo format. According to that ultra-valuable resource, the NGC Census, numbering a high of 288 or yielding 21.6% of those designated as Cameo reside as PF 64.

Consider the following trio of low-mintage Seated Liberty Quarters each graded NGC PF 64 Cameo (as well as a superb NGC PF 63 Cameo that I just had to include), each selling at recent auction below Jeremy’s $1,000 budget!

Click images to enlarge.

Here is a fabulous post-Civil War Liberty Seated Quarter dated 1867. Only 625 coins were minted in Proof format the year the US bought Alaska from Russia — for a mere $7.2 million. This 1867 Cameo Quarter graded NGC PF 64, which would have equated to about 12.5 acres of the new Alaska frontier, captured $960 last year (or 48,000 acres of Alaska territory in the year of issue!).

Click images to enlarge.

A truly captivating 1878 Seated Liberty Quarter with a mintage of 800 in Proof graded NGC PF 64 Cameo sold within the last year for $900.

Click images to enlarge.

This flashy 1881 Seated Liberty Quarter graded NGC PF 63 Cameo with a mintage of 975 in Proof format realized $875 just over a year ago.

Click images to enlarge.

This frosty 1889 Seated Liberty Quarter graded NGC PF 64 Cameo harboring a mintage of only 711 coins claimed $840.

So, to my new friend hailing from New Jersey — and anyone else scouring the internet for auctions in their pajamas procuring Proof coins during the pandemic — keep a sharp eye out for those great Seated Liberty Quarter Cameos!

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

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