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RI AL's dumb question of the day...Cameo

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Thanks to your replies on my recent thread on Deep Cameo and Ultra Cameo, I have decided to hunt for a PCGS Proof 69 Deep (or Ultra) Cameo 1 ounce silver dollar online. As some of you suggested, it is wise to have the coin "in hand" when buying a piece of this designation but there are no shows in RI, and no dealers close by either. I guess I could make the trip to Providence but I don't know what to actually look for that would qualify as deep/ultra cameo.


My overall conclusion is that both terms are used somewhat loosely and there is wide variation between one cameo and another.


My question is, what causes the cameo effect on some coins while it may be absent on other, identical coins of the series? In other words, could someone explain to me how "cameo" happens?


Many thanks. RI AL

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This is not a dumb question at all. Are you talking about buying a proof SAE? The methods of making early proofs and modern proofs are considerably different. The cameo effect is achieved by treating the raised devices (recessed on a die) with some sort of agent to give it a frosty effect. On old proofs, this was done by pickling the die in a weak solution of nitric acid. The fields of the die (the highest parts on a die) would then be buffed and polished. On modern proofs, the dies are sandlbasted, chromeplated to increase durability, and then polished. This means that modern proofs have a much stronger cameo that lasts a much longer time.


Over time, the cameo wears off due to the pressure of striking. Just like a new die that was properly polished can impart prooflike surfaces to a coin, but then the flow of metal when striking coins creates flowlines on the surface and thus produces luster. Especially on classic proofs, the cameo tended to wear off very quickly: only the first dozen coins of a die would produce the really heavy Ultra Cameo that collectors prize so much. The next few dozen would produce a lighter Cameo, and then the rest of the proofs from that die would be brilliant.


Since each die reacted to the pickling differently, or was left in the solution longer, certain dies are recognized to have produced significantly better cameos. A student of the respective proof series should be able to tell you which years produced generally better cameos, and even which dies in which years produced the best cameos. Different series also tend to have different cameo characteristics - Walkers with cameo are exceedingly rare! This is one reason we were all drooling over Sy's Walker cameo in a recent thread.


I mentioned earlier the difference between classic and modern proofs. The change in manufacturing methods occured in the early to mid 1970's. Before this time, cameos are rare, Ultra Cams very rare. Since then, almost all proof coinage is UCAM, a few are Cam, and very few are brilliant. For further reading on the proof coinage of 1950 to 1970, I would recommend Rick Tomaska's book "Cameo and Brilliant Coinage of the 1950 to 1970 Era." It goes through the process of minting proof coinage, shows the differences in cameo quality, shows the best dies, and then goes through a date by date analysis of proof coinage (of all denominations) of the era. Of course, being Tomaska, he tends to focus on the Franklin, but that's okay with me.


Geez, that's probably a lot more info than you wanted or needed, but I'm bored and can't go to work because of a pair of certain destructive storms that just wiped out the Gulf Coast.

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Hello, Physics.


Sorry about your work being "delayed". Let's hope that Ike was the last of the season's storms so you can get back to your regular schedule. Ike certainly did make a mess of things and my heart goes out to all those people in Texas and Louisiana and so many others impacted like yourself.


I posted my question in "foreign coins" in error. I meant to put the question in U.S. coins (I didn't think of tangents). Anyway, thanks for the thorough reply. I didn't realize that cameos were deliberately made that way. I just associated them with "first strikes". Thank you also for explaining why the degree of cameo effect varies from early strikes to later ones and even from year to year. I wonder if this has anything to do with the "first strike" designation one sees on NGC slabs, like my 2006 $50 buffalo? Your reply certainly cleared up my question, so thanks again.


I'm not sure what you mean by SAE...silver American Eagle??? but yes, I would like to add one to my type collection. I'm in no rush, have bid and lost a couple on E-Bay but now that I know a bit more about the desireability of really attractive cameos, I might just put the project on hold until I could actually see some in person, or maybe see if Heritage offers them from time to time in their auctions. I'm pretty sure that they would be very reliable. I like to go for scarcer dates so I think I'll hunt for a 93, 94 or 95. speaking of Heritage, I wonder how they were effected by Ike.


Occasionally there is a coin show in nearby Massachusetts. Haven't been to a coin show in a couple of years because they are crowded and because of my kidney transplant, I have to be real careful about crowds and germs but a coin show would be fun. Forced retirement STINKS!


Once more, thanks for the reply. Very much appreciated. Alan RI AL

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Any silver eagle proof will come with a cameo finish, When you hold the coin flat and look straight down a silver eagle will have ultra cameo "black&white" contrast, the fields will really look black. Love those eagles :D

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I didn't realize that cameos were deliberately made that way. I just associated them with "first strikes".

In some cases they are deliberate such as modern proofs. In other cases they are NOT deliberate such as in the cameo prooflike business strike morgan dollars. In those cases the cameo is caused by the acid etching used to remove the oxidation and scale left on the dies after the hardening process and then the basining of the dies to produce proper metal flow for the particular press being used. This basining polished the fields of the dies but did not reach down into the devices leaving them with an etched finish. This resulted in coins with prooflike fields and frosted cameo devices. As the die would wear the fileds became less smooth and the devices were polished by the metal flow of the striking and the contrast between the fields and devices was reduced and then lost. Similar effect to the proofs but not done in order to deliberately create cameos. And in this case it is a feature of first or at least early strikes. In some cases the dies might be repolished, as in the case of removing clashmarks, and restore a PL field with a much lesser cameo contrast to the devices.


I wonder if this has anything to do with the "first strike" designation one sees on NGC slabs, like my 2006 $50 buffalo?

Absolutely not. On the slabs the only thing "First Strikes" or "Early Releases" means is that they were submitted to the TPG before a certain date, or they were packed up at the mint before that date. It has NOTHING to do with when the coin was actually made or how long the dies had been in use. In the case of the silver eagles anything submitted or packed before Jan 31st qualifies for First Strike. But they start striking the silver eagles for th following year in September. So there is five months of production where every coin can qualify as a "First Strike" It doesn't matter if the coin was the first one off the die, or the last one struck before the die was retired. It is a "First Strike". And it has nothing to do with any cameo contrast or lack thereof.


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