• When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission. Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to, the eBay Partner Network.


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

Early proofs and business strikes

10 posts in this topic

I wish someone could clue me in about the realities of differentiating between early proofs and business strikes. I raise this issue because of a few things that came to my attention recently.


One is an 1833 1/2 cent I purchased from Stack's in their October auction, labeled by them as a PF, but graded by NGC as a MS Proof-like. Of note there are a few other 1833 'PROOFS' which are currently up for auction, all bearing the similarities of clash marks and die cracks which appear to determine that they are not proofs at all...or are they? I mean, after all, what exactly determined a proof in those days?


What also brought me to this post is the Sunnywood thread on the 1880 PROOF Shield Nickle, revitalized by EVillageProwler, and the issue raised about Proof vs business strike,


Also, a thread from the PCGS board where clash marks were discussed.

PCGS Board Post on Clashed Dies


The issue wasn't about proofs, but the question of whether proof indian head cents could have clash marks came up. The answers were yes and no by different people, but there was a clear yes given by Rick Snow, who I think, most would agree, really knows IHCs. So, it looks like the die clash doesn't necessarily indicate a business strike, although, it seems proper to say that the presence of a die clash can be used as part of the criteriae for a business strike and that not all proofs may necessarily still be proofs should die clashes be present.


(considering the difficulty in aligning the dies in those days and the less than perfected method of creating a proof strike and the use of the same dies for proofs as for business strikes for some coins. This seems logical. And in the case of IHC's where it appears PROOF striking was more advanced, it still occured.


Also, Sunnywoods mention that a given die, in this case the 1880 nickle, could have been used first for PROOF striking, then for business strikes and then, later on, for PROOF strikes again, by just repolishing the dies, represents the argument of less than perfect dies being used in the striking of PROOF coinage) (the question is in this case, is the PROOF with the die chip he spoke about REALLY a PROOF??? as determined by whom???)


I know this may be splitting hairs, but the hairs need to be split in order to better understand this subject, I would think.


I want to point out an 1883 1/2 cent coin which was first placed at auction through Bowers and Merena but not sold. It was represented as a PF 65 RD in their Auction # 11136 Lot # 284.


Bowers and Merena Auction 11136 Lot 284 not sold


They called it 'worthy of a superb PROOF type set'.



This same coin was later auctioned off at Goldbergs Feb 2003 auction, lot #59 1833 PF65 Red and sold for $ 7,475.00.


Goldberg Feb 2003


Then, only three months later, this same coin was re-auctioned in Goldberg's May 2003 as lot 1022 as an NGC MS 64 RB for $1,955.00.


Golberg's May 2003 Lot 1022


Big price differential and major catastrophe for whomever bought it as a PROOF.


The coin is now being auctioned off at Stack's December Auction, lot # 8 as a PF 63 RB (uncertified).


{here you can clearly see the joining of the die crack between stars 6 and 7 which would place it at least in State IV according to Breen, but the clash mark on the back --- which is strong --- is just not seen well enough in this photo, but better seen in the Golberg and Bowers & Merena photos}


Which is quite a history for this tossed around 1833 half cent, noted by Breen (Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents) to have had only one die for both PROOF and Business strike.


The die states described by Breen range from State I which was perfect (no cracks or clash marks) to State II (faint die crack between stars 4-6 and one extending from star 7 into the field above Liberty's head, no clash marks, ALL PROOFS), to State IV (joining of two previously unconnected die cracks, and the extension of the die crack from star 4 down to star 2) and "found on the last proofs and the earliest business strikes), to State V (faint double clash marks on both sides. All business strikes) and ultimately to State VII with additional and heavier clash marks.


The interesting thing is that in the same page he says "..some of the earlier business strikes are prooflike and not easily distinguished from proofs. The striking quality is your safest criterion for the common State IV, in States I-III only proofs have been seen."


So we are left with the reality that die cracks and clash marks (if small enough) in lieu of a PROOF strike, don't necessarily denote a business strike, and that prooflike surfaces don't necessarily denote a PROOF strike (in light of the fact that you can have completely mirrored surfaces but heavy clash marks (as is the case with the coin being auctioned above).


So, when Sunnywood states that:


Further, die cracks - which are usually diagnostic of business strikes - seem to be completely absent on 1880 nickels.


it is an important consideration but (and I think he alludes to this) is not the sole consideration.


From what I gather, difficulties in assessing whether a coin is a proof or a business strike in the 1800's include:


Planchet preparation - often poor

Die cracks - unclear

Die chips - non-diagnostic (as in the case described by Sunnywood)

Clash marks - unclear (they can be present in proofs but their presence can also denote a business strike)


It seems to me the closest diagnostic criteria for a business strike is posed by Sunnywood in his mystery nickle post: satiny luster, not quite fully striked, preferably with die cracks (at least the die crack demonstrates it wasn't the first coin struck most likely, but again, many early proofs had die cracks)


Which is consistent with Breen stating, in the case of the 1833 1/2 cent, that the striking quality is your safest criteria ...for distinguishing between the proof and business strikes of die state IV.


And indeed, this was part of the criteria explained to me by NGC for not calling my own 1833 1/2 cent a PROOF.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

That was a heck of a post and some great detective work. I am not well versed in proof coinage of this era, however, I will remark upon the last Goldberg image of the coin in question to state that the die clashing is obvious and strong on the reverse of that coin.


I'd like to read what others have to say about this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites



Great post, but best read when I do NOT have a headache... frown.gif


I would ask that you elaborate on NGC's decision to call your coin a biz-strike specimen. Was it due to poor mirrors, or rounded rims, or flat details, or ... ???


First, the vast majority of the early proofs have lousy mirrors. Second, many Seated Dollar proofs from the 1854-57 period come PL (as opposed to PROOF) and with rounded rims. Third, the latter date PF-only TD's frequently come weakly struck. (The Childs 1804 dollar also has poor device detail, and that was struck near the same time period.)


I am NOT an expert in this niche area of numismatics, but I assert that one should note the die state of each die used (as opposed to the die state of the marriage). Both dies should exhibit "freshness", with mirrors in the protected areas. (Look at the surface area in each loop of 8 on the obv and O and D and other letters on the rev.)


If BOTH sides exhibit this freshness, then I would be more likely to call the coin a proof (or, specimen).


I would NOT go by clash marks because the die clashing may have occurred after the specimen strike run occurred.


Now, the big question is what to do with coins that are PL in nature? Given that this is an early coinage, how likely is it for this coin to coincidentally have BOTH sides that exhibit proof qualities IN THE PROTECTED AREAS???


I.e., if the coin is a double-sided PL and if it has fresh mirrors in the protected areas on both sides, then I'd say that it's a proof.


My 2c.




Link to comment
Share on other sites



I recently attended an ANA grading seminar and, according to their criteria, the litmus test to determine if an issue is truly a proof vs. proof-like is by comparing the denticles and the rim. A proof issue will have extremely sharp and defined borders on them. The denticles will appear squared like a step. The business strikes, on the other hand, will have more of a rounded edge (as EVP mentioned) and will lack the sharpness as the proofs do.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

EVP, NGC mentioned the die crack, the clash marks and that the reverse was not as deeply struck as part of their reasoning for calling this a proof like business strike. In retrospect, I wish I got into more detail with them about it but I didn't (actually, I was speaking to Rick Montgomery and I kind of freaked). We didn't discuss the mirroring, but to the best of my recollection (I no longer have the coin so I can't look at it again), it was fully mirrored on both sides.


EZE, the denticles were not all fully squared off, although, I'm not certain if this diagnostic applies to such an early proof. Like, are the rules different for real early proofs? Could anyone care to comment? How well prepared were the dies in those days? Just look at the dropped 8 in the 1880 nickle, the circle in the 0 for the 1809 half cent etc...it just doesn't seem like dies were as meticulously prepared as they were later on.





Link to comment
Share on other sites

IMHO, the "rules" for early proofs are very different than for modern ones. For example, you can't go by squared rims, sharp strike or deep mirrors.


I still believe that having PL fields in the protected areas on BOTH sides of the coin is a good start. How likely was it back then to use two freshly polished dies -- including inside the protected areas -- to strike an MS coin?


It's easier to tell with early Seated proofs because of the presence of tiny field areas inside the obv shield. (They never polished that area.) The Bust design didn't have that. frown.gif But, the Bust coinage did have the same protected area in the Heraldic Eagle shield. smile.gif




Link to comment
Share on other sites

I still believe that having PL fields in the protected areas on BOTH sides of the coin is a good start. How likely was it back then to use two freshly polished dies -- including inside the protected areas -- to strike an MS coin?


Just throwing out a thought here, but wouldn't they have polished the dies before using them the first time? If so, wouldn't the first coins struck for that year likely have PL fields and presumably sharper details?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just throwing out a thought here, but wouldn't they have polished the dies before using them the first time? If so, wouldn't the first coins struck for that year likely have PL fields and presumably sharper details?


Yes, but "first time" means first time of use for both the obv and rev dies. For example, the famed Amon Carter 1794 dollar is hard to discern because it's apparently an early striking of a very early die state. (BTW, not so for sharper details, which is related to striking pressure relative to the distance between the dies.)




Link to comment
Share on other sites

As has already been noted, there are no concrete/uniform rules that apply to all early Proof coins.


I did collect Proof Bust Half Dimes years ago and have examined and dealt in a good number of Proof Bust coins of different denominations.


One thing that I look for in legitimate Proofs is full reflectivity within the shield stripes on the coins' reverses and around the letters of the word "LIBERTY' on Ms. Liberty's head band. These are two good indicators, in my opinion.


Often, though certainly not always, the sharpness of the beading on the borders and squared (or not) edges, give additional clues. Ditto for a complete lack of mint frost.


And, as much as anything else, I look for a coin which immediately hits me as a Proof - I don't want to have to be convinced about something that important and for which there can be such a large disparity in value. When in doubt, pass!

Link to comment
Share on other sites