Discussion regarding the cause of over polishing on 1936-1942 Proofs (Particularly 1936)
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63 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

In a recent conversation with Roger Burdette about a thread that I had recently posted at PCGS, a very in depth and informative discussion ensued and we both agreed that the end result and opinions would be beneficial to share. This is going to be a long one, there’s a lot of details to go through.

The topic was to the cause of the frequency that the mint’s proof dies 1936-42 were over polished, particularly in the year 1936. Firstly, I’d like to state that no conclusions can be proved for certain by mint documents that we currently have, but the opinions are very likely to be what really happened. A lot of this post is opinions, as documentation is really lacking. A few sets were preserved with Satin proof coins contained in them, which is how we are able to tell with a degree of accuracy what the silver denominations looked like earlier in the year vs. later based on the knowledge of when satin proofs were struck in 1936. I cannot prove that the images of proofs that I post are from the times I state, but it is likely based on what others have observed and relayed to me, particularly Roger.

The dies for proof coinage from 1936-42 were often polished to the point where the design detail would be severely degraded, in extreme cases the design on the finished coin would be so degraded that circulation strikes retained more of the design elements. Mint documents do not give us an insight into the cause of this problem, so there is an opportunity for collectors to form conjecture on what really happened. 1936 in itself provides an opportunity for us to look into two different types of coins in the year - those struck early in the year when satin proof cents and nickels were being produced, and those struck later in the year when all coins were brilliant. It is of note that all silver proof coins in 1936 were intended to be brilliant - there were no satin proofs of any denomination higher than five cents in this era.

One major event that happened between these two time periods of when satin proofs were struck (early 1936) and when satin proofs (late 1936) were not struck is that collectors complained that the surfaces of the proofs struck were not distinct enough and therefore they were dissatisfied with the proofs.

They did not just complain about the satin proofs, but also the brilliant proofs produced in early 1936. Their main complaint was that the mirror like fields were of inferior quality to those of 20th century proofs. This comes into play with later letters in the year where the collectors of 1936 wrote to compliment the mint on improved quality of the finished proofs - particularly reflectivity of the coins.

A note: The proofs referenced here on out are only the silver proofs- none of this refers to satin proofs produced in 1936.

Those proof coins produced earlier in 1936 often bear good detail with duller fields. While there are no mint documents to support the following, it is likely due to the fact that the planchets were unpolished, thereby resulting in the mirror die conforming to the average surface of the planchets- a dull mirror. Engraver John Sinnock had no idea how to produce the proofs as they were previously, so it was a trial and error process. It is likely that in early 1936 he did not realize that the planchets as well as the dies needed to be polished for a full lasting mirror surface for the run of proof coins. As such, he likely never did polish the planchets in early 1936 leading to a duller surface. It is of note, however, that these coins bear oftentimes better details - suggesting that the dies were not over polished as much in early 1936. This could have been because the mint viewed the duller proofs as distinctive enough, and not knowing better until collector letters came in, continued to produce proofs with unpolished planchets and dies that had mirrors that conformed to the planchets - in a word, dull. An example of such a coin is below: 
d2xcwszmg9g7.jpg

It has nearly full details on the low points (flag, hand, eagle's feathers, sun's rays) and weak reflectivity.

The late 1936 proof coins show oftentimes better reflectivity - once again coming back to the planchets. Engraver John Sinnock likely managed to polish the planchets in late 1936 which led to increased reflectivity on the planchets and also reduced the number of repolishes needed for a die to have a mirror surface. One would then, logically, assume that the dies would maintain more detail due to the lowered need for repolishes, and the mirror reflectivity would increase while the detail remained the same or better. However, this is not the case. Late 1936 proof coins are characterized by deeper mirrors and oftentimes severely decreased detail when compared to the early 1936 proof coins. Here is an example: 
j5it08y1lyz5.jpg

It has nearly obliterated low point detail, with very nice reflectivity. It is also of not that this coin appears to have some contrasted devices on the high points, which suggests that the die pair was likely in its initial polish stage, and has Riley not gone through any repolish cycle - that means that it suggests that that too many repolishes was likely not the cause of the degraded detail.

This leads to the question - why? Why does the detail of late 1936 coins decease when it should have remained the same or better?

One main factor that plays a role was how the mint was playing with the relief of dies in the 1930s and it was trying to lower it to presumably increase the longevity of circulation dies in the press and by relation the amount of coins produced by those dies. Since proof dies are circulation dies that were polished for this era, they suffer the same lowering of relief and this likely played a large part in the polishing (accidentally) of relief for proof dies. Here is a chart of such changes as Engraver John Sinnock recorded them: 
zjsyuvtdeqph.jpg

It is of note that the 1936 dies in this chart are very similar in characteristics to each other, only the last column is different. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the changes in relief in the 1930s caused the drastic change in detail between early and late 1936 proof coins. However, it could very well and likely did play a role in the changes in over polish between 1936-37 and onward.

In the discussion, four main possibilities arose to answer the question of why such a drastic change in proof die detail occurred in 1936. In order of likelihood that they happened (my opinion, not necessarily Roger Burdette’s, although he did help me form some of these possibilities with his opinions), here they are.

1.In late 1936 only, the dies were intentionally over polished to fit collector concerns as a direct result of collector letters about the coins not being very different from circulation strikes. This led to the relief being intentionally polished in late 1936 only and the resulting changes in relief from 1937 onwards account for the over polish in those years. The letters had no impact on proofs produced 1937 onwards and all over polish can be accounted for by the relief changes and the Engraving Department workers' error in polishing.

2.That as a direct result of the letters from collectors in 1936 and onwards, the mint intentionally decided to over polish the dies to ensure that the resultant coins had distinct surfaces. This added an extra layer of protection (to produce brilliant coins) along with the polished planchets, but cost the dies detail.

3.Due to a change in relief and that change only, the dies suffered detail loss due to the inability of the workers to polish the dies effectively and maintain die detail with said lowered relief.

4.Sheer chance and luck can never be ruled out, but it remains very unlikely that such a drastic change occurred by chance with no outside influence.

Here is a breakdown:

Number one is very likely and is my adopted answer as in 1937 the designs maintain quite a bit better detail with deep mirrors. It seems that the relief change could easily cause the poorer detail while the now polished planchets maintain the deep mirrors. The vast decrease in detail in late 1936 would therefore be caused by the intentional polish of the recessed detail to address collector complaints. Starting 1937, the dies were not polished so intensely in the recess and any over polishing evident was a result of the change in relief shown in the die chart above. This is a combination answer of numbers two and three, which fits both Roger and my statements nicely.

Number two is similar to number one except that it assumes that the dies were polished in the recess intentionally after 1936. This does not account for the slight increase in detail and this makes it more unlikely.

Number three is the opposite of number two in that it assumes that only the change in relief accounts for the drastic change in detail between early and late 1936 proofs and has nothing to do with collector letters. This seems unlikely that this is true as the dies in 1936 did not change much, but they did in the transition into 1937.

I of course can’t rule out pure luck (number four), but it is very unlikely that such a drastic change occurred to cause this by chance. The mint was able to maintain a high degree of consistency in its die production, shown in the consistency of the early 1936 proof dies and the late 1936 proof dies. This essentially rules out this option.

This was an excellent discussion for me and it pushed my experience to the max. Roger provided excellent sources and support for his argument, and I tried to do so for myself.

The main difference we had in opinion was whether or not the mint intentionally over polished dies in late 1936 because of collector letters. I said yes, Roger said it was based on the lowering of relief and other factors. This is why it seems option number one is so likely. It blends our opinions and it makes it so both opinions are right. Given there is no evidence as far as I can see to refute either answer, a blend seems to be best.

As always, I intend fully to create a discussion with this post. Any opinions, ideas, rebuttals, or statements are welcome and encouraged. It’s not often that collectors get an opportunity to talk about something and try to find why the mint did something and then essentially prove it, especially when there is very little evidence. Let’s have some fun with this!

 

 

Edited by FlyingAl
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Here is my 1936 Brilliant Buffalo proof, and I do not see loss of detail myself. What am I missing? I surely agree about the deep mirroring as this is one of the most deeply mirrored proofs I have seen. I just do not see loss of detail, but I could be wrong. 

 

 

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Well, let's take a look at the nickel. It has weakness on the reverse in all of the bison's legs, mane hair, and ground. The obverse has weakness in the neck, nose, and eye area of the Indian. 

Look at the satin proof I posted below and you'll see right away how apparent the things I pointed out become. 

44167778_228352801_2200.jpg

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Posted (edited)
On 5/5/2022 at 9:32 PM, FlyingAl said:

Well, let's take a look at the nickel. It has weakness on the reverse in all of the bison's legs, mane hair, and ground. The obverse has weakness in the neck, nose, and eye area of the Indian. 

Look at the satin proof I posted below and you'll see right away how apparent the things I pointed out become. 

44167778_228352801_2200.jpg

Perhaps. I tend to think the brilliant coin appears weaker because it is blast white. The color on the satin nickel adds the appearance of definition. This is one articulately true when we are looking at pictures  

Really my point is this: Is there really a difference in detail, or is it an optical illusion? The satin proofs will reflect light differently and have added shadows due to surface irregularity. I’m not arguing I’m right or wrong by the way. Just posing the question. Is it quantifiably different? Also was strike pressure consistent, or did it also change as a result of desperation to get the mirrored fields?

Edited by Woods020
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The detail itself is changed for the brilliant coin, due to the polish. Look at the front tuft of grass on the mound and you will see it is nearly gone on the brilliant proof coin whereas on the satin proof coin it is fully and completely there.

Satin proofs were struck nearly identically in comparison to the brilliant proofs, the difference was that they were struck once with new dies at high pressure in a medal press. This created noticeable differences in detail due to the higher pressure, slower speed, and use of a hydraulic medal press.

I will say that there is very little optical illusion. I could find a colorless satin proof and show you the same things as I did with the toned one, because it will have better detail. I have yet to see any brilliant proof from 1936 that has detail that nears that of a satin proof from 1936. Hope this answers your question!

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On 5/6/2022 at 9:27 AM, FlyingAl said:

The detail itself is changed for the brilliant coin, due to the polish. Look at the front tuft of grass on the mound and you will see it is nearly gone on the brilliant proof coin whereas on the satin proof coin it is fully and completely there.

Satin proofs were struck nearly identically in comparison to the brilliant proofs, the difference was that they were struck once with new dies at high pressure in a medal press. This created noticeable differences in detail due to the higher pressure, slower speed, and use of a hydraulic medal press.

I will say that there is very little optical illusion. I could find a colorless satin proof and show you the same things as I did with the toned one, because it will have better detail. I have yet to see any brilliant proof from 1936 that has detail that nears that of a satin proof from 1936. Hope this answers your question!

It does. But doesn’t it also add to your rationale? You focus a lot on the loss of detail due to over polishing the dies, but isn’t the method of strike likely to contribute as well? As you said satin proofs were struck in such a way that it would lend itself to more detail. Im just pressure testing the theory of over polishing being the only culprit. Im learning here with you. 
 

Also I would be curious to see if strike pressure SOPs changed throughout the 36-42 proof era vs those before and after. Actually all SOPs for the era suck as struck once/twice or coin press/medal press etc… Seems Sinnock was borderline desperate and seeing what would stick. Variances may be due to a range of factors. 
 

By the way I have a 1914 proof that I like 10 times more than the 36, despite the 14 being 67+ and the 36 being 68. The 36 has incredible reflectivity,  but it lacks that wow factor to me. The 14 I have is beautifully toned and to me is a more attractive coin. 

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Posted (edited)

I also believe this is a very undervalued series currently. Given the mintage figures I think 36-42 proofs are a good investment currently. My opinion only. Which is why I’m very curious about this. 

Edited by Woods020
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Well this is the reason I said that the whole position only applied to the silver proofs. It’s unfair to compare the cents and nickels because there is not a fair way to compare a change in polish technique when the early proofs weren’t polished in 1936 because they were satin. However, the silver proofs were always polished so we can analyze the difference in polishing techniques during the year.

If you had two different halves, quarters, or dimes from early and late 1936 then you would notice more why I was talking about, and that is why I used half dollar images. 
 

1936-1942 proofs are a place where if you know what you are looking for, you can get truly fantastic coins for the same price as absolutely ugly ones. You have to put grade aside at times to achieve this though, as for this series grade oftentimes does not relate to the most attractive examples IMO. 
 

Also, the matte proofs of 1914 were of higher detail and a different proof production process than the satin proofs of 1936. The hubs had more detail from less use so it is also unfair to compare the amount of detail between matte and satin proofs.

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On 5/6/2022 at 10:44 AM, FlyingAl said:

Well this is the reason I said that the whole position only applied to the silver proofs. It’s unfair to compare the cents and nickels because there is not a fair way to compare a change in polish technique when the early proofs weren’t polished in 1936 because they were satin. However, the silver proofs were always polished so we can analyze the difference in polishing techniques during the year.

If you had two different halves, quarters, or dimes from early and late 1936 then you would notice more why I was talking about, and that is why I used half dollar images. 
 

1936-1942 proofs are a place where if you know what you are looking for, you can get truly fantastic coins for the same price as absolutely ugly ones. You have to put grade aside at times to achieve this though, as for this series grade oftentimes does not relate to the most attractive examples IMO. 
 

Also, the matte proofs of 1914 were of higher detail and a different proof production process than the satin proofs of 1936. The hubs had more detail from less use so it is also unfair to compare the amount of detail between matte and satin proofs.

Agreed on the 14 vs 36. I was simply saying I like it better. I have a 39 proof walking lib half in a 67 CAC and I don’t like it at all. The reverse is nice and sharp, but the obverse is so so. 

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This is that 39 walking Lib proof I referenced. I just don’t like the obverse at all on this one. Not the best pics but you get the gist. 
 

 

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Posted (edited)

For anyone interested in proof Buffalo Nickels who would like to see a magnificent collection thereof, a little birdy tells me there will be such a collection in the Exhibits area at Rosemont, IL August 16-20, 2022. Not mine, but a very close friend’s collection. 

Edited by VKurtB
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On 5/5/2022 at 8:47 PM, Woods020 said:

Here is my 1936 Brilliant Buffalo proof, and I do not see loss of detail myself. What am I missing? I surely agree about the deep mirroring as this is one of the most deeply mirrored proofs I have seen. I just do not see loss of detail, but I could be wrong. 

 

 

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Here's my '37 with a little more detail I think. It's a superb coin Pf 67 CAC.

thumbnail_1937 proof buff Obv.jpg

thumbnail_1937 proof buff Rev.jpg

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As far as being able to purchase superb coins good luck ! The best examples would be fully brilliant with no cloudiness and full detail, in otherwords an early strike that has some natural color without that cellphane haze. I'll post a couple later.

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The 1937 has slightly more detail, though not much. This coin is support for possibility number one in my post and aligns with relief reduction.

The best coins of this series have a combination of the following:

1. Full detail

2. Color- not haze, but nice attractive original toning

3. Contrast

4. Deep mirrors

All of these can be found independent of numerical grade, and therefore a lot of lower grade coins can often be found with more eye appeal overall than some PF68s. The more coins there are in a grade level the more likely it is that some of these gems exist. This is why many CAM coins are lower in the grade scale when compared to non-CAMs.

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On 5/6/2022 at 2:48 PM, FlyingAl said:

The 1937 has slightly more detail, though not much. This coin is support for possibility number one in my post and aligns with relief reduction.

The best coins of this series have a combination of the following:

1. Full detail

2. Color- not haze, but nice attractive original toning

3. Contrast

4. Deep mirrors

All of these can be found independent of numerical grade, and therefore a lot of lower grade coins can often be found with more eye appeal overall than some PF68s. The more coins there are in a grade level the more likely it is that some of these gems exist. This is why many CAM coins are lower in the grade scale when compared to non-CAMs.

I'm fond of this series as well and have avoided Pf 68 coins and because they are so few in numbers, they are often hazy and display luster rather than deep mirrors. Take a look at my Jefferson Nickel registry set if you wish. A couple Star coins are really attractive and show better than Pf 68 examples IMO. Last I looked it was rated 5th but the images are there.

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On 5/7/2022 at 2:01 PM, numisport said:

Take a look at my Jefferson Nickel registry set if you wish

You have a few really nice coins in there, I'm particularly fond of the 1939 in 67*. Quite a spectacular example that shows what the dies looked like if they were not so over polished that the detail was degraded. The reverse unfortunately does not have this same characteristic, but the obverse is very nice!

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Note that the "grade" on most of these proof slabs does not reflect (sorry...) the amount of visible detail. Suggest collectors look for best details first, then "grade."

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Posted (edited)
On 5/7/2022 at 3:47 PM, RWB said:

Note that the "grade" on most of these proof slabs does not reflect (sorry...) the amount of visible detail. Suggest collectors look for best details first, then "grade."

This is very true. An example of such a coin can be seen below. It's a PR65, an average coin based on 1942 grades. I paid a pittance of $90 for it, and it shows better details than many 1942 proof quarters. This can be seen based on the eagle's tail fathers, full detail on all lettering, and some contrast being seen throughout. (Please note that contrast does not necessarily mean good detail, unless it is shown on the low points of the relief throughout the design.

CSS_20220405_8928-Master.thumb.jpg.ccf2a036b4beb6459aeba8d5135ced2a.jpg

In contrast, this PR67+ below shows much weaker detail on the eagle's tail feathers, wings, and lettering. It would cost me around $700 today. 

39055853_195623572_2200.thumb.jpg.47e16107b8d4409fc85318ef75a19621.jpg

This all goes to show that a lot of the best detailed and attractive coins aren't PF67s, 68s, or 69s. They are often 64s, 65s, and 66s. I have a stunning 1942 Lincoln cent in 64CAM. I would take that any day over a severely over polished 68RD example because it shows what proofs should - full details and what the designer wanted the finished coins to look like. It's a shame that many of the collectors of this era compromise on detail for higher grades. The detail that proofs should show and the reason proofs are struck is therefore lost on many of the top sets, and those with lower grade truly stunning examples go unnoticed. 

Edited by FlyingAl
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On 5/7/2022 at 5:08 PM, FlyingAl said:

This is very true. An example of such a coin can be seen below. It's a PR65, an average coin based on 1942 grades. I paid a pittance of $90 for it, and it shows better details than many 1942 proof quarters. This can be seen based on the eagle's tail fathers, full detail on all lettering, and some contrast being seen throughout. (Please note that contrast does not necessarily mean good detail, unless it is shown on the low points of the relief throughout the design.

CSS_20220405_8928-Master.thumb.jpg.ccf2a036b4beb6459aeba8d5135ced2a.jpg

In contrast, this PR67+ below shows much weaker detail on the eagle's tail feathers, wings, and lettering. It would cost me around $700 today. 

39055853_195623572_2200.thumb.jpg.47e16107b8d4409fc85318ef75a19621.jpg

This all goes to show that a lot of the best detailed and attractive coins aren't PF67s, 68s, or 69s. They are often 64s, 65s, and 66s. I have a stunning 1942 Lincoln cent in 64CAM. I would take that any day over a severely over polished 68RD example because it shows what proofs should - full details and what the designer wanted the finished coins to look like. It's a shame that many of the collectors of this era compromise on detail for higher grades. The detail that proofs should show and the reason proofs are struck is therefore lost on many of the top sets, and those with lower grade truly stunning examples go unnoticed. 

Yes. I know this thread is about proofs, but this is happening with MS strikes as well - truly butt ugly coins with gaudy numerical grades based solely on “nick picking” absence. I don’t CARE if a coin has a few extra ticks on it if it is a more attractive coin. You can keep all the cruddy brown toned garbage with 68’s and 69’s on the label. Give me a 65 that’s attractive ANY DAY.  

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Suggest collectors look for best details first, then "grade."

Unfortunately, most collectors are not sophisticated enough to appreciate these subtleties. They're more wowed by "shiny" than "sharp," and grading services usually follow this same guideline.

When teaching about coins I try to impart to my students the virtues of fresh dies and full strikes, but not everyone gets it.

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Posted (edited)
On 5/8/2022 at 3:42 PM, DWLange said:

Suggest collectors look for best details first, then "grade."

Unfortunately, most collectors are not sophisticated enough to appreciate these subtleties. They're more wowed by "shiny" than "sharp," and grading services usually follow this same guideline.

When teaching about coins I try to impart to my students the virtues of fresh dies and full strikes, but not everyone gets it.

Most collectors have more dollars than sense. There, fixed it for you. 
 

It’s becoming enough to get a guy to swear off U.S. coins forever. 

Edited by VKurtB
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On 5/8/2022 at 2:42 PM, DWLange said:

Unfortunately, most collectors are not sophisticated enough to appreciate these subtleties. They're more wowed by "shiny" than "sharp," and grading services usually follow this same guideline.

On 5/8/2022 at 2:48 PM, VKurtB said:

It’s becoming enough to get a guy to swear off U.S. coins forever. 

Personally, I think this is fantastic. If the rest of the market wants to buy a coin that's been graded a high number rather than have an attractive overall surface, I will be there to snap up those "low grade boring coins" at pittance prices. It's all knowledge really when it comes down to it. 

I cannot say how many images of PR68 coins that I have seen and the first thought that comes to mind is either "what happened to those dies, the detail, is gone" or "that thing is UGLY" (referring to heavy haze seems the TPGs don't care if a coin is hazed over as long as it's free of hairlines). I wish this was fixed. For a coin to grade above PR65 it should have full detail or near to it, and as such I doubt that many proofs from this era would achieve a 68 grade. Oftentimes strike plays a role in grade for circulated coins, why does the detail on these proofs not play a role? It should more than the circulation strikes, as the purpose of proofs at one point was to see how a coin would look if it had full details - essentially to check the dies. If a proof does not fulfill this purpose in some way, then why should it grade as nearly perfect? It should be graded as inferior to an example that does have full details, just as is done with circulation strike coins.

My YN essay topic for the ANA contest was the cameo proofs of 1942, and when I was writing it I was able to develop a sense of just how undervalued these coins are. They are much rarer than the market will ever let on, and as such the prices remain so low it's laughable. Some of the rarest coins in the series can be bought for half, quarters, eighths, or even sixteenths of what a high grade over polished example goes for. It all goes back to knowledge. Do you want to buy the coin with contrasted devices, full details, and deep mirrors or the coin that has no hairlines, but the detail is obliterated and it's hard to make out the small details that should be there on a proof? (back again to grading standards)

It blows my mind that the market chooses the latter, and it does so so overwhelmingly that there's no contest at all. It turns the power to the buyer. I doubt that today anyone here could go out to an online auction house or Ebay and find a 1942 proof quarter like the one I posted earlier. Why? I spent two years looking for a coin like that and it has had no equal come up in that time that I have seen. But I can guarantee that in the coming month multiple 67 or 68 examples will appear and go for multiples of what I bought the 1942 for. I think I come out ahead in this deal, although the market yet fails to recognize this.

The smart buyer of 1936-42 proofs does what I call "die matching". They go onto CoinFacts and they find the best detailed coin out there, then find die markers for that specific die pair and die state. When they go looking for a coin to buy, they can therefore find a coin struck by the same dies and therefore  find one with superior detail, or contrast based on the die pair they initially chose. It takes time to do this, and a lot of it, but the final collections show just how much time went into it and although the coins are often lower grade, they are far superior (in my opinion) to a set of over polished and bland 68s. 

I'm on my third year of putting together a set of 1942 proofs, and I'm down to just the silver five cent piece. I've had a few trial and error learning experiences, but none were very severe, just not up to my current standards. I replaced a few coins, but they are still pleasing although not as attractive as my current coins. Eventually I understood that I need either full details, color, or contrast (hopefully a combination of the three) to have a beautiful set. My set's number 30 something if I remember correctly, but I feel that when compared to other higher ranked sets it may be overall more pleasing. It's hard to know for sure, so few top sets actually have images for some reason.

It's sometimes frustrating to see just how misunderstood this series is. Books like Roger's really help (if Vkurt and Roger agree that something should be done, it's a big deal xD), but there's still so much to be done. I fear that unless the grading services see how the standards need to change nothing will. But how often do grading services change their ways? (last time I've heard of this being done was with the Cameo and Deep Cameo designations).

Just my opinion. Perhaps I can make something change if I keep pushing hard enough.

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Posted (edited)

I don’t think Roger is incapable of being right, far from it. Roger is spot on in many cases. But when he goes astray, WOW, does he ever! The cases are rare but astonishing. 
 

In the subject of 1936-42 proofs, he da Mac Daddy. 

Edited by VKurtB
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The major authentication and grading companies are prime instigators in "grade inflation" and absence of firm standards. Doubtful they will change. Those who buy and sell coins for profit, also want lower "standards" because it makes their existing inventories worth a false-more with no effort. That permits easy picking of collectors' pockets by sell commonplace EF coins with an "AU-50" coin label.

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Posted (edited)

Super Topic!

"The 1936 Proof Coins:

    Some dissatisfaction has been expressed by collectors over the new proof coins being struck without the mirror-like field and frosted design so much admired in the proofs before 1907. In reply to a request by the editor for a description of the process used on the new coins, the Director of the Mint has sent the following letter:

    Your letter of June 13th, relative to proof coins, has been referred to this Bureau for attention. The Superintendent submits the following explanation in regard to the method of preparing proof coins:

    Proof coins being struck at the mint at the present time are made in every detail exactly as they have been made in the past, namely, the planchets are carefully selected and each one struck individually on a hydraulic press and handled so that one coin cannot mar another. The dies are polished to a mirror finish at frequent intervals.

    The difference between recent proofs and those struck in the past is due to the difference in design and the method used in preparing the master dies. All the present coins are made from sculptured models without retouching with a graver in any way in order to preserve the exact quality and texture of the original sculptor's work. This gives a more or less uneven background with less sharpness in the details. In other words, they are produced the same as small medals might be struck.

    The master dies for the gold coins struck previous to 1907, and the silver coins struck prior prior to 1916, were prepared in the older and entirely different method, being lower in relief and much greater sharpness in detail by re-engraving, even though the original design was reduced from a sculptured model. The inscriptions were usually put in the master dies by means of punches. In addition, they were prepared with a 'basined' background or field, that is, the field was polished to a perfect radius on a revolving disc, which again produced a much clearer definition between motif and field, and this gave an entirely different appearance to the coin.

    With the present coins, the models were never prepared with the intention of 'basining' and it could not be done without many radical alterations in the relief of the present designs.

Very truly yours,

Nellie Tayloe Ross

Director of the Mint

 

Courtesy of The Numismatist, July, 1936, p. 531.

Edited by leeg
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Leeg,

Thanks for posting that letter! This was the response that the mint sent out regarding the full mirrors and as we all can see it doesn’t answer the question at all. By 1936 all of the dies had been corrected so that the basining was not the issue and the die curvature was not the issue with the polishing as is shown on my post. 
 

It seems that Director Ross just took an excuse and used it instead of finding the actual reason and now we as collectors today get the opportunity to find that reason, and I’d say we did as well.

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On 5/9/2022 at 10:48 AM, FlyingAl said:

Leeg,

Thanks for posting that letter! This was the response that the mint sent out regarding the full mirrors and as we all can see it doesn’t answer the question at all. By 1936 all of the dies had been corrected so that the basining was not the issue and the die curvature was not the issue with the polishing as is shown on my post. 
 

It seems that Director Ross just took an excuse and used it instead of finding the actual reason and now we as collectors today get the opportunity to find that reason, and I’d say we did as well.

Yes, if anything, basining could be said to be MORE prevalent in the 1930’s than earlier. This is especially so when looking at Indian Heads vs. even Matte Lincolns. The earlier designs with planar fields were more compelling. 

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Posted (edited)

Many Mint press releases are superficial as far as numismatic terminology and usage is concerned. Remember that the US Mint was and remains a very insular place, steeped in "secret" knowledge and not comfortable with keeping details of how things were done. Had they been better at keeping engraving notebooks, there would never have been problems with 1936 or 1950 proofs or packaging, among just a few examples. There is also a strong tendency to deny obvious problems, then take destructive actions, and finally admit they made a mistake.

Edited by RWB
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On 5/8/2022 at 9:57 PM, RWB said:

Those who buy and sell coins for profit, also want lower "standards" because it makes their existing inventories worth a false-more with no effort. That permits easy picking of collectors' pockets by sell commonplace EF coins with an "AU-50" coin label.

And boy do they 'pick our pockets'.  Just look at how many grades and designations the TPGs have brought into being since they were created.  Created by dealers for dealers.

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On 5/9/2022 at 10:48 AM, FlyingAl said:

Leeg,

Thanks for posting that letter! This was the response that the mint sent out regarding the full mirrors and as we all can see it doesn’t answer the question at all. By 1936 all of the dies had been corrected so that the basining was not the issue and the die curvature was not the issue with the polishing as is shown on my post. 
 

It seems that Director Ross just took an excuse and used it instead of finding the actual reason and now we as collectors today get the opportunity to find that reason, and I’d say we did as well.

@FlyingAl, this is PRECISELY the kind of stuff I’m referring to when I say even Mint Directors are numismatically “dumb as a bag of hammers”. Wrong terminology, factual errors and lies, posterior covering, all of it.  They virtually never have management nor staffers who can numismatically find their posteriors with both hands and a searchlight. When an exception arises, it’s truly a unicorn experience. At the October 2016 mint conference in Philadelphia, the suggestion was made that the Mint hire a staff numismatist. They had no idea what such a person would do. And given their dependence on Congressional mandates, they might have been onto something. 

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