Prooflike Gold Coinage: A Look at an Evolving Market

One of the newer promotions in the rare gold coin marketplace are coins that are Prooflike. NGC began designating Prooflike gold a few years ago (PCGS has yet to add this designation) and enough have been graded for a collector to get an appreciation of the relative rarity of these issues. What is a Prooflike gold coin, what is the market for these coins like and what does the future hold for Prooflike gold? Generally speaking, when a pair of new dies is used to strike coins, they are highly polished. The first few hundred examples from this die pair (this number can be significantly less or more, depending on the type of design and the mint that produces the coin) are reflective. This degree of reflectivity can range from subtle to intense. Obviously, the more intense the degree of reflectiveness, the more desirable a coin is.

There are basically two tiers of “Prooflikeness” that gold coin collectors are concerned with. The first is the blanket term of “Prooflike” which means that a coin has a certain degree of reflectiveness on both the obverse and reverse. While there is no absolute standard of what constitutes a Prooflike gold coin (at least in terms of the depth of reflection) it is essential that a true P/L coin be reflective on both sides. A coin that is “deep mirror Prooflike” shows considerably more reflectiveness on both sides than one that is merely Prooflike. It resembles a Proof in appearance and it may have an attractive “black and white” appearance that is the result of contrast between the frosted devices and the mirror-like fields.

There is a very strong market for Prooflike Morgan silver dollars. Collectors began paying premiums for these coins as far back as the 1960’s and, today, deep mirror Prooflike (DMPL) dollars can sell for huge premiums over “normal” frosty or satiny coins. Interestingly, there is not much of a market for Prooflike silver coins above and beyond Morgan dollars.

I think the market for Prooflike dollars is as strong as it is for three significant reasons. The first is that a number of dealers back in the 1960’s and 1970’s did a good job of promoting these coins and getting the market jumpstarted. The second is that there are more Prooflike coins in the Morgan dollars series than in all other silver coins combined. Lots of coins equals the ability to promote these as a collectible. The third reason is the appearance of these coins. A high quality DMPL coin can be extremely attractive and a collector can easily appreciate why he should be paying a premium for such a coin.

The market for Prooflike gold coins remains in its infancy. Is there a possibility that Prooflike gold could become as popular as the market for Prooflike dollars? I think this is a small possibility that this could happen but in small, selective increments.

I feel that the one area of Prooflike gold that is likely to see the most “play” with collectors in the next few years is Liberty Head double eagles. I think this is going to happen for a number of reasons. The first is that Liberty Head double eagles are already popular, so it isn’t a big stretch for a collector to jump from “normal” examples to ones that are Prooflike. The second is that these coins are available enough to be actively traded but they are, at the same time, relatively scarce. The third and probably most important fact is that a high quality DMPL double eagle is extremely impressive from a visual standpoint.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, NGC has been grading Prooflike gold coins for long enough that a few conclusions can be reached.

Taking a look at double eagles, I note that NGC has designated 1,287 $20 Libs as Prooflike. But what is most interesting is the fact that only twenty-eight examples of this series have been designated as DMPL and of these just five have been graded higher than MS62. The conclusion that is most easily reached about DMPL examples is that they are quite scarce and pieces above MS62 are genuinely rare. This is especially true for any date other than the ultra-common 1904.

The current price record for a DMPL gold coin is, as far as I know, the $126,500 that was attained by an NGC MS64* 1866 double eagle that was sold by Heritage in their 2008 ANA auction.

From examining auction prices, it seems that predictable price levels for DMPL $20 Libs are starting to be recognizable. MS61 and MS62 examples of non-1904 dates seem to be bringing in the $2,000-3,000 range. The few MS63 examples that have traded have brought in the $4,000-6,000 range. Coins in MS64 and higher are rare enough that it is hard to establish price levels.

In closing, I have a few personal thoughts about Prooflike gold coinage.

A number of 19th century gold coins are easily found with Prooflike or even deep mirror Prooflike surfaces. The most prominent of these include gold dollars from the 1880’s and three dollar gold pieces from this era. I do not think that collectors should, in most cases, pay a premium for these. The exception would be for a DMPL coin that had really great eye appeal.

Many DMPL gold coins have poor eye appeal due to the fact that the reflectiveness of their surfaces accentuates marks or abrasions. I would be careful paying a large premium for an ugly DMPL coin, even if it is a rare issue.

I mentioned above that I think that Liberty Head double eagles are likely to be the only series that collectors will pay close attention to PL and DMPL issues. My second choice for the series most likely to have some degree of date-by-date popularity would be Liberty Head eagles. The PL and DMPL issues that I would suspect collectors would like most would be the New Orleans coins from the 1890’s.