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Question of the Day: Proofs

Originally published on September 14 2014

During the past week, I did an email Q&A session with several of my Shanghai customers on the topic of proof and proof like strikes. Determining if certain modern Chinese and U.S. bullion pieces are proof strikes can be confusing if only examining surfaces and using this observation to make a business or proof strike determination. I stated the following to my old Shanghai collector friends:

"Some business strikes will look like proofs due to early strikes and die preparation. Remember that NGC or PCGS designation is for the manufacturing condition and not the actual coin surfaces. There are U.S. business strike coins that have proof surfaces. They are labeled as MS and PL. MS for manufacturing condition and PL for Proof Like surfaces."

This response triggered thoughts about my experiences with Liberty Seated dimes. First is the ongoing issue of identifying Philadelphia business strikes versus proofs during the 1862 to 1867 timeframe and secondly, the occasional With Stars and branch mint examples that are found proof like. This is the topic of today's Daily Blog.

Question: How does one identify a Liberty Seated dime that was purposely struck as a proof?

GFRC Response: I've been asked this question many times and my standard response is:
  1. mirrored fields,
  2. sharp wire rims,
  3. a lack of mint frost on the main devices,
  4. sharp lettered edges in the legend and,
  5. lint marks.
Lint marks were common on pre 1880 proofs due to the hand polishing of planchets before striking and polishing cloth treads adhering to the planchet during striking.

Question: Why are some Liberty Seated dimes found with proof surfaces but are business strikes?

GFRC Response: First strikes from new and well polished dies will be found with proof like surfaces. The fields are lightly mirrored but the dime will not have all of the typical proof strike characteristics. There is also the possibility that certain dimes with proof like surfaces were struck with polished planchets. Case in point is the 1876-CC Type II Reverse specimens; some come with heavily frosted devices while others will appear to be proof like. ANACS, during its old white holder period, would designate Proof Like (PL) on the label for those dimes with obviously mirrored fields. NGC also provides the same designations on their labels while I am NOT AWARE of PCGS adding this designation on their holders.

Question: How do the TPGs grade proof like seated dimes?

GFRC Response:  It has been my experience that the TPG services will apply strict technical grading to proof like dimes since the mirrored fields highlight any blemishes or hairlines. TPG graders use natural luster (from business strikes) as one of the mint state grading attributes. Aged dies will transfer metal flow lines onto business strike coinage and provides significant luster due to the multi angled metal surfaces for reflecting light. Proof like coins, on the other hand, do not have typical mint luster and can be undergraded, especially by PCGS since there is no Proof Like designation. Case in point are several 1876 and 1877 Carson City dimes in my collection purchased from Jim O'Donnell. Jim loved proof like seated dimes especially from the Carson City branch mint and was always frustrated by the low assigned PCGS grades. Once in PCGS holders and appearing undergraded, I gladly purchased these from Jim even at a premium to the guides.

While collecting Seated dimes, I went through a maturity process leading to my current preference for proof like business strike specimens rather than those with frosty surfaces. Why? First reason is the "thrill of the hunt" as locating high grade mint state proof like dimes is most challenging as the population is small. Secondly, I enjoy owning business strike dimes with mirror fields as atypical in the market and a hybrid between low mintage proof strikes and high mintage business strike counterparts. I especially like to own and sell earlier dated Seated dimes (No Stars, No Drapery and With Stars) with mirrored fields as a differentiated item.