Last week I noted the Society of Private and Pioneer Numismatics (SPPN) event at their annual meeting at the Baltimore ANA convention. The Pioneer Gold Forum discussed the controversial proof and prooflike 1853 $20 U.S. Assay Office of Gold Pieces. These pieces were the subject of an inconclusive 1968 PNG (Professional Numismatists Guild) arbitration. The .Great Debate. of 1997 dealt mainly with Western Assay Ingots. This was strictly about the $20 U.S. Assay Office of Gold Prooflike pieces.
I was unable to attend the event, but some folks who did have provided the following accounts. George Fuld provided an opening background piece - some of the details have never before been published. -Editor
George Fuld writes:
In early 1964, I became aware of the existence of .proof-like. U S Assay Office .900 Fine 1853 Twenties. I don.t remember who first sent me one to look at, but think it was the late Dr. James O. Sloss of Pennsylvania. At the time I was a Manager of Radiation Research at Goodyear Tire & Rubber in Akron. I asked the Manager of the Metallurgy Research if he would to study these coins to see if any objective studies would determine the character of these newly surfaced coins. They agreed to undertake this study as a public service.
The study group consisted of Abe Kosoff, Dr. Sloss and myself and plus Eric Newman in the following months. Ryan, who was the owner of one of .proof-like. pieces questioned the status of his piece, and made it available to me. Jim Sloss supplied one .proof-like. piece, Abe Kosoff supplied another and three high grade uncirculated .900 Fine specimens. Abe also borrowed and sent me the Philadelphia Mint strike (circa 1858) proof ex Farouk.
We had in summary three .proof-like. coins, three high grade regular issues and the Farouk proof. Studies made at the time included high resolution photomicrographs, X-ray diffraction patterns and spectrographic metal analysis.
Also, one .proof-like. was submitted to an agent of the Secret Service to see if they would determine the status of these coins. After several months, they decided since the USAO office was not officially a Mint until 1854, they would not subject the coin to a study.this was not a U S coin in their opinion.
The study lingered, as I had a bout of illness, and the coins were returned to their owners.all the results were sent to Eric Newman who carried the ball from there.
The buyer went to the PNG in an effort to get his money back (the amount was $3,000 as I recall). As the .proof-like. pieces originated with John Ford (who obtained them from Paul Franklin), Ford prepared a defense of the USAO hoard. It was a 100 plus page dissertation asserting that the .proof-likes. were a series of experimental alloy pieces obtained from a banker in Arizona. Eric Newman prepared a thesis condemning the pieces in great detail. A hearing was made before three .judges. from PNG in 1968. No definite conclusion was reached, but the committee ruled that they were not proofs, and that Ryan should get his money refunded. Actually Ryan had to go to court to get the refund, as the seller of the coin refused to pay back for the coin.
In the following years, many discussions were held about the Ford-Franklin hoard. T. V. Buttrey and John Kleeberg condemned these pieces in great detail. A great debate was held at the 1997 ANA convention with Kleeberg presenting his views and Michael Hodder saying that most of the questionable coins (including various ingots, trial pieces, etc.) were genuine. Both studies were published in the American Journal of Numismatics. A law suit was launched by Ford and Stack.s against Buttrey which has never been resolved
The last public sale of a .proof-like. twenty was in the 1981 Bowers & Ruddy Henry Clifford sale. The write up of the coin was done by John Ford and the coin sold for $17,000.
Late last year, a USAO $20 was sent on consignment to Kagin.s. David McCarthy examined the piece and realized that it looked familiar. The coin was an MS-64 uncirculated specimen with the standard 164 reeds on the edge. It became obvious that this coin was a prototype for the .proof-like. twenties. Visually it was obvious that the Franklin-Ford coins were made from a transfer die from this uncirculated copy. Actually, the progression of issuance from the transfer dies, all with 170 reeds, was determined by John Dannreuther.
The first strikings were frosty uncirculated issues (possibly 200 were made), then a number of semi-proof like issues and finally the seven or so .proof-likes.. A thorough series of photographs of a number of USAO issues is on the Pioneer-Gold Forum website.
Open questions that still remain is how were the transfer dies made (explosive impact transfer would destroy the original coin). At the forum held on August 2nd at ANA the discussion was made about possible transfer processes, the origin of gold metal in the 1950.s (gold was not allowed to held except for certain jewelry uses and as rare numismatic items until 1974), and where the coins were made. The production of these coins was highly sophisticated--they certainly were not made in a garage in Massapequa on Long Island. In summary, it was agreed by all in attendance, that if these pieces were submitted for grading to the leading authentication services, they would be called .transfer die forgeries..
The last word on these intriguing issues has not been written, but it is obvious that they are not 1853 official issues from the U S Assay Office!!
About 50 people were in attendance for the event including, Don Kagin, Fred Holabird, George Fuld, David McCarthy, John Dannreuther, Ron Guth, Stu Levine, John Kleeberg, Tony Terranova, J. P. Martin, Andy Lustig, Steve Graham, Mark Van Winkle, David Hall, Ira Goldberg, Laura Robins and Will Robins.
I knew Dr. Sloss as a fellow member of the Western Pennsylvania Numismatic Society. He was a good friend of my numismatic mentor Glenn Mooney, and after his death I purchased his numismatic library. I recall Glenn mentioning Jim's tussle with John Ford over the USAOG piece, so this jives with George's recollection. -Editor
Fred Holabird writes:
Don Kagin was a great moderator. He also prepared a really good paper, which I think bears the need for publishing.
I was very happy at the sincere involvement of McCarthy, Kagin, George Fuld, John Dannreuther, Dave Bowers and others, who all took the time to personally inspect the coins. George provided an excellent professional paper that discussed the difference between a planchet produced from a rolling effect (rolling out of an ingot, continually thinning) versus modern made. I was hoping to show this with a chalk board and my recent studies with SEM/EDS, but we couldn.t find any chalk anywhere nearby. So I discussed it out loud.
Above are images of the discovery prototype piece. Below are a few of the Pioneer Gold Forum's annotated closeup images highlighting diagnostics which tie the suspect pieces back to the original prototype coin. -Editor
As a member of the Forum, Tom DeLorey wrote:
Speaking as a former full-time authenticator, I must say that the pictures of the prototype coin (unquestionably genuine) prove that the Franklin pieces are unquestionably counterfeits.
The numerous repeating random contact marks copied from the prototype are proof that the copy dies were made from the prototype coin. They could not have been on the original, genuine dies, or otherwise there would be multiple genuine coins (without the unusual finish and other characteristics of the Franklin pieces) with these same random marks.
I see no reason to change my opinion formed at ANACS that these Franklin pieces are modern counterfeits. The prototype coin only strengthens my belief.
John Dannreuther writes:
Although there was no consensus by the forum as to the method of manufacture of the coins in question, the prototype coin provided several clues about the Assay twenties. Upon examining the prototype, several mysteries of the prooflike coins were solved. The excessive flow lines (from a worn die) of the genuine prototype did not copy well. Thus, when the first coins struck from the copy dies, the flow lines (normally these are created by striking pressure) are very fuzzy, although they are present.
The first coins struck had these fuzzy flow lines and a chalky looking surface. These surfaces would be suspect to anyone familiar with the original Assay coinage from San Francisco. Thus, it appears that the copy dies were polished to remove the problems causing the .odd. surface. By creating prooflike and Proofs, the problem with the chalky surfaces would be eliminated. (Both the frosty examples had been cleaned to obscure their .odd. surfaces, further proof that the makers knew the surfaces .would give them away..)
However, when the copy dies were polished, other details were removed besides the offending flow lines. The progression of the copy dies (frosty to PL to deep PL) is just the opposite from what is normally seen with dies (as striking continues, regular dies go from PL to semi PL to frosty to satin to flat luster). The flow lines become disconnected on the PL coins from the copy dies and are just a series of dots on the .Proofs..
There are other areas with evidence of this polishing. One obvious area is the ribbon. The area of the ribbon (left end with the word LIBERTY) observed on the prototype has strong edges and has a frosty background. On the last state noted (the so-called .Proofs.), the edge of the ribbon is indistinct and there is a prooflike area behind some of the letters of LIBERTY. This effect is seen on genuine Proof gold dollar and three dollar dies, as the inner part of the ear is usually prooflike. There are numerous high points of the copy die that have polished areas, both on the PL and the .Proofs..
Although the method of manufacture (all agree some type of transfer process was used) is unknown at this time, a lathe was not used to produce these dies, as the coin with the obvious lathe lines is a middle die state. If a lathe had been used, the earliest die state would show remnants of these lathe lines. Thus, the coin with the lathe lines had its planchet cut with a lathe. The striking of this planchet did not completely obliterate these lines.
Like the "Great Debate" of 1997, this meeting was an historic numismatic event, although one with apparently less rancor involved. Kudos to eagle-eyed David McCarthy for spotting the coin when it came across his desk. He deserves a medal!
As George noted, while this evidence does seem to put to rest the question of authenticity of the disputed pieces, it still does not resolve the question of who was responsible for making the pieces. -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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