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SERIES: Patterns - PR
LEVEL: Year, MintMark, & Major Variety

1860 $5 J-271 (Proof)

James Barton Longacre
Metal Content:
Auction Record:
$170,375 • PCGS PR62 • 8-2-2012 • Heritage Auctions
David Akers (1975/88): Description: Obverse. Head of Liberty facing right wearing a Phrygian cap. On the cap around the face are three large stars. A ribbon attached to the base of the cap is inscribed LIBERTY and lies across the hair curls on the neck. Thirteen stars surround the bust near the border, and the date, 1860, is directly below the bust. Reverse. A small eagle with outstretched wings hold three arrows in its left talon and an olive branch in its right. On the eagle's breast is a shield and in its beak is a scroll inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination FIVE DOLLARS are near the border. (The V in FIVE is an inverted A.)

Comments: In 1860, when it was discovered that counterfeiters were sawing apart genuine gold coins and replacing the inner gold core with less valuable platinum, it was decided that some experimentation be done to see if such illicit practices could be thwarted. Dr. J.T. Barclay, who had been at the Mint in 1856-7, had recommended that coins be made thinner and more concave to prevent such counterfeiting, but at the time of his recommendations, a committee of two, appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury to investigate Dr. Barclay's process, reported that to "make a single such piece, blending that perfection of artistic design and mechanical execution which would commend it for acceptance with the protective features which Dr. Barclay desires to incorporate, would require the construction of machinery on a scale and at a cost inadequate for regular minting business." In 1860, however, Barclay's work suddenly became important, and although he was no longer at the Mint, his ideas were utilized. One of the results was this gold pattern, J-271. The experiments were dropped in 1861 with the outbreak of the Civil war but they were resumed in 1878 when three more thin, broad planchet gold patterns, J-1566, J-1570, and J-1572, were struck.

This gold pattern half eagle has the diameter of a ten dollar gold piece but is, of course, noticeably thinner. In his March 1883 sale, Haseltine stated that "This piece is conceded to be the most beautiful and chaste specimen in design and execution ever struck at the U.S. Mint. Excessively rare, there being but two known in Gold." The two pieces Haseltine was referring to were the sale specimen and one owned by Robert Coulton Davis. However, Dr. Henry R. Linderman, former Director of the Mint supposedly had three specimens and this is the number that can be accounted for today. Two of them are owned by Paramount International Coin Corporation, having been obtained from Dr. Wilkison in 1973. Wilkison purchased the first one in the early 1940's from Abe Kosoff for $4200. The other was obtained from Dr. Judd who had acquired it from F.C.C. Boyd in the 1940's. One of the two pieces is slightly impaired; the other, however, is very choice.