In contrast to the modern series of US commemorative coins in which collectors have a choice between buying Brilliant Uncirculated or Proof versions, the coins of the classic era were generally available only as standard, business strike issues (i.e., "Uncirculated" coins). There were limited exceptions, however, and these exceptions command premium prices when offered for sale.
Five such exceptions are the proof strikes created for the 1892 Columbian half dollar, the 1893 Isabella quarter dollar, the 1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Jefferson and McKinley gold dollars and the 1928 Hawaiian half-dollar. The Columbian, Isabella and LPE coins feature the "standard" proof characteristics of frosted devices and mirrored fields, while the Hawaiian is a "sand blast" or "matte" proof with a dull, satiny look over its devices and fields. There were approximately 100 each of the 1892 Columbian half dollars, 1893 Isabella quarters and 1903 LPE gold coins struck in proof; there were 50 sandblast proof 1928 Hawaiian half-dollars struck. There are a few other classic commemoratives for which one or two examples are known, but the five I've mentioned are the most well-known and common (relatively speaking). Read More: Commems Collection
A less well-known segment within the classic commemorative series is the small group of coins designated as "Proof-Like." While true proof coins are struck with specially-polished dies and polished planchets to impart their typical cameo finish, proof-like coins are regular business/uncirculated strikes that take on visual characteristics similar to proof coins - usually as a result of being among the first coins to be struck from a pair of fresh dies or dies that have just been polished. These coins show more contrast between the main devices and the fields vs. regular uncirculated coins; their fields can approach the mirrored fields of proof coins. In the case of classic commemorative proof-like coins, the coins were struck from specially-polished business strike dies.
The most common of the "PL" coins within the classic series per the NGC
Population Report are as follows: (Note: PCGS does not currently designate classic commemorative coins as proof-like.
1893 Isabella: 118 (total graded)
1892 Columbian: 405
1893 Columbian: 223
1936 Delaware: 21
1936 Rhode Island: 91
1937-S Boone: 123
1937 Roanoke: 69 (35 in 65, 10 in 66 and 3 in 67)
1938 New Rochelle: 191
1947-S BTW: 108
1948-S BTW: 27
1950-S BTW: 46
1951-S BTW: 38
There are quite a number of other issues with 1 to 10 examples that NGC
has graded and given a "PL" designation. That said, only about 3% of the total classic commemorative coins graded by NGC
have received a "PL" designation - they are relatively scarce.
Living in North Carolina, I figured that if I were to add a classic proof-like commemorative to my collection, I would likely keep it "local" and go after a Roanoke half dollar. While attending one of the large shows in Baltimore several years ago, I stopped at the table of a dealer with whom I regularly did business. As I was looking through his commemorative inventory, I casually asked if he ever comes across the Roanoke in proof-like. He responded affirmatively by pulling out an example graded MS-65 PL by NGC
. He said it was a recent purchase and he hadn't yet added it to his show stock. I wound up purchasing the coin from him, along with a couple of others. Another expensive stop at his table!
I later did a few searches for the coin and found that the example I purchased had appeared in the 2006 June Long Beach auction by Heritage Auctions
where it was described thusly: "A flashy Gem with brilliant fields and devices. Light honey and ocean-blue toning endows peripheral legends. The glassy fields are smooth, and the strike is precise throughout."
In case your were wondering about the potential price differential for a proof-like MS coin vs. regular MS coin.
In the 2006 Heritage Auction
, my MS 65 PL Roanoke was hammered at $1,035 (with buyer's premium) vs. a regular MS 65 Roanoke that sold for $299 - a roughly 3.5x multiple for the proof-like coin. In full disclosure, the overall depressed market for the US classic commemorative series has strongly impacted even these scarce proof-like coins. In a February 2016 Heritage Auction
, a MS 65 PL Roanoke hammered for just $587.50 - but this is versus regular MS 65 examples that closed in the $150 to $160 range. The prices are certainly lower but the 3.5x or better multiple remains.
I've included images of the coin below - they are from the Heritage
web site (www.ha.com). I could not get images of the in-hand coin that accurately captured its attractive appearance, so I went with the professional images!
Hope you enjoyed the story and the coin!