Norweb's Gem Proof 1855 Arrows Half
Production levels for those coins minted specifically for collectors, whether ‘Proofs’ or ‘Master Coins’, generally stayed in the single digits through 1853, and rose slightly for 1854 and 1855 before ramping up significantly beginning in 1856. Mintage estimates for these early proofs often parrot Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia (1977). David Akers, noted expert on early proof coins, weighed in on the subject in his catalogues of the John Jay Pittman Collection, and more recently, John Dannreuther has begun releasing his monumental opus on United States Proof Coins, including rosters of the known examples where possible.
Regarding 1855 Proof Half Dollars, Breen estimated surviving populations of ’15 to 20 known’ of 1855 Normal Date, and ‘3 or 4 known’ with the over-dated obverse. In David Akers’s description of John Jay Pittman’s 1855 Normal Date Proof he estimated “somewhere between 15 and 20 pieces, a number which includes both the normal date Proofs and the overdate 1855/4 Proofs”. Finally, PCGS has certified a total of six of their estimated ‘8-12 known’ 1855 Normal Date Proofs, and a further five of their ‘6-8 known’ 1855/54 Proofs. Including specifically identified NGC certified coins not included in the PCGS data, a review of the auction records reveals at least eight different 1855 Normal Date and seven different 1855/54 Overdate Proofs, so an estimated total surviving population of 15 for certain, plus some room for possible re-discoveries appears to be accurate.
Among the seven known Proof 1855/54 Halves, including coins from the collections of Eric Newman, Eugene Gardner, Louis Eliasberg, Dr. Juan XII Suros, and Phil Kaufman, this, the Norweb Proof, is certainly the finest known. Additionally, it is a strong candidate for finest known for all of 1855, including both normal and over-dated dies.
In their catalogue for the third installment of the Norweb collection in November 1988, Bowers and Merena described this specimen as “A glittering gem example, with indescribably beautiful light golden surfaces accented with magenta and electric blue”. Forty years later, that description remains true. Some faint hairlines and a few minor abrasions set the grade, yet are well hidden by the toning.
Holden – Norweb Family Collection; Bowers and Merena ‘Norweb Part III’, November 1988, lot 3166; Superior, July 1993, lot 428; Heritage Auctions, April 2015 @ $76,375 as PCGS PR65 #09696399.