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An End to a Five Year Hunt (And the Story to go Along with It)

FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 2,852 ✭✭✭✭✭
edited December 24, 2022 7:35PM in U.S. Coin Forum

Merry Christmas all! I finally made a purchase today that completed a search that holds a special place in my heart - it was this search that brought me into classic US numismatics, and fueled my passion for hunting down coins that perhaps don't have much attention paid to them and researching those pieces.

1936-1942 proofs, particularly cameos, have held a special place in collecting for me. They’ve been my specialty for as long as I’ve been seriously collecting (about five years now), and I’ve rarely branched from them. When I do, it’s usually into the surrounding proofs realm where I still know what I’m doing. There’s so much to know about these coins and they finally seem to be getting a lot more attention recently. However, there’s a lot of exceptional proofs that go entirely unnoticed, and some truly rare proofs in this series go for an astonishingly low amount of money. The following coin is one such proof, and one that took me five years to hunt down. Here it is:

A PR64 1942 quarter. Pretty boring, huh? Nope! (Ok maybe :lol:) Some of you already know why just with a quick glance. My pictures simply don't do it enough justice, the obverse is nearly fully frosted and the viewer's left wing of the eagle has decent contrast. There's an image of another 1942 lower down in the thread where I mention that coin is very similar to this coin, so take both images, combine them, and you'd have an idea of the coin in hand.

Cameo 1936-42 proofs are exceedingly scarce, with most current populations under 300 coins for any date/denomination combo. Most combos have under five known. Quite a few date/denomination pairs have no cameos known. Something sticks out quite quickly when looking at current populations of 1936-42 proofs in cameo - not a single Washington quarter has ever gained the designation. Not one. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Here’s the even bigger point - for those coins that don’t have any cameos known, you can usually find multiple near cameo examples that just missed the designation, and when standards change they probably will get the designation. Not for Washington quarters - except 1942. While there are really nice quarters out there with exceptional obverses or reverses only (1938), no other year shows contrast on both the obverse and reverse, at least from what I’ve seen.

Here’s why - when producing the dies for these coins, the mint had some trouble with polishing. The dies for the 1909-16 redesigns had a basined field - that is the fields of the dies were curved. This is why the mint elected to do matte proofs for the cents and nickels of 09-16, and sandblast and satin proof gold for those years. They simply couldn’t polish the dies without ruining them. By the time 1936 rolled around and the mint decided to give proofs another shot, this was mostly fixed and the die curvature was minimal, or at least to the point where they could polish dies without ruining them. However, the dies were still curved enough that when they were polished, the low point satin frost and detail created by the die production process was almost certainly going to be abraded away. The fields were the high points on the die, and the areas that were most similar in relief to the field were those most impacted.

For most coins, these areas were limited. Lincoln cents had the fewest low relief points, and therefore the most cameos 1936-42. Then came Jefferson nickels, Mercury dimes, and Walking Liberty halves. In last place is the Washington quarter. Almost half of the entire reverse is similar in relief to the field. The wings and tail feathers of the eagle were almost always abraded away on the initial polish, and upon repolish the situation only got worse. Simply finding a coin with full tail feathers on the reverse is really difficult. Finding one with any contrast at all on the reverse is a major accomplishment, especially on the wings.

As I mentioned before, there are Washingtons with nice contrast on one side - but it’s usually only that one side. There’s an exceptional 1938 owned by @NorCalJack that has a monster obverse, but the reverse simply isn’t comparable in terms of contrast. And that’s one of the finest contrasted 36-42 quarters out there! When I say these things just don’t really pop up ever, I mean it.

I’ve searched like a madman for a 1942 quarter with some contrast that can be called close to cameo. I’ve seen photos of exactly four, one being the present coin. Three come from the same die pair, the other from a different die pair. I had the opportunity to purchase two of these coins, one when I had just started specializing in these proofs five years ago. $100 was a lot to spend, and I passed. Luckily I saved the pictures of it. It was in a PCGS OGH 65 I think, it was a while ago this one came up for sale.
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This coin is one of the three from the same die pair, and I’d say that it is from the later end of that die pair’s ability to produce coins with contrast. The haze on the left wing aids the contrast, but if it was removed the effect would be much less on the reverse. The thing to notice is the black mirrors - one rarely EVER sees these on proof quarters, and almost never on both sides. When coupled with any contrast at all the coin is just simply rare. Black mirrors aren’t actually “black”, but rather just how deeply mirrored silver appears to the eye. A regular 36-42 Proof 25c would show light grey mirrors, like this coin.

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The other two contrasted coins I've seen are very similar, both showing decent obverse contrast and weak reverse contrast. Here they are:


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And this NGC PF67 example owned by @cameonut2011. This coin appears very similar to my example, down to very slight details. They are hard to photograph! This is the finest contrasted example that I'm aware of.


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Coin #3 (PCGS PR65 with the slab shot) is from a different die pair than the other three, and try as I might I can’t find another example. This one appears to be the best contrasted, but the images also appear to be accentuating the contrast. There are two instances in 1942 where proof die pairs struck only 8 and 30 coins (one surviving would make sense), but both of these instances wouldn’t likely produce a coin of that contrast caliber. In case you’re wondering how I’m telling die pairs apart - look at the eagle’s left (viewer’s right) wing. There are recut wing feathers, and the second recut wing feather is a different length between the dies.

That’s all I found (I could have missed a few or not have good enough pictures to determine for sure if I would call a proof a near cameo, but I'm almost certain there are under ten known currently). Here’s the big kicker - for those that I saw with prices, they went for the same or less than a proof without contrast. I imagine the big reason why is because they are relatively unknown - very few people have ever mentioned seeing one such coin and very very few actually seek them out/look for them. If more people knew of the rarity of these coins I expect they’d be worth multiples of what they currently go for.

They're not exceptional near cameos - they're actually easy to miss if you aren't looking for them. But if you try to find one you'll notice just how hard they are to find. Compared to every other cameo 1936-42 proof they'll be the least noticeable. Part of it is because they aren't really cameos, but the other part is they're just not as spectacular. But they are just as rare, if not more so.

So I spent years looking for one - I got close two times, but not close enough. When this little near gem popped up - I knew. The journey was over. I’d found one. And I couldn't be more happy with the coin!

Here’s my lesson from this to anyone who cares to hear it - no matter what plastic this coin was in, I was buying it. I didn’t care what the label said, what stickers were on it, or what on earth the TPG was because it wouldn't matter. Sometimes collecting is finding your path - and a lot of times you’ve got to make it yourself without any help. I got a R7-R7+ (from what I know) coin that many people wouldn’t pay a second thought to today, let alone know it’s an R7-R7+, and I got it for a very reasonable price. It’s all down to you sometimes to know what someone else doesn’t. That's what makes the hobby fun - there's something for everyone if we step back and look for it!

Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoyed my ramble!

Young Numismatist, Coin Photographer.

Comments

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    habaracahabaraca Posts: 1,964 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Very Nice

    Merry Christmas to you.......................

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    dunkleosteus430dunkleosteus430 Posts: 471 ✭✭✭✭
    edited December 24, 2022 5:31PM

    Congratulations! Sometimes it pays off to do your own Christmas shopping. I'll keep a look out for these quarters at coin shows and stuff. Merry Christmas!

    Young Numismatist

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    jesbrokenjesbroken Posts: 9,303 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Congratulations and Merry Christmas. Great Christmas present and I'm glad you finally found it.
    Jim


    When a man who is honestly mistaken hears the truth, he will either quit being mistaken or cease to be honest....Abraham Lincoln

    Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.....Mark Twain
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    CatbertCatbert Posts: 6,603 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Great thread. Know that you are thrilled. Congrats!

    "Got a flaming heart, can't get my fill"
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    Namvet69Namvet69 Posts: 8,672 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I appreciate your verve and focus on the cameo proof. And sharing your journey to collect. Merry Christmas @FlyingAl Glad I'm here to share your accomplishment. Peace Roy

    BST: endeavor1967, synchr, kliao, Outhaul, Donttellthewife, U1Chicago, ajaan, mCarney1173, SurfinHi, MWallace, Sandman70gt, mustanggt, Pittstate03, Lazybones, Walkerguy21D, coinandcurrency242 , thebigeng, Collectorcoins, JimTyler, USMarine6, Elkevvo, Coll3ctor, Yorkshireman, CUKevin, ranshdow, CoinHunter4, bennybravo, Centsearcher, braddick, Windycity, ZoidMeister, mirabela, JJM, RichURich, Bullsitter, jmski52, LukeMarshall

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    ashelandasheland Posts: 22,693 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Congratulations! 👍

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    Pnies20Pnies20 Posts: 2,065 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Very cool. Nice write up and congrats!

    BHNC #248 … 108 and counting.

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    rickoricko Posts: 98,724 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @FlyingAl ... Thank you for an excellent analysis of these quarters. 1942 is a very special year for me (guess why ;) ), and those are great quarters and exceptional pictures. I shall search for one of these quarters, and if I find an exceptional one, I will let you know. I shall also re-read your post, likely a couple of times, to fully absorb the information. Cheers, RickO

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    FrazFraz Posts: 1,854 ✭✭✭✭✭

    That is a generous use of your time; you deserve the best for the lessons that you provide.

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    MFeldMFeld Posts: 12,052 ✭✭✭✭✭

    FlyingAl, congratulations on finding and following your path. It’s great to see a collector with such passion and dedication, not to mention, the enjoyment that you exhibit. Keep having loads of fun!

    Mark Feld* of Heritage Auctions*Unless otherwise noted, my posts here represent my personal opinions.

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    BryceMBryceM Posts: 11,733 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Mark said it well. This is very much NOT my area of collecting but your enthusiasm and ultimate success is clear to see. Well done.

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    OAKSTAROAKSTAR Posts: 5,806 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Very nice. That has to be a great feeling and sense of accomplishment for you! 👍🏻

    Disclaimer: I'm not a dealer, trader, grader, investor or professional numismatist. I'm just a hobbyist. (To protect me but mostly you! 🤣 )

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    Very enjoyable read here. Congrats on the find.

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    coinbufcoinbuf Posts: 10,767 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Congrats on finding the one for you.

    My Lincoln Registry
    My Collection of Old Holders

    Never a slave to one plastic brand will I ever be.
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    NeophyteNumismatistNeophyteNumismatist Posts: 888 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Very nicely done, @FlyingAl ! Congratulations!

    I am a newer collector (started April 2020), and I primarily focus on U.S. Half Cents and Type Coins. Early copper is my favorite.

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    NorCalJackNorCalJack Posts: 516 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @FlyingAl Congrats on your perseverance in locating a near cameo WQ. They are rare but I am sure there is another 1938 with major contrast out there, it will pop up one day and hopefully you can acquire the coin.

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    FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 2,852 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @NorCalJack said:
    @FlyingAl Congrats on your perseverance in locating a near cameo WQ. They are rare but I am sure there is another 1938 with major contrast out there, it will pop up one day and hopefully you can acquire the coin.

    We'll see! For now your 1938 is the finest I've seen.

    Young Numismatist, Coin Photographer.

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    Cameo proofs are super beautiful coins.

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    cameonut2011cameonut2011 Posts: 10,061 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Very cool pickup and excellent write up! I like your coin very much, and like you I find frosted coinage from this era far more intriguing than 98% of what you usually see.
    It is nice to see another collector with passion for the short series in cameo. Are you working on a cameo type set from this era or just a select group of neat finds? Merry Christmas!

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    FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 2,852 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @cameonut2011 said:
    Very cool pickup and excellent write up! I like your coin very much, and like you I find frosted coinage from this era far more intriguing than 98% of what you usually see.
    It is nice to see another collector with passion for the short series in cameo. Are you working on a cameo type set from this era or just a select group of neat finds? Merry Christmas!

    I would say I'm not necessarily shooting for a cameo type set, but it looks to be turning out that way. I have a designated CAM cent, an exceptional 1942 T2 nickel that I am sending to be regraded ATS (hopefully for the designation), and this quarter. I recently picked up a 1939 half dollar that I haven't seen in hand yet, but the TrueViews look particularly promising. That would only leave the dime!

    My main focus is just trying to build a collection of these proofs in the most attractive format I can. Most of the time that turns out to be a coin with frosted devices, but there are several pieces in my collection with original color or surfaces and great detail that are just as nice.

    I am also currently working on cataloging all of the dies for this series that produced cameo coinage, you may find this interesting. I completed all of the half dollar dies yesterday, you can see that installment ATS here (for some reason the ATS forums allow the images to copy/paste while these don't. Given the amount of images and the likely lack of interest here, I didn't want to spend a half hour transferring images.):
    https://boards.ngccoin.com/topic/429771-completed-1936-42-cameo-half-dollar-study/

    The 1939 half I mentioned above is from the CA-30 die pair.

    Young Numismatist, Coin Photographer.

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    cameonut2011cameonut2011 Posts: 10,061 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @FlyingAl said:

    @cameonut2011 said:
    Very cool pickup and excellent write up! I like your coin very much, and like you I find frosted coinage from this era far more intriguing than 98% of what you usually see.
    It is nice to see another collector with passion for the short series in cameo. Are you working on a cameo type set from this era or just a select group of neat finds? Merry Christmas!

    I would say I'm not necessarily shooting for a cameo type set, but it looks to be turning out that way. I have a designated CAM cent, an exceptional 1942 T2 nickel that I am sending to be regraded ATS (hopefully for the designation), and this quarter. I recently picked up a 1939 half dollar that I haven't seen in hand yet, but the TrueViews look particularly promising. That would only leave the dime!

    My main focus is just trying to build a collection of these proofs in the most attractive format I can. Most of the time that turns out to be a coin with frosted devices, but there are several pieces in my collection with original color or surfaces and great detail that are just as nice.

    I am also currently working on cataloging all of the dies for this series that produced cameo coinage, you may find this interesting. I completed all of the half dollar dies yesterday, you can see that installment ATS here (for some reason the ATS forums allow the images to copy/paste while these don't. Given the amount of images and the likely lack of interest here, I didn't want to spend a half hour transferring images.):
    https://boards.ngccoin.com/topic/429771-completed-1936-42-cameo-half-dollar-study/

    The 1939 half I mentioned above is from the CA-30 die pair.

    Thanks! I can’t wait to see the rest.

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