1897 $20 PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC. In the late 19th century, mintages of proof gold coins were extremely limited, due mostly to the relative size of the necessary investment to collect such coins. In the 1890s, for example, there were not many collectors who could afford $40 per year for a set of such coins. In 1897, just 86 proof double eagles were minted, and only about 25 of those coins still survive today, although the actual number of estimated survivors varies from one author to another. Garrett and Guth estimated 20 to 25 examples in their Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins. In his Complete Encyclopedia, Walter Breen suggested that 18 to 24 examples survive, and David Akers placed the number at 18 to 22 pieces in the Pittman catalog. In his double eagle Red Book, Dave Bowers suggested a much higher figure of 30 to 40 surviving proofs.
One of the greatest challenges in numismatics is the accurate estimation of survivors for any given coin, and this is especially difficult for proof gold coinage. The only accurate method to make such a determination is to create an actual Census of known specimens. This involves careful comparison of auction offerings to match photos from one auction appearance to another. While this is quite easy to do in certain series (early large cents, for example), it is extremely difficult in other series. In the case of proof gold coins, where photographs often give the impression that a coin is perfect, the process of plate matching is nearly impossible. Once this plate matching is accomplished, it is still necessary to figure out what coins are held by museums and private collections that may never have appeared in an auction.
The surfaces are bright yellow with frosted motifs and deeply mirrored fields. This example is attractive with excellent eye appeal. Census: 2 in 66 Ultra Cameo, NONE finer (7/06)