What does the term cameo mean in rare coin collecting? Most modern proof coins feature a mirrored surface that contrasts with frosted devices, thanks to highly polished dies and planchets as well as technological innovations introduced in the 1970s and perfected over the decades, including the use of lasers.
But this cameo quality wasn’t always a regular feature in American coinage. Back in the 1800s, proofs themselves were relatively rare numismatic birds, requiring extra strikes from Mint presses to bring out a coins finer details. The life spans of the dies were limited because of the intense pressure needed to create proofs. Acid baths and sandblasting techniques also have been used to create proof and cameo characteristics.
The cameo characteristic is even more elusive in older coins. Therefore, collecting 19th– and early-20th-century proofs that also boast cameo finishes can be a lucrative pastime.
PCGS uses deep cameo coin label: The two major coin-certification services use slightly different terminology to describe cameo coins. According to the grading service PCGS, cameo is a term applied to coins, usually Proofs and proof-like coins, that have frosted devices and lettering that contrast with the fields. When this is deep the coins are said to be black and white cameos. Occasionally frosty coins have cameo devices though they obviously do not contrast as dramatically with the fields as the cameo devices of Proofs do. Specifically applied by PCGS to those 1950 and later Proofs that meet cameo standards (CAM).
For extra-special cameo coins, PCGS uses the term deep cameo, or DCAM. The term applied to coins, usually Proofs and proof-like coins, that have deeply frosted devices and lettering that contrast with the fields often called black and white cameos. Specifically applied to those 1950 and later Proofs that meet the deep cameo coin standards (DCAM).
NGC uses ultra cameo coin label: In contrast, the other major grading service, NGC, uses cameo and ultra cameo as descriptors. Cameo applies only to proof (PF) coins and features fields that are deeply mirrored and the devices are frosted for moderate contrast on both sides of the coins, NGC writes. The term “ultra cameo coin” also applies only to proofs and features deeply mirrored field with devices that are heavily frosted for bold contrast on both sides of the coin.
Fine line between cameo and ultra cameo coins: NGC researcher chief David Lange explained the concept in a 2002 post. Its very difficult to put into words the difference between CAMEO and ULTRA CAMEO, other than to say that the latter is clearly more pronounced, he wrote. The dividing line is somewhat subjective, but the important thing to remember is that NGC applies the distinction as consistently as humanly possible and in accordance with widely accepted market standards. For a proof coin to be labeled CAMEO by NGC, it must display contrasting fields and devices on both sides. For the ULTRA CAMEO designation, it must have superior contrast on both sides.
As of June 6, 2016, Blanchard and Company has at least three classic coins in stock that are considered cameo or better.
- The 1900 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle is certified as PR65 by NGC and carries a green CAC sticker of quality assurance. It has been designated as a cameo coin.
- For an ultra cameo example, check out the 1898 Liberty Head Half Eagle, certified as PR66 by NGC and also bearing a green CAC sticker.
- Another ultra cameo coin in stock is the 1899 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle, certified as PR67 by NGC and carrying a green CAC sticker.
Click on the links to see the coins. Can you discern the difference in the levels of cameo? Call Blanchard’s knowledgeable numismatic professionals today to learn more about these coins as well as other opportunities in gold proof coinage.