The Additional Value of the Top Cameo Franklin Die-
Now Recognized in the NGC Registry!
I spent almost five years working on my first book, "Cameo And Brilliant Proof Coinage Of The 1950 To 1970 Era”.
The most challenging section of the book was 1. Assembling
the finest early strike Cameo Franklins from all the top cameo dies known for
that era, and 2. Photographing them properly to capture their unique cameo
characteristics! There were some coins I had to re-shoot 8 – 10 times before we
finally accurately captured the unique cameo characteristics of a particular
top cameo die.
The two questions I am often asked are:
1. What makes a die a TOP CAMEO die?
2. How can you tell what die it is?
Answering #1 is easy: A
TOP CAMEO die is a die that in its earliest, unworn die state strikes superior
cameo coins compared to other dies for that date!
For example, 1951 Cameo Die #6 in my book – the earliest strikes encountered off this top cameo die, about 4 years before I began work on my book. It was at a coin show in Long Beach. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had handled some very nice 1951 cameo Franklin half dollars in the couple years I had been buying them, but none of them had the cameo contrast of this monster! The cameo frost was chalk white, and the mirrors jet-black! It was amazing! At that time, I typically bought and sold 1951 gem cameo Franklins for $300 - $400. I asked the dealer what he wanted for his 1951, thinking I might have to pay on the high end for his coin – maybe $400 or $450. He told me $1,000. At first I was shocked. That was over double what I had been accustomed to selling the coins for. And he wouldn’t budge on the price.
Of course I bought it. I reasoned that 1. I knew the coin
was phenomenal for the date, 2. I knew it was extremely rare – I had never seen
a comparably 1951 up to that point, and 3. for any collector like myself who
values not just the grade on the holder but the eye-appeal of the coin in the
holder (and frankly most collectors feel the same- eye-appeal is paramount!),
early strikes off the top cameo dies represent the most stunning, breath-taking
cameo proofs for their year!
2. How can you tell what die it is? As I
have written in my previous books, since the late 1970’s the "art” of creating
a cameo proof die is really no longer an art, but a triumph of modern
technology. Machines, computers, and now even the use of lasers to etch the
cameo effect into a die, has insured that every die created is essentially
identical to every other die; to the point that unless one wants to resort to
extremely high magnifications of 50x or 100x, they are identical to one
Pre – late 1970’s however, these modern technologies were not yet being used. In this earlier era, the creation of a cameo proof die was much more a craft. Dies were dipped in a bath of 5% nitric acid/95% alcohol to create an acid etched surface – frost – over the entire die. The craftsman responsible for the die would then put it on a buffing wheel to polish the exposed surfaces – the fields of the coin – until they had a mirror-like finish. How long the die was held in the acid bath, the quality of the buffing of the die, was unique for every die. These differences were generally not as noticeable for the smaller Lincoln cents and Roosevelt dimes, but are quite obvious for the largest coin – the Franklin and early Kennedy half dollars. Additionally, a proof Franklin die had a life of 3,000 – 5,000 coins before it was decided it was too worn to strike more coins of proof quality (10’s of thousands of coins were struck per die for mint state coins). The exceptional cameo proofs from that die were typically the first fifty or so strikes, before the cameo effect would begin to exhibit noticeable fade. Some years, like the 1956, this number was higher. But after those initial strikes, subsequent coins would no longer exhibit ULTRA CAMEO contrast, but be of CAMEO quality. As the die continued to wear, that cameo effect deteriorated until the coins struck had little or no contrast at all – a BRILLIANT proof. However, the die would not be discarded. Instead, many dies would be repolished, then returned to strike more coins. It is interesting that many of the most spectacular early 1951 – 1955 cameo Franklin half dollars are struck from re-polished dies. Each of these re-polished dies has unique polish lines easily detectable.
Finally, in addition to the delicate nature of these early acid-etched cameo dies, which were able, for some years, only able to strike perhaps a dozen or two cameos of the highest quality (like the 1957, 1958, and 1959 years) before wear would set in, there is also the fact that in that era the priority at the mint was to conserve working dies as much as possible. Most importantly, the obverse and reverse dies wore at different rates. This means that, in this early era, the mint would, as a matter of practice, only remove that die that was fully worn, replacing it with a new die with exceptional cameo contrast, while the other half of the die pair, worn to the point where there was no cameo contrast remaining, was kept in place for another few hundred strikes, until it too had reached the end of its life. This means that Franklin half dollars struck from a brand new die pair, obverse and reverse dies put in place as a pair, are truly rare coins!
AND NOW, NGC recognizes the
superior eye-appeal of these cameo Franklins with the latest revision of their
NGC Set Registry – with Franklin half dollars struck from these top dies
receiving greater point value than cameo Franklins struck from lesser cameo dies.
You’ll find the NGC tables for the first 4 years on the following page!
A FINAL NOTE: Early strikes off these dies can be extremely
rare!!! So rare, it is possible that many will not have a single example
certified by NGC!
In the table below, I have listed each date in the TOP TWO grades the date has been certified in ULTRA CAMEO and been reviewed by me for the pedigree Franklin We The People holder.
|REGISTRY VALUE||CERTIFIED TO DATE||REGISTRY VALUE||CERTIFIED TO DATE|
|1950||PF 65||1403||0||1950||PF 68||8428||2|
|1950||PF 67||3730||28||1950||PF 68 CAMEO||9234||0|
|1950||PF 65 CAMEO||2302||4||1950||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO||8058||0|
|1950||PF 65 ULTRA CAMEO||7756||0||1950||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-1||10401||0|
|1950||PF 65 ULTRA CAMEO RT-1||7960||1||1950||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-2||10401||0|
|1950||PF 65 ULTRA CAMEO RT-2||7960||0||1950||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-3||10401||1|
|1950||PF 65 ULTRA CAMEO RT-3||7960||0||1950||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-4||10401||0|
|1950||PF 65 ULTRA CAMEO RT-4||7960||1||1950||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-5||10401||0|
|1950||PF 65 ULTRA CAMEO RT-5||7960||1|
|1951||PF 67||2754||25||1951||PF 68||4565||8|
|1951||PF 67 CAMEO||3868||0||1951||PF 68 CAMEO||7756||0|
|1951||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO||5466||0||1951||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO||8200||1|
|1951||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-6||5675||0||1951||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-6||8686||2|
|1951||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-7||5675||0||1951||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-7||8686||0|
|1951||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-8||5675||0||1951||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-8||8686||0|
|1952||PF 67||1799||40||1952||PF 68||3565||18|
|1952||PF 67 CAMEO||2936||0||1952||PF 68 CAMEO||6209||0|
|1952||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO||5563||0||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO||9506||0|
|1952||PF66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-9||5783||2||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-9||9833||0|
|1952||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-10||5783||0||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-10||9833||0|
|1952||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-11||5783||0||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-11||9833||0|
|1952||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-12||5783||0||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-12||9833||0|
|1952||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-13||5783||0||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAEMO RT-13||9833||0|
|1952||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-14||5783||0||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-14||9833||0|
|1952||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-15||5783||0||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-15||9833||0|
|1952||PF 66 ULTRA CAMEO RT-16||5783||0||1952||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-16||9833||1|
|1953||PF 67||1239||41||1953||PF 68||2401||24|
|1953||PF 67 CAMEO||1753||0||1953||PF 68 CAMEO||3601||0|
|1953||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO||8009||0||1953||PF 68 ULTRA CAMEO||11172||0|
|1953||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-17||8009||0||1953||PF 68 ULTRA CAMEO RT-17||11172||1|
|1953||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-18||8009||0||1953||PF 68 ULTRA CAMEO RT-18||11172||0|
|1953||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-19||8009||0||1953||PF 68 ULTRA CAMEO-RT-19||11172||0|
|1953||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-20||8009||0||1953||PF 68 ULTRA CAMEO RT-20||11172||0|
|1953||PF 67 ULTRA CAMEO RT-21||8009||0||1953||PF 68 ULTRA CAMEO RT-21||11172||0|
In addition, check out NGC’s population table for Franklins
and Kennedys where you will now be able to see the WE THE PEOPLE and ASPIRATION pops. Remember that this new pop number represents examples that are truly,
fully worthy of their grade- and then some! These are not for the coins that
barely pass the mark to make the grade. The TOMASKA
PEDIGREE is there to eliminate the guesswork and potential insecurity
when adding to your collection. We want to eliminate the need to ask, "but is
this REALLY the right coin for my collection?” because there are so many
choices out there, and as we all know not all coins in the same grade are
As collectors learn more about the TOMASKA PEDIGREE Franklin and Kennedy half dollars, our "Want Lists" are growing exponentially! Finding the coins worthy of the Franklin WE THE PEOPLE and Kennedy ASPIRATION holder is the challenge!
If you have any questions regarding TOMASKA PEDIGREE holders and/or the Top Die NGC Registry,
please feel free to send your questions our way! Either call us at
1-800-753-2646 or email us at email@example.com