When the production of the gold eagle was restarted in 1838, a distinction was made between these first coins, designated as proof strikes, and circulation strikes. For this designation, all proof strikes were made in Philadelphia while the circulation strike was shared between Philadelphia and New Orleans. Until 1858 inclusive, the number of proof eagles is estimated at less than 5 per year.
The first collectors already preferred the most magnificent specimens, of course. Proof sets are assembled for them with a copy of each denomination of silver and copper coins, from half cent to dollar. A complete 1856 proof set was sold for $ 200K including premium by Heritage in February 2016. In 1858 the Mint director advertised for the first time the sale of such sets to the public.
In 1858 a pioneer collector named George Seavey managed to extend his proof set to include the six denominations of gold coins, from dollar to double eagle. Maintained intact by the next owner, this proof set was dispersed in 1890.
The proof eagle from the Seavey set is in a stunning state of conservation, graded PR64 Ultra Cameo by NGC. It will be sold by Heritage in Dallas on April 23, lot 3823.
This unit is the best among the four proof eagles of 1858 that survived, and it is the only one in private hands. These coins were made to be collected. That figure of 4 may constitute the total quantity of the production.
That year 1858 marked the dawn of the modern collection, with the founding of the Philadelphia Numismatic and Antiquarian Society and of the American Numismatic Society and the establishment of the first American professional business of coin sales by Edward Cogan.