The 1871 three dollar gold piece was struck in small numbers for both circulation strike and proof formats. A 1,300-piece circulation strike mintage was accompanied by only 30 proofs, few of which survive today. Prooflike circulation strikes exist, some of which were mistaken for proofs in the past. Because both the obverse and reverse proof dies are different than those used for the circulation strike pieces, such mistakes are largely eliminated today. The obverse proof die is the same as that employed on three dollar proofs from 1869 to 1873, with recognizable markers. Likewise, the date position is lower and slightly right on circulation strikes compared to the proofs. Historically, 1871 proofs are undervalued and underappreciated. John Dannreuther observes that the 1871 date is rare as a proof regardless of denomination:
"The 1871 Proof coinage for all denominations is underrated, as they seldom are seen on the bourse floor or in auctions."
As a result, 1871 three dollar gold proofs are significant rarities in the series, with an estimated 12 to 14 survivors in all grades. The present coin is undoubtedly among the finest of those, ranked first in the Dannreuther list of Significant Examples, and it remains the finest-certified 1871 three dollar proof at PCGS (1/23). It serves as the plate coin in United States Proof Coins Volume IV: Gold. While no previous provenance for the coin is listed in that reference, this coin plate matches the example listed as "G" in the Additional Appearances coming out of Superior Auction '82 (lot 1376), where it was sold to bidder #109 (probably Stanley Richmond).
This spectacular proof is one of the important treasures that make up The Bender Family Collection's current and all-time #1 three dollar proof gold PCGS Registry Set. It is a remarkably vibrant, colorful, and well-defined Gem Cameo coin -- one of the few 1871 proofs that display bold contrast between glittering, smooth fields and richly frosted devices. Reddish-orange accents grace the lower obverse and reverse margins. We anticipate a record price realized for this seldom offered, high-grade proof with CAC endorsement.