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The U.S. Mint’s only 24-karat gold coin, the American buffalo features James Earle Fraser’s iconic images from the buffalo nickel.
This particular specimen, minted at West Point in 2010, was graded by the Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC) PF 70 Ultra Cameo (full description below).
A coin graded Ultra Cameo features a strong, frosted design set overlaying a deeply mirrored, clear background. This finish creates a stark contrast between the design field and background field that gives the appearance of the design literally floating above the background. If you’ve never seen an Ultra Cameo-graded coin, well, these pictures simply do not do it justice.
You probably know exactly how rare this grade of American buffalo gold coins is. Now may be your only chance to get your very own!
NGC uses a numeric grade to succinctly describe a problem-free coin's condition. Certain coins, however, require a more nuanced description of their condition and appearance. For these coins, NGC graders follow the numeric grade with a designation, often called a "Strike Character."
Proofs are coins that are specially struck, typically for sales directly to collectors. Many proofs exhibit varying degrees of “frost” on the design elements. This is achieved when the surrounding fields are polished on the coining die to give them a brilliant finish. The design elements are either untouched or sandblasted to have a matte finish. As the dies are used repeatedly to strike coins, this effect can fade.
NGC uses Cameo and Ultra Cameo designations after the numeric grade to describe the degree of frost present on the design elements. If little or no frost is present, no designation will be used. (Note: Ultra Cameo is generally synonymous with Deep Cameo, another common term among collectors.)
Current mints can only offer coins that will be graded ultra cameo by taking a number of special steps in the die creation and minting process. These coins are produced at a much slower rate and are never touched by human hands or other coins. Frosting in lettering and devices is often achieved by sandblasting the die and then polishing only the fields to a brilliant finish (which are also referred to as mirrored fields). As the dies are used repeatedly to create coins, their ability to produce this effect can fade.
Ultra cameo coins are even more pronounced because they are the first coins minted from a set of dies. That’s because proof coin dies quickly lose their ability to make this beautiful cameo finish after only a few hundred coins. This makes ultra cameo coins inherently more rare than proof coins minted after it.
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