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1796 $2 1/2 No Stars AU55 PCGS. Breen-1, Breen-6113, Bass-3002, High R.4. This example is an earlier die state with complet...

2006 September Long Beach, CA Signature Auction #416

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Auction Ended On: Sep 15, 2006
Item Activity: 9 Internet/mail/phone bidders
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Location: Long Beach, CA
Choice AU 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle
1796 $2 1/2 No Stars AU55 PCGS. Breen-1, Breen-6113, Bass-3002, High R.4. This example is an earlier die state with complete lower curls and traces of the obverse die crack from the border at 9 o'clock. The first 1796 quarter eagles were struck in September 1796 with additional examples coined in December. The two deliveries were dated September 22 and December 8, consisting of 66 coins and 897 coins, respectively. It is believed that the 66 coins were all from the first die variety, described as Bass-3001 in the Bass Sylloge, and still a major rarity today. The December delivery were all examples of this Bass-3002 variety, and the third delivery of 432 coins dated January 14, 1797 were all the Bass-3003 variety, the 1796 With Stars coinage. These are the actual figures currently recorded in the Guide Book. Today, approximately 10% of each delivery still exist, meaning that just under 100 of these 1796 No Stars coins can still be located.
The inaugural design was most likely engraved by Robert Scot. These coins feature a representation of Liberty in the form of a female figure in profile view facing right, wearing a cloth cap, LIBERTY above and the date below. Liberty has a cameo appearance in a plain field without stars. This is the only No Stars obverse design within the gold coinage series, and one of few within the entire series of United States coinage. Other examples include the Gobrecht Liberty Seated design of 1836 silver dollars, also used for certain half dimes and dimes dated 1837 and 1838.
This obverse design follows exactly the law established by the Mint Act of 1792, section 10, which stated: "Upon one side of each of the said coins there shall be an impression emblematic of liberty, with an inscription of the word Liberty, and the year of the coinage." The reverse features the Heraldic Eagle as its central device, taken from the Great Seal of the United States. Large denomination gold coins of this era had a "Small Eagle" reverse device, however, no such coins were produced for the quarter eagle denomination, although such coins were once alluded to. Mint Director James Ross Snowden, in Description of Ancient and Modern Coins, in the Cabinet Collection at the Mint of the United States, published in 1860. Snowden described the issues of 1796 as: "1796. The gold coins of this year have sixteen stars upon the obverse, eight upon each side of the effigy. The first coinage of quarter eagles took place this year. The first issue, which was made on the twenty first of September, was of the same type as the eagle." Snowden also believed that the 1796 With Stars quarter eagles were created by adding stars to the No Stars die already in use. Of course, we now know this never happened.
This Choice AU example is a remarkable representative of the design with brilliant greenish-gold surfaces and splashes of pale rose toning. The fields are slightly prooflike in appearance, and the entire coin has nearly full luster. A few light scratches and scattered surface marks are evident on both sides, and a few wispy hairlines in the left obverse field may be useful for identification purposes. Most of the design elements on each side are sharply detailed, although slight central weakness is the result of light adjustment marks across the shield.
From The Troy Wiseman Collection.(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# 25F2, PCGS# 7645)

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