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The 'Finest of the First,' The Legendary Ex: Parmelee
1796 $2 1/2 No Stars MS65 PCGS. Breen-1, Breen-6113,
Bass-3002, BD-2, High R.4. Normal Arrows. Simply a phenomenal
specimen of arguably the most important 18th century gold coin,
this Gem PCGS-graded 1796 No Stars quarter eagle stands alone atop
the PCGS population report, the single finest graded by three
points. As of (11/07), that service has certified a total of six
pieces in Mint State: two pieces in MS61, three coins in MS62, and
the present MS65 specimen--and a specimen it is, in the broadest
and best senses of the word. While it bears no special
characteristics that would denote anything other than a "business
strike" of a new gold denomination at the fledgling Philadelphia
Mint, it shows obvious signs of both excellent production standards
and subsequent loving preservation in its original state for more
than 200 years.
1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle, BD-2, MS65 PCGS
Single Finest at PCGS, Likely the Finest Known
Interestingly, NGC has certified another dozen coins in Mint State, including 11 pieces spanning the range from MS60 to MS63--and including a sole MS65 piece that, while we cannot be sure, may represent the same coin before it was "crossed over" to PCGS. Barring future discoveries of some splendid piece, this MS65 coin is at least tied for finest known, and likely to remain that way. Conversely, if the NGC piece does turn out to be a duplicate, this coin is the finest known by a wide margin.
While the 1796 With Stars quarter eagle--a Gem NGC-graded example of which Heritage is also privileged to offer in the present sale--is rarer as a variety, with an estimated mintage of 432 pieces versus 963 coins (both BD-1 and BD-2) for the 1796 No Stars, the With Stars quarter eagle is grouped as a type with the 1797-1807 With Stars issues, making the 1796 With Stars an extremely overlooked issue. But the 1796 No Stars is a nonpareil one-year gold type coin, the first year of issue for what is odds-on the rarest circulating U.S. gold denomination
The quarter eagle was of little use in early American commerce, too large for daily transactions and too small for the international commerce that favored the gold half eagle. From 1796 through the end of the Capped Head to Left quarter eagle design in 1834, the Mint produced approximately 64,262 quarter eagles, according to Guide Book figures. During that same time the Mint produced half eagles in the amount of 2,120,543 pieces more or less, or about 33 times the number of half eagles compared to quarter eagles. Some half eagles such as the 1820, with 263,806 pieces coined, had mintages that would represent a healthy emission even for a much-later Liberty Head half eagle--but both the early half eagles and quarter eagles (as well as gold eagles, made only from 1795-1804) were melted on a vast scale in the early 1830s, when there were still perhaps only a few coin collectors in the United States and the melt value of the coins exceeded their face value.
Fortunately for posterity, a few superior examples of most of those early issues survived, although sometimes in minuscule quantities. Especially fortunate were those issues such as the present piece representing the first year of a new design or type.
The estimated mintages of the 1796 No Stars and With Stars, 963 and 432 pieces respectively, are just that: estimates, which Walter Breen first propounded based on three delivery warrants. The first warrant, of Sept. 22, 1796, was for just 66 coins, while the second, from Dec. 8, was for 897 coins. The third delivery, made on Jan. 14, 1797, was for 432 coins. Breen lumped the first two deliveries together to come up with a total mintage of 963 No Stars coins--but that is just a guess, one that has been widely adopted, including by the Guide Book of United States Coins.
The first delivery of 66 coins was almost certainly that of the exceedingly rare BD-1 variety, with the Extended Arrows reverse. That variety was "rediscovered" by Harry W. Bass, Jr., (originally mentioned by numismatist Edgar H. Adams in conjunction with the 1914 Gable sale) and published in 1973. The obverse is the same as the BD-2 Normal Arrows variety, but in an earlier die state, showing full lower curls on Liberty's tresses. As Bowers writes in the Bass Sylloge, assuming a 10% survival rate would equate to six or seven coins, and at present four pieces are known of the BD-1, considered the rarest quarter eagle variety from 1796 to 1834. The short striking period is certainly explained by the prominent die crack running nearly vertically through the reverse of the Bass-3001 specimen (he actually owned two, with one sold in May 2000). The obverse die also cracked, showing through the bases of LIBER(TY), known to Bass-Dannreuther as Obverse State b
The second die pairing married the same No Stars obverse (including some later die states) with the Normal Arrows reverse die, presumably for that second delivery of 897 coins. (This is also the assumption made in the Bass-Dannreuther Early U.S. Gold: A Study of Die States 1795-1834.) The obverse die appears to have been lapped before this marriage (Obverse State c), so that the die crack through LIBER is mostly effaced, but a second die crack meanders into the field from the rim at 9 o'clock. The lower hair curls are lapped but still mostly intact. In the latest die state recorded (Obverse State d), numerous die cracks appear on the obverse, and most of the hair curls are gone.
The present coin shares characteristics of Obverse States c and d with Reverse State b according to the Bass-Dannreuther criteria. Most of the lower hair curls are intact, although their gradual effacement has begun. The wispy die crack from the rim at 9 o'clock up runs northeast into the field and shows a small, triangular widening near its midpoint. A crack joins the bottoms of BER. A small die crack has begun from the bottom of L, running to the cap tip. Another crack runs from the bottom of E down toward the front of the cap. The Normal Arrows reverse die shows the lumpy break at the upper portion of the right (facing) wing that is characteristic of all known specimens.
Both sides show much frosty cartwheel luster over the slightly greenish-gold surfaces, with a moderately reflective obverse and a deeply reflective reverse. The reverse is nearly contact-free, although some light adjustment marks are seen above AMER, and a few scattered, undistracting handling marks are noted in the obverse fields. There is slight planchet roughness near the right obverse rim, and a small planchet lamination, as struck, appears in the field before Liberty's forecurl. The latter and a tiny fleck of dark color at the base of R in LIBERTY will serve as reliable pedigree identifiers--although, given the overall remarkable appeal and originality of the surfaces, it is doubtful that this coin's pedigree could ever be mistaken!
Perhaps this excerpt and footnote from the Bass-Dannreuther reference will serve to further place this incredibly important and memorable early gold coin in its proper context:
"On June 30, 2005, American Numismatic Rarities sold the finest BD-2 example for a record price for an early U.S. gold coin. The $1,380,000 paid for the PCGS-graded MS-65 example makes it the first early U.S. gold coin [footnote reference here] to achieve a seven-figure price at auction! This superb example traces its origin to the fabulous Lorin Parmelee sale in 1890.
"[Footnote] The previous record holder was the 1833 Proof half eagle (BD-1) that belonged to King Farouk, bought in that 1954 sale by John Pittman. That coin nearly brought a million dollars in early 2005. Prior to that coin, the Eliasberg 1822 half eagle sold in 1982 held the record at $687,500."
There one sees just how magnificent and legendary a coin this Gem 1796 No Stars quarter eagle is, tracing an unbroken pedigree back to Parmelee and besting the Farouk-Pittman 1833 proof half eagle and the Eliasberg 1822 half eagle to hold a record price for early (1834 and before) U.S. Federal gold that still stands today. It seems inevitable that this classic piece of American numismatica is destined to set yet another record. For the connoisseur who demands not only the finest, but the "finest of the first."
PCGS Population: 1, with none finer, the only example PCGS has certified finer than MS62 (11/07).
Ex: Lorin Parmelee Collection (New York Coin and Stamp Co., 6/1890) lot 719; Brock Collection; University of Pennsylvania; The Philip H. Ward, Jr. Collection (Stack's, 5/1964), lot 1660; Lelan Rogers; Numisma '95 (Stack's, 11/1995), lot 1498, which realized $605,000; A Gentleman's Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 6/2005), lot 1002, which brought $1,380,000.
From The Madison Collection.(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# 25F2, PCGS# 7645)
View all of [The Madison Collection ]
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