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Extremely Rare 1796 BD-1 Quarter Eagle, XF40

1796 $2 1/2 No Stars XF40 PCGS. CAC. BD-1, R.7. Both sides of this attractive quarter eagle exhibit light green-gold fields and light yellow-gold devices, resulting in a pleasing cameo appearance. While the surfaces have a few insignificant hairlines and abrasions, the overall appearance is exceptional for the grade. The obverse details are slightly shallow, while the reverse details are bold. Traces of luster are still visible, especially on the reverse.

Die State.
The obverse is perfect without evidence of cracks, clash marks, or die lapping, unless the short spine from a dentil at 9 o'clock is the beginning of a crack found in later states. The reverse has a bisecting die crack through the E in STATES, down across stars, the eagle, and the shield, finally exiting the tail feathers. A second crack between the S and T in STATES crosses a cloud and stars to the ribbon.

Condition Census.
1. XF40.
Goliad, Inc. (12/13/1971); Harry W. Bass, Jr. Foundation; Bass Sylloge HBCC-3001. Plated in the Bass Sylloge.
2. XF40. The Ed Price Specimen. From Long Island Numismatics (7/16/1992). The Price specimen is possibly number 3, but clearly not numbers 2, 4, 5, or 6. Plated above.
3. VF20. William F. Gable Collection (S.H. Chapman, 5/1914), lot 358. Plated in the Gable catalog.
4. VF20. Sharpness of XF45 with heavy horizontal and vertical scratches. Stack's (4/1966), lot 713; World Wide Coin (10/11/1972); Harry W. Bass, Jr. (Bowers and Merena, 5/2000), lot 80. Plated in the 1966 Stack's catalog and the 2000 Bowers and Merena catalog.
5. VF20. Abner Kreisberg (9/1973), lot 1022; Carl S. Carlson; Auction '82, lot 332; Robert P. Hilt, III. Plated in Auction '82.
6. VG8. Stack's (7/1977), lot 498; Auction '88, lot 1347. Plated in Auction '88.

The reverse appears with the article about the variety that Ed Price wrote for volume 8, issue 2, of the John Reich Journal, pages 6-9, 11.

Obverse Die.
The 6 is upright with the 1, 7, and 9 each leaning right. The 1 is slightly closer to the curl than to the border and it is shorter than the other digits. The 7 and 9 are more closely spaced than other digits. LIBERTY is widely spaced with LI and BE wider than IB. The lower left side of I is slightly recut. ER are on a higher base line than other letters, and a die scratch joins the lower right serif of E to the upright of R.
State a. Perfect. State b. Lightly cracked through the bases of LIBER.

Reverse Die. Star 15 is directly to the right of star 8.
Letters are poorly positioned with many close to the dentils. All letters are separated with only the first A in AMERICA touching any of the devices. UNITED is widely spaced with the lower left curve of U close to the claw. UNI are more closely spaced than TED with ED especially wide. ATE are high with TATE widely spaced. F in OF is very close to the wing. Left base of the first A in AMERICA touches the fourth feather. ME are close but clearly separated. The top of E and the right top of I appear to touch dentils. The final A is close to both the claw and stem but touches neither. The branch has four berries, with all leaves distant from the letters. The inside leaf of the lowest outer pair completely overlaps the stem. Eight long arrows and the lowest outside arrow is beneath the center of N. The longest arrow extends to a point below the left base of the I. Stars are arranged in irregular rows of seven, seven, one, and one. Stars 1 and 2 are close. Star 3 is crowded into the space between clouds 3 and 4. Star 8 almost touches the scroll and star 15 is separated from all devices.
State a. Perfect, may not exist. State b. A major crack bisects the reverse from the border through center of E in STATES, to a cloud, stars 4 and 12, to back of the eagle's neck, following the neck to ribbon, across eagle's breast and horizontal shield lines, to vertical stripe 3, continuing through this stripe, following left edge of eagle's tail, and to the border. State c. Another crack from the border passes between ST to cloud 1 and stars 1 and 9.

Emission Sequence.
Most students, including this cataloger, agree that 1796 BD-1 was the first quarter eagle minted, with 66 examples delivered on September 21, 1796.

Heritage Commentary.
Walter Breen listed this variety in his New Varieties monograph, the reverse being described as the die of 1797. The 1797 reverse, however, is different from any reverse die used in 1796. Almost certainly from the delivery of 66 coins on September 21, 1796, the very first quarter eagles minted. Die state evidence confirms that this variety was coined before the more common BD-2 variety of the year.

Robert Hilt attributed the discovery of the variety to Harry W. Bass, Jr. In his New Varieties monograph, Walter Breen suggested this was much earlier described in one of the Edgar Adams notebooks, from a coin in the Gable Collection and plated by Henry Chapman. In fact, the coin in the Gable Collection proved to be this variety. Just six or seven examples are currently identified, or about 10% of the estimated original mintage. Bass drafted an article discussing his role in the rediscovery of this variety. Bass himself admitted that he was not the discoverer of the variety, noting that it was included in the Chapman sale of the Gable Collection and was described by Edgar Adams in his private notebook. In late 1971, according to his collection records, or sometime in 1972 according to his article, Bass acquired an example from Michael Brownlee. The complete text of the Bass article is included in The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Museum Sylloge, pages 135-136, and also in Dannreuther's reference, pp. 567-572.

John Whitney Walter, the preeminent collector of coinage of 1796, obtained examples of every die marriage known for copper, silver, and gold coins of the date--except for this single variety. It is unfortunate that only a year after his collection was sold by Stack's, an example came on the market representing a duplicate in the Harry Bass Collection. At the time his collection was sold, Walter had no knowledge that the Bass duplicates would soon appear on the market.

This is the rarest quarter eagle variety from 1796 to 1807, and probably the rarest from 1796 to 1834. Only the relatively unknown 1825 BD-1 quarter eagle that Harry Bass discovered will challenge the 1796 BD-1 marriage for the rarest variety honors.

Consignor Commentary.
I was lucky to find this coin. In the early 1990s I went to a few Wilmington [Delaware] shows, mostly for the chance to see Jules Reiver so we could discuss the 1801 half dime research we were then collaborating on. I saw this coin at the Long Island Numismatics table. It was clearly attributed as the rare Hilt 2-A. I knew what it was. I had the Hilt book in my car--just in case. So I knew that it was very rare. But, I did not know that I would see only one other example offered for sale in the next 15+ years--the Bass duplicate, which was dismal due to heavy scratches. I also had not yet fully decided to pursue a complete variety collection of quarter eagles. But I did understand that getting the rarities early made sense and I bought it. That purchase pushed me to try to get more of the quarter eagles and I was able to purchase a few more at the Heritage ANA sale the next month--including three coins in this sale--1805, 1806/5, and 1807 (late die state).

Ex: Long Island Numismatics (7/16/1992).
From The Ed Price Collection.
(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# 25F2, PCGS# 7645)

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Auction Dates
Jul-Aug, 2008
30th-3rd Wednesday-Sunday
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