Lustrous Mint State 1796 With Stars Quarter Eagle1796 $2 1/2 Stars MS61 NGC. Breen-6114, Bass-3003, BD-3, R.5. BD Die State b. Few of the With Stars quarter eagles were produced with significant numbers of varieties and/or die states. The surface reason for this is quite straightforward: Since so few early quarter eagles were minted, few dies were needed. Because mintages were small, the dies were not employed for long, accounting for the lack of die cracks, die breaks, cuds, lapping, clashing, and other factors that create a new die state.
The reasons why so few quarter eagles were coined in the first place requires a bit more explanation, but convenience seems to be the key. Walter Breen's monumental Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins suggests that most were held in local banks, subject to the infrequent requests from depositors for the denomination: "During this whole decade [1796-1807], quarter eagles were coined only in isolated driblets of a few hundred or at most a few thousand pieces. In most of these years, each date represented a new design modification--creating instant rarities and type coins. The problem is less why the coins are rare, why so few were made to begin with, but why any were struck at all! To judge from available Archives records, they were ordered on whim by a few local banks (principally the Bank of Pennsylvania and the Bank of the United States); to judge from the condition of survivors, they spent most of their time in vaults. Between 1803 and 1833, the Mint's major output consisted of cents, half dollars, and half eagles; all other denominations had a kind of poor-relative status--seldom called for, few made, little welcome." From 1795 through 1804, more than 140,000 eagles totaling $1.4 million were coined. From 1804, when eagle coinage was discontinued, until 1838, when it was reinstated, the half eagle was produced in quantities of about 2.1 million pieces, or $10.5 million in face value. In contrast, the lowly quarter eagle was produced to the extent of only about 64,000 pieces totaling $160,000 from 1796 through 1834, when the Classic Head type premiered.
Kentucky became the 15th state to join the Union in 1792, and accordingly the early U.S. gold and silver coins of 1794 and 1795, generally speaking, featured 15 stars on new dies. When Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796, coinage designs accommodated a 16th star on new dies, but Mint Director Elias Boudinot became aware that the burgeoning Union's stars would eventually crowd other design features off of the nation's coins. He accordingly ordered Engraver Robert Scot to limit the number of stars on new dies to the original 13.
The 16 stars are arranged 8 x 8 on this With Stars quarter eagle, which Breen calls "very rare," noting that the 432 pieces of the issue were delivered on Jan. 14, 1797. The recently published Garrett-Guth Gold Encyclopedia says, "This subtype is somewhat rarer than the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle, yet it generally sells for much less in comparable grades. Most examples are in circulated condition, with a cluster at the About Uncirculated level that may represent some unreported resubmissions. Mint State examples are extremely rare; included among them is a single gem example. Late states of the dies show heavy lapping to remove clash marks."
The present specimen appears to be from early in the BD Die State b. It shows light cracks from star 1 through 8, and a light crack from the 6 right into the field. Other cracks from that die state are not yet seen. The R in LIBERTY is quite weak, and light adjustment marks are noted on the reverse above TAT in STATES and through the eagle's tail feathers. Brilliant yellow-gold coloration is present on both sides, with good luster and light field chatter. For the early gold specialist, the significance of this incredible and historic early U.S. gold coin needs no further elaboration. Census: 2 in 61, 9 finer (11/06).(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# BFVN, PCGS# 7647)
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