MS62 1796 With Stars Quarter Eagle, BD-3
1796 $2 1/2 Stars MS62 NGC. Breen-6114, BD-3, High
R.5. The 1796 With Stars quarter eagle is a rare and vastly
underrated 18th century gold coin variety. It is neither as
illustrious as its sibling, the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle, BD-2,
Normal Arrows, a one-year type, nor yet as rare as the BD-1, the
1796 No Stars, Extended Arrows die pairing, an extremely rare (High
R.7) marriage that Harry W. Bass, Jr. "rediscovered."
Early Die State, Bright, Problem-Free Surfaces
Nonetheless, the 1796 With Stars is a coin that sees great demand at any grade level, as a first-year issue of an important U.S. gold denomination. The mintage is estimated at 432 pieces, of which only 40 to 50 coins survive today. The 1797 With Stars is also a one-year type (although sometimes unrecognized as such), as it is the only quarter eagle with 16 obverse stars, arranged eight on the left and eight on the right. The number of stars reflects Tennessee's joining the Union on June 1, 1796, making 16 states in all -- although the Mint soon realized the folly of continuing to add one star for each new state.
As Bass-Dannreuther put it, "In 1797 the Mint returned to 13 obverse stars and any departure from that number, either on the obverse or reverse, was due either to the use of leftover dies or die-cutting errors."
Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth put the extreme rarity of the 1796 With Stars into perspective in the second edition of their gold reference:
"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 unreported resubmissions. Mint State examples are extremely rare ... ."
The present MS62 NGC example is in the same grade (but not the same coin) as the Ed Price Collection coin, a piece that brought the same price, $172,500, in a couple of auction appearances with us in 2009 (Los Angeles, 7/2009, lot 1205; Baltimore, 3/2009, lot 2568). The same coin brought $207,000 the year before in our Baltimore Signature (Heritage, 7/2008), lot 1452. In 2005 yet another MS62 NGC specimen traded hands for $219,650 in our Dallas Signature (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 2363.
The present coin is one of six submissions at the MS62 grade level at NGC, and there are four finer (11/11). We nonetheless suspect duplications in those numbers, as the temptations and rewards for successful crack-outs at such levels are considerable. Nonetheless, as a middle-Mint State example of such a rare first-year gold coin subtype, we have high hopes for this piece when it crosses the auction block.
The surfaces are fabulous and bright, exhibiting a prevalent green-gold hue with a slight complement of pale reddish patina. The R in LIBERTY is clogged, and the fields are slightly reflective overall. There are no obvious planchet adjustment marks or singular signs of contact. This piece also appears to be from an early die state, with no visible lapping or clashing.
Heritage has been privileged in the past to offer one of the most celebrated examples surviving of the 1796 With Stars, a Gem example in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2008), lot 3059, which realized $1,006,250. That piece was accompanied by a Gem 1796 No Stars in the previous lot, both of which are tied for the finest known.(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# BFVN, PCGS# 7647)
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