1796 With Stars Quarter Eagle, MS63
1796 $2 1/2 Stars MS63 PCGS Secure. BD-3, High R.5. The 1796
With Stars quarter eagle is the Rodney Dangerfield among the many
1796 coinage varieties; like the rubber-faced comedian, it "gets no
respect" compared to other better-known 1796-dated issues. For
starters, the 1796 With Stars is a one-year type, the only quarter
eagle with 16 stars ringing the obverse. Those stars are
proportioned equally, eight left and eight right, flanking the
centered LIBERTY over the portrait and cap.
BD-3, The Finest Certified by PCGS
By the following year, 1797, the Mint had reverted to a 13 Star motif for the obverse to symbolize the Original 13 Colonies before Vermont joined the Union in 1791. (There were occasional lapses from the 13 Star design, mostly attributable either to engraver lapses or the reuse of leftover dies.)
Those factors make the 1796 With Stars every bit as much a one-year and first-year type as its No Stars sibling, but the 1796 With Stars gets lumped together with the later With Stars quarter eagle issues, despite the different number of stars. The 1796 With Stars is also measurably rarer than the 1796 No Stars, even if it sees lesser demand. Numismatists today guess at the number produced -- this was an era when the Mint reported pieces produced for the year, not how many of each die were produced -- but the usual answer is 432 coins, corresponding to the Mint delivery warrant dated January 14, 1797. At High R.5, regardless of the number made, it is a rare variety today, one that Bass-Dannreuther estimate survives to the extent of 40 to 50 pieces. Of that low surviving number, only a handful exist in Uncirculated grades, and of those only one piece has been certified finer than this one.
This coin has been closely held by knowledgeable numismatists for many years. It was most notably one of the centerpieces of the John Whitney Walter Collection, an incredible assemblage of all United States coins dated 1796, including duplicates of many, including the With Stars quarter eagle. Needless to say, this was the finest of the three pieces in the Walter Collection. In the background section of the Walter catalog that precedes the 1796 quarter eagles, the theory is put forward that the No Stars dies were cut prior any demand for the denomination. The catalog goes on to say:
"Soon after the No Stars type had first been used for this batch of Quarter Eagles two problems arose. In the first place, usage of the obverse die had caused it to start to fail, after years of storage (the trial white metal piece in Melish:1099 and the one in Stack's March, 1991 sale were both in a very late state of the obverse.) Second, all other U.S. gold coins being struck in 1796 had stars on their obverses, so the Quarter Eagle was "out of step." The second factor led to the redesign of the obverse to include stars. The first required a new die be cut, since the old one could not be used for much longer before it totally collapsed."
A new die was cut, one that included the three new states that had been admitted to the Union, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The addition of the stars then made the quarter eagles fit naturally with the other denominations struck this year.
This is a lovely, high-grade example that retains much of the die polish of this low-mintage issue. The obverse is bright and semiprooflike, while the reverse is fully prooflike. The strike details are remarkably strong with just the slightest weakness in the centers. In the center of the reverse, faint evidence of feather definition can be made out on the eagle's breast above the shield. Both sides are orange-gold with considerable reddish patina, especially on the obverse. Light adjustment marks are located on the lower obverse rim. There are also several planchet flaws noted on the obverse, allowing for easy identification of this piece. One crosses the middle part of Liberty's chin and extends into the right field, another is in the right obverse field between Liberty's nose and star 12, and two others are located above stars 6 and 7.
This is the only PCGS MS63, and it is the finest also at that service (6/12). Three NGC MS63 coins have been certified with one finer, an MS65. This is one of the finest examples of the famous With Stars 1796 quarter eagle. The opportunity this lot presents will be obvious to advanced collectors.
Purchased privately by John Whitney Walter, March 1995; John Whitney Walter Collection (Stack's, 5/1999), lot 1790; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldbergs, 9/2010), lot 2758.(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# BFVN, PCGS# 7647)
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