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Incredible Gem 1802/1 Quarter Eagle, BD-3
Possibly the Single Finest Known

1802/1 $2 1/2 MS65 NGC. Breen-6118, BD-3, R.5. The 1802 Capped Bust quarter eagle (also called Draped Bust or Turban Head) is often listed as an 1802/1 overdate, but that designation is questionable. The existence of an 1802/1 half eagle overdate perhaps led to the assumption that the same was true for the 1802 quarter eagle. Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins laconically states that seeing the overdate "requires a microscope." John Dannreuther in the Dannreuther-Bass Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties book describes the coin simply as an 1802, citing general consensus that the presumed "overdate" is more likely a mark left by a defective 2 punch than the remnant of a 1.
Though only 3,035 quarter eagles were minted in 1802, three die combinations are known, all with the same obverse but with different reverses. The BD-3 variety (this coin) is seen less frequently than BD-1, the "Spike Shield" variety, but more often than BD-2, the "Leaf Free of I" variety. A key identifier of BD-3 is the presence of extra points at the top of the first star on the reverse. Other differences include centering of the letter E of STATES over the space between clouds 3 and 4; the last A of AMERICA closer to an olive leaf than to the eagle's left (facing) claw or left leg; and a die scratch that extends vertically from the upper left shield corner to E PLURIBUS UNUM on the ribbon above.
The reverse dies for Capped Bust quarter eagles were also used for dimes of the same period. This was possible because, as Dannreuther states, " ... early dimes and quarter eagles had no stated denominations and were less than a millimeter different in diameter." BD-3 reverse dies were used to mint 1802 and 1803 dimes. Dannreuther lists a probable reverse die quarter eagle/ dime sequence as 1802 quarter eagle, 1802 dime, 1802 quarter eagle again (possibly minted in 1803 with 1802 dies), and finally the 1803 dime.
Quarter eagles were authorized by the Mint Act of 1792, which established a national mint, specified officers, and allowed for coinage of several denominations, including the "two dollars and a half dollar" gold quarter eagle. Designed by Robert Scot, the first-year 1796 coin had no obverse stars, a style unique to the era. The use of a heraldic eagle on the reverse was also a first for a federal coin. The cap is often described as a Phrygian, or Liberty cap, but Breen relates that Mint Director Samuel Moore identified the cap as " ... a high-fashion headdress of the 1790s." Few quarter eagles were minted at the time, partly because the need for gold coins was met by eagles and half eagles.
The eight-year Capped Bust quarter eagle series has been described as composed of more rarities than common dates. In no year did the mintage exceed 7,000 coins, with several years well below 1,000 coins. Changes were common, particularly in the number and placement of stars, and to a lesser extent the number of stripes on the shield. No quarter eagles were minted in 1799 or 1801. Though annual Mint directors' reports show a small delivery of coins for 1803, it is believed those coins were dated 1802.
The circulated condition of most quarter eagles today indicates that they were used to a certain degree, or at least carried, but it is also likely that because of their value relative to a week's wages at the time, the coins were hoarded when acquired. This incredible coin displays thick, frosted mint luster. The only interruptions on either side are a couple of shallow, almost indiscernible adjustment marks in the center of the obverse. The centers of each side are weakly struck, as one would expect. The quarter eagles dated 1802 have an estimated survival rate of just 180 to 230 coins in all grades. Of the 157 combined grading events at NGC and PCGS, only two pieces have been certified as MS65 (representing either one or possibly two coins), with none finer (10/10). Against a backdrop of low mintage and few high-grade survivors, the present Gem Uncirculated coin is an extraordinary, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a high-quality type set or collection of early U.S. gold.(Registry values: P6) (NGC ID# 4GB5, PCGS# 7650)

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Auction Dates
January, 2011
5th-9th Wednesday-Sunday
Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 6
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
Page Views: 2,028

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