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Landmark 1804 Quarter Eagle, 13 Star Reverse
Rarest Quarter Eagle Major Variety, BD-1
Possibly Finest Known, AU58

1804 $2 1/2 13 Star Reverse AU58 PCGS. Breen-6120, BD-1, High R.6. A strong candidate for Finest Known, the coin offered here is a memorable specimen of one of the rarest major varieties in the U.S. gold series. The BD-1 variety is characterized by the presence of 13 stars on the reverse, compared to the 14 stars of the more available BD-2 variety of this date. When David Akers cataloged the 1804 BD-1 quarter eagle in the Pittman Collection Part II (Akers, 5/1998), he made the following observations:

"The 13 Star Reverse variety of 1804 is extremely rare; in fact, in terms of the total number of specimens known, I consider this to be the rarest Quarter Eagle, more rare than the legendary 1841 and 1854-S. It even bears favorable comparison to such famous Half Eagle rarities as the 1815, 1819 and 1828, among others, and yet, because of its variety status, the 1804 13 Stars Reverse Quarter Eagle has not been accorded anywhere near the level of respect it deserves as a great rarity."

Since the time of the Pittman sale, much research has become available from quarter eagle specialists such as Harry Bass and Ed Price. All their findings confirm Akers' estimate of the rarity and importance of the 1804 13 Star Reverse quarter eagle. Price noted that many of the greatest gold collections of all time, including the Smithsonian, J.F. Bell, Eliasberg, Garrett, and Norweb Collections, did not include a specimen of the 1804 BD-1 quarter eagle.
This important variety was first published in the catalog of the George Earle Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 2502. Curiously, it was the different arrangement of the reverse stars, not the different number, that first caught Chapman's attention. Comparing the example he was describing to the 14 Star Reverse in the previous lot, Chapman noted:

"1804 Same obverse. R. First three stars curved, first and last stars touch clouds. Five berries on each branch. Fine. Rare. Plate."

The lot realized $19, considerably less than the 1804 BD-2 quarter eagle in lot 2501 that sold for $30. Perhaps this is a telling comment on the importance assigned to variety collecting in 1912. Interestingly, the reverse die used on the 1804 BD-1 quarter eagle variety was also used to coin the 1802 BD-2 quarter eagles, the JR-4 1802 dimes, and the JR-1 1804 dimes.
In Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, John Dannreuther estimates the original mintage of the 1804 BD-1 quarter eagle to be in the range of 250-1003 pieces. The upper limit is from an estimate by Walter Breen based on his interpretation of Mint delivery records. All other experts agree that this figure is too high, and a range of 250-300 examples seems more reasonable. As far as the number of surviving specimens, the consensus today is that about one dozen examples of the BD-1 variety may be extant in all grades. Only nine different specimens can definitely be accounted for through auction appearances, but a few more may be lurking in collections that have not been identified. The discovery coin from the George Earle Collection has been certified AU55 by NGC, and challenges the present coin for Finest Known honors.
The present coin is sharply struck, with considerable mint luster clinging to the protected areas around the devices. The details of Liberty's hair and the obverse stars are stronger than usually seen on this issue. The surfaces are noticeably prooflike, with attractive green-gold color accented by the slightest hints of rose. Some adjustment marks show on the obverse rim, and there is a small gouge in the left (facing) reverse field, below the base of I in UNITED. This variety is listed in A Guide Book of United States Coins and is included among the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
Ex: 48th Sale (New Netherlands, 11/1956), lot 184; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 3/1990), lot 629; Auction '90 (Superior, 8/1990), lot 1250; The May Auction (Superior, 5/1991), lot 1308; Long Beach Connoisseur Collection; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/1999), lot 343.
From The R.M. Phillips Limited Partnership Collection.
(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# BFVS, PCGS# 7651)

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Auction Dates
Jul-Aug, 2009
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 11
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