Important 1808 Quarter Eagle, BD-1, AU501808 $2 1/2 AU50 PCGS. CAC. BD-1, R.4. Die state b, with die crack behind Liberty's head but none through the date. A single delivery struck from a single set of dies, 2,710 quarter eagles dated 1808, were shipped to the Mint cashier on February 26 of that year. They would be the last quarter eagles struck until 1821, the only ones coined from dies created by John Reich's hands, and the only Capped Bust to Left pieces for the denomination. Today's survivors, estimated at 150 pieces total by Bass and Dannreuther in their Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties with 125 discrete examples known, are the keys to the 19th century type set, and as such, they have been popular almost since the beginning of organized coin collecting in this country. As David Akers wrote in his 1975 volume on quarter eagles in his United States Gold Coins series,
"The 1808 is one of the more famous and most desirable Quarter-Eagles, owing largely to its status as an essential one-year-only-type. Its tradition of recognition extends back to 'ancient' times of American Numismatics and its fame is forever secured. This fame has often been the impetus for many seemingly exaggerated claims about its rarity but, on the other hand, revisionist students often underestimate that rarity."
In one of the grandest traditions of numismatics, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The 1808 quarter eagle continues to be pulled between two main poles or modes of thought, those being the hype for this issue as a one-year-only type collector's nightmare and the superficial number-cruncher who points to certified population data and insists that the date is not nearly so elusive as numismatists make it out to be. As always, there is a grain of truth to each argument, but each one is similarly misleading alone. The 1808 quarter eagle is not an absolute rarity according to the Sheldon scale, being only an R.4, indicative of a "very scarce" die pair or issue. That scarcity, however, encompasses all grades, and assuredly there are fewer examples known than collectors who would like to own one.
The blind follower of certified population data could draw any number of incorrect conclusions from the current statistics for this challenging issue. As of (11/08), PCGS has graded 55 examples in all grades. Were one to look at certified populations alone, the 1808 quarter eagle would seem more available than the 1821, 1824/1, 1826, 1827, and even 1825 quarter eagle issues! Yet clearly it is not, judging from other available information. Rampant resubmission of coins has had the greatest impact where the financial stakes are highest, and the 1808 quarter eagle is no exception. That the mode of grades in the PCGS Population Report for the issue is AU58, an utterly implausible statistical point for students of the series, should be evidence enough. The true level of population inflation is impossible to gauge, but its presence must be taken into consideration.
The collector would be forgiven, however, if thoughts of populations and marketing hyperbole are forgotten in the wake of this lightly circulated, yet majestic 1808 quarter eagle. The honey-gold surfaces remain surprisingly luminous, with a generous degree of remaining luster in the reverse recesses, and in general, abrasions are wispy and of little concern. Two minor exceptions are noted, one in the left obverse field and one at Liberty's upper hair. The strike shows typical softness at the margins, which show adjustment marks to the right obverse, but the overall eye appeal remains strong. An excellent piece that is sure to please the purchaser.
From The James Mossman Collection.
See: Video Lot Description(Registry values: P8) (NGC ID# BFVZ, PCGS# 7660)
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