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1808 Quarter Eagle, MS61, Only Year of the
Capped Bust Left, Large Size Type

1808 $2 1/2 MS61 NGC. The skimpy mintage of 2,710 quarter eagles dated 1808 was accomplished using a single obverse and reverse die pairing, and today it is among the most widely pursued U.S. type coins. Among U.S. gold type coins, it is probably the second rarest, behind only the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle. The quarter eagle denomination was struck only sporadically throughout its first few decades, until 1834. Token amounts of the denomination were struck dated 1796, 1797, and 1798 (although not necessarily struck in those years), then no more were produced until the so-called 1802/1 coins. Quarter eagles were struck yearly dated 1804, 1805, 1806, and 1807.
The Mint's priorities in 1808 clearly lay elsewhere than in the quarter eagle. John Reich had been hired out of indentured servitude in 1807 to work as an assistant engraver at the Mint. He was given the task of redesigning the U.S. coinage, a direct slap in the face of the aged chief engraver, Robert Scot. Reich turned first to the coins most used by banks, creating new master hubs for half dollars and half eagles. In 1808, Reich's new designs would premiere for the large cent and the quarter eagle. The "secret notch" on star 13, Reich's signature, is plain on all examples of the 1808 quarter eagle, including the present piece.
The mintages of 1808-dated coinage are clear evidence of the Mint's scant support for the quarter eagle. While the coinage factory turned out 400,000 cents, more than 1 million large cents, nearly 1.4 million half dollars, and about 55,000 half eagles, the quarter eagle mintage of 2,710 pieces would constitute the sole production of the Capped Bust Left, Large Size type (in Guide Book terminology), and the last quarter eagle production until 1821. In the years from 1796 through 1808, the Mint managed (or chose) to strike only a reported 22,197 pieces, with a face value of $55,492.50. For comparison purposes, notice that the single-year emission of 1808-dated half eagles was 55,578 coins, with a face value of $277,890.
Mintage comparisons such as these make one realize how truly rare overall the quarter eagle denomination was, even to Americans of its own time. This likely explains another anomaly, the existence of numerous 1808 quarter eagles in near-Mint State grades, a considerable number for the quantity produced. Due to its lower face value and its status as an oddity among American coins, it appears that some nice pieces were saved when they were encountered, in much the same way as Americans today might save a $2 bill or Buffalo nickel found in circulation. The most common grade among certified survivors is AU58, where NGC has graded 13 pieces and PCGS 14. In MS61, the present coin is one of seven coins so graded, with seven finer (2/11).
This is a simply splendid example for the issue and for the grade, with bright, semireflective fields and gleaming yellow-gold surfaces. The wispy die crack behind Liberty's head, from the cap to stars 8 and 9, is ever-present, as is the virtual lack of dentilation on both sides due to a design flaw. Adjustment marks are absent. Although a few minor ticks appear on each side, this piece is well struck overall, with weakness limited to the lower reverse near the denomination, and its appeal is remarkably high-end for the assigned grade. Another momentous gold rarity from the early days of U.S. Mint history.(Registry values: P8) (NGC ID# BFVZ, PCGS# 7660)

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Auction Dates
Apr-May, 2011
27th-1st Wednesday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 5
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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