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1808 Quarter Eagle, MS63
1808 $2 1/2 MS63 NGC. BD-1, R.4. The 1808 quarter eagle is
the second major gold coin design undertaken by Mint assistant
engraver John (Johann Matthaus) Reich, a native of Bavaria. After
being hired as Mint assistant or second engraver in 1807 under
Chief Engraver Robert Scot, Reich was commissioned by new Mint
Director Robert Patterson to redesign the nation's coinage. Reich
rightly began with the United States' most important circulating
denominations, the silver half and gold half eagle, which were
introduced in 1807.
Mid-Condition Census Quality for This One-Year Type
Then the 1808 quarter eagle appeared, both sides newly designed by Reich. The Capped Bust to Left obverse would appear only on this issue, while the Reich Eagle reverse would run largely unchanged through the end of the Liberty Head coinage. Even though the Mint would manufacture a trifling 2,710 specimens of the 1808 quarter eagle, it would suffice, and the denomination would see the light of day again only in 1821.
The 1808 and 1796 No Stars quarter eagles are virtually tied for the status of "rarest U.S. gold type coin." The Bass-Dannreuther Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties places both at R.4, estimating 125-150 pieces known of the 1808 quarter eagle, compared to 104-131 1796 No Stars quarter eagles. Interestingly, Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth number considerably fewer survivors, pegging them at 50-60 in 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.
Whatever the real number is -- and the population reports are nearly useless because of duplications -- it is certainly true that the 1808 quarter eagle is not only among the rarest gold type coins, but it is also more conditionally elusive grade for grade than the 1796 quarter eagles, of which there are numerous high-grade survivors.
All 1808 quarter eagles have the same irregular rim. Breen (1988) commented on this peculiarity:
"All survivors ... show excessively narrow borders, usually incomplete. This must have been seen as a design flaw conducive to rapid wear on both sides, as on the half-dollar revs. of 1836-37 and the 1861 S Paquet double eagles. Predictably, survivors are in lower grades than those of earlier dates lacking this problem."
He goes on to describe the usually seen 1808 quarter eagle:
"Most are weak on wingtips and tops of letters; all are weak on parts of borders; all have some stars flat; most show rim dents or bruises, as though the entire issue had been spilled on a floor in the Mint."
In spite of Breen's comments above, there is an unusually large percentage of the survivors that are in AU condition. There have been 53 submissions of the 1808 in AU50 to AU58. Undoubtedly the numbers are inordinately high in AU in hopes of attaining an even high grade. Each upward bump in the AU grading ladder adds approximately $10,000 in value to the coin. In mint condition there are very few pieces known. Specifically, in MS63 only six coins have been certified with two finer. One of the two finer is a single MS65, formerly in the collections of J. Hewitt Judd and Congressman Jimmy Hayes. We are unaware of the previous pedigree of this Select example. It is distinctly finer than any we have handled recently. We have not offered an MS63 of this rarity since 2008.
This example has even yellow-gold color throughout with none of the often-seen reddish patina common to early gold. The fields are bright, but not quite bright enough to call semiprooflike; they have the brightness seen on any coin with such a limited production run. With only 2,710 pieces coined, essentially each coin was a first strike. The strike details are somewhat irregular, as one would expect from a one-blow gold piece produced on a screw press. The central details are especially strong with the exception of the shield lines. The obverse periphery is strong on the left side, but the stars weaken on the right side. This may be coincident with the rim irregularity that occurs in the same location, a feature known on all examples. The reverse peripheral details are also strong, but again there is weakness of definition coupled with faint die adjustment marks on the right side (opposite the area where the rim irregularity is seen on the obverse). The "spilled on a floor in the Mint" marks that Breen refers to are consistent with the grade on this example. The marks that would be most helpful for pedigree purposes are: On the obverse there is a rim depression at 3:30, several shallow vertical marks are scattered along the jawline of Liberty, and a scrape extends from the second 8 in the date to just above star 13. The reverse shows no mentionable marks other than the light adjustment marks that can be used as reliable pedigree identifiers.
This 1808 quarter eagle ranks among the finest known. Only five other MS63 submissions have been seen by both of the major services. Two examples are finer, an MS64 NGC and the previously mentioned MS65 PCGS. This lot presents the type collector with a rare opportunity to acquire this one-year emission in mid-Condition Census quality.(Registry values: P8) (NGC ID# BFVZ, PCGS# 7660)
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