Flashy 1831 Two and a Half Dollar, MS66
1831 $2 1/2 MS66 PCGS. Breen-6134, BD-1, R.4.
Bass-Dannreuther and other modern scholarship note that there is
only one die pairing for this date (although there is a rare die
state with obvious clashing on both sides), which boasts an
unsurprisingly small recorded mintage of 4,520 pieces. Such a
mintage places this issue squarely in the ranks of a "neither high
nor low" emission for this generally oft-neglected series.
Bass-Dannreuther assign a middling R.4 rarity rating as well,
estimating that 110-125 pieces are known.
Few Finer of the Entire Capped Bust Type
For much of their early history and well into the mid-19th century, gold quarter eagles were the Rodney Dangerfield of coins, "getting no respect" from mint personnel who were much more intent on producing the three workhorse coins of the early Mint era: copper large cents, silver half dollars, and gold half eagles. Walter Breen, speaking of the early days of the quarter eagle series in his Complete Encyclopedia, writes that "during this whole decade [1796-1807], quarter eagles were coined only in isolated driblets of a few hundred or at most a few thousand pieces. In most of these years, each date represented a new design modification--creating instant rarities and type coins. The problem is less why the coins are rare, why so few were made to begin with, but why any were struck at all! To judge from available Archives records, they were ordered on whim by a few local banks (principally the Bank of Pennsylvania and the Bank of the United States); to judge from the condition of survivors, they spent most of their time in vaults. Between 1803 and 1833, the Mint's major output consisted of cents, half dollars, and half eagles; all other denominations had a kind of poor-relative status--seldom called for, few made, little welcome."
The reverse die of the 1831 quarter eagle began as a new die for the 1830 issue, also known through a single die pairing, and that reverse continued in use through the single-marriage 1832, 1833, and 1834 With Motto issues. There are 149 dentils on the reverse, as compared with 147 on the obverse. The U in UNITED is recut, the large 2 in the denomination has a curved base, and there is recutting on the right lower upright of the I in AMERICA.
Harry Bass owned two examples of this date, as he did for all issues of the type except for 1832 and 1834, one each in proof and circulation-strike formats. John Dannreuther writes in Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties: A Study of Die States, 1795-1834 that "there are so many coins of this date that nearly qualify as Proofs that even recent auctions listings must be taken with several grains of salt." In any event, suffice it to say that coins of this issue are frequently found both in high Mint State grades and with many, if not necessarily all, of the characteristics of true proof coinage.
The present example is one of only two pieces so graded of the issue at PCGS, with a single MS67 better at that service, while NGC has certified four coins in MS66 and none finer (11/07). This coin, of course, has great significance for the type or date collector of this elusive and much-melted series. For the entire Capped Bust quarter eagle type spanning the years 1808 through 1834, PCGS has certified only a dozen MS66 pieces, with another half-dozen finer--and, as always, including the inevitable possibility of duplication.
While the coin is extremely well produced, it otherwise shows few characteristics of a true proofs aside from near-pristine surfaces and a nearly full strike. All of the obverse stars show full centril details. There are a few tiny irregularities noted on the obverse dentils, undoubtedly present in the die as they are present on other coins of this issue including the Bass pieces. For example, a minuscule "extra dentil point" appears to have broken off near star 2, and a couple of the dentils underneath the 18 and last 1 in the date appear extra long and sharp. A small planchet indentation, near star 12 as struck, will serve as a pedigree identifier. A second small indentation appears on the reverse in the vertex between the rear of the eagle's neck and the right (facing) wing, along with some faint contact marks beneath the N in UNUM. A curious outline of mint frost is present around the devices, while the remainder of the coin shows bright, flashy prooflike fields. Rich yellow-gold color is seen over each side of this phenomenal coin.
From The Madison Collection.(Registry values: P4) (NGC ID# BFWA, PCGS# 7671)
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