Historic 1796 Quarter, B-2, MS621796 25C MS62 PCGS. B-2, R.3. The first year of issue, with a mintage of only 6146 pieces. The obverse was engraved by Robert Scot, after a sketch by famous portraitist Gilbert Stuart. Stuart's portrait of George Washington is familiar to all Americans, as it appears on the one dollar bill. The model for Liberty is thought to be Anne Willing Bingham, a Philadelphia socialite and daughter of Thomas Willing, president of the Bank of the United States. The Small Eagle reverse design was probably engraved by John Smith Gardner. Two obverse dies and one reverse die were employed in producing the initial mintage of this denomination. The present coin is classified as the more available B-2 variety, characterized by the high 6 in the date. In Early United States Quarters 1796-1838, Steve Tompkins notes that the B-2 coins were actually struck before the B-1 issue, based on observations of wear on the common reverse die. The eagle's head on the reverse of almost all B-2 examples is weakly struck.
There was little commercial demand for quarters in 1796, and the public did not really appreciate the coin. Twenty five cents was an unwieldy denomination in 1796, too small to be convenient for large purchases and too large for small change, much like the half dollar is today. The demand for quarters was so small that the tiny mintage of 1796 was able to satisfy all needs for the next eight years. The denomination was not produced again until 1804. The reverse was changed to the Heraldic Eagle design for the second issue, making the 1796 quarter a one-year type coin. Since they were unneeded in commerce, many examples were saved in bank vaults and the issue is available in all grades today.
Abe Kosoff reported that Colonel E.H.R. Green had a hoard of approximately 100 Uncirculated 1796 quarters in his magnificent collection. Green was the son of Hetty Green, the "Witch of Wall Street." Green was known to acquire multiple examples of rarities that he particularly enjoyed, but this was an incredible accumulation, even for him, Burdette Johnson, of the St. Louis Stamp and Coin Company, originally acquired this hoard from the Green estate. He sold the coins to James MacAllister, a well-known Philadelphia dealer. Kosoff relates the following visit from MacAllister in Abe Kosoff Remembers:
"When he reached New York City on his return trip he stopped in to see me at the Numismatic Gallery. 'Mac' used to wear a homburg hat and a heavy overcoat. From one inside pocket he took out a long package, about 15 to 18 inches, narrow, wrapped in brown wrapping paper. On the show counter he 'unwrapped' it and displayed row after row of 1796 quarters, every one uncirculated.
'Ninety bucks, take your pick,' he said. Before the 'wow' got out of my mouth, out of another inside pocket Mac took out another package, very much like the first. 'These will cost you $125 each,' he advised. This group contained the so-called Proof 1796 quarters, brilliant gems, each and every one. The first parcel contained the frosty coins. I don't really recall how many I bought, perhaps five or six of each. All in all I would say there were about 100 pieces possibly a few more or less."
Kosoff may have exaggerated the number of pieces, but the hoard must have been fantastic. Kosoff tried to contact MacAllister later the same day to purchase more quarters, but could not catch up with him for the next two days. By the time Kosoff tracked him down, all the coins had been dispersed to other buyers. Numismatists believe that most Uncirculated examples known today come from this hoard.
The present coin has excellent eye appeal. The obverse is sharply struck, with only slight softness in the hair strands above the ear. The reverse shows the weakness on the eagle's head and top of wreath that is typical of this issue. The devices show few abrasions, and the surfaces are remarkably free of distractions for the grade. Lovely shades of lilac toning enhance both sides of the coin. A beautiful, historic prize.
From The Scott Rudolph Collection.
See: Video Lot Description(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 23RA, PCGS# 5310)
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