1796 Quarter Dollar, B-1, Magnificent SP66
1796 25C B-1, R.4 SP66 PCGS. Ex: Eliasberg. While the
opportunity to acquire any 1796 United States quarter is
noteworthy, the present offering of this legendary coin must be
considered an important and historic numismatic event.
The Legendary Stickney-Clapp-Eliasberg Coin
Unique PCGS Specimen Designation
1796 quarter dollars have always been highly sought after by collectors who desire an example of the very first quarter issued by the United States Mint. In addition to its first ever status, this issue possess several other critical characteristics that make it one of the most desirable and important Unites States coins. Specifically, the 1796 represents the only quarter dollars struck in the 18th century. It comes from a minuscule mintage of just 6,146 pieces, and is the only regular issue coin design to be discontinued after just one year. The acquisition of a 1796 quarter dollar is required by any collector that endeavors to build a complete type set of United States coins. This makes it one of the most sought after, and one of the costliest, of all U.S. type coins.
While prooflike examples can be found, the present offering is the only 1796 quarter to be designated Specimen by PCGS since the service began grading coins 28 years ago. This unique designation was earned because this coin possesses special characteristics that have been widely recognized and appreciated by famous numismatists for more than 100 years. Henry Chapman was the first to ever describe this coin when, in 1907, he cataloged the phenomenal collection of Matthew A. Stickney. Chapman remarked on the "broad, deep, even milling" and the "proof surface" while calling this "a superb specimen."
Walter Breen, a serious student of early presentation pieces, noted in his Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins 1722-1989 that "two B-1s exist showing earmarks of presentation-piece status," singling out this coin and the one from the Christian Allenburger estate, presently untraced. Prior to its submission to PCGS, the present coin was described in the 1997 Eliasberg Sale catalog as: "MS65 to MS66. Specimen striking. This is the quality which in later years would be termed Proof. Probable Presentation Piece."
It is safe to say that the breathtaking special characteristics of this coin have become even more highly appreciated with the passage of time. This example features highly reflective, brilliant full-mirror proof surfaces. The centering is ideal, unusually precise for the issue, with perfect axial alignment allowing for a razor sharp, pinpoint strike around all 360° of the denticled border on both sides. While there is not a 1796 quarter in existence that shows a 100% complete central strike, given the opposition of deep relief and the nature of metal flow, this one comes close - boldly defined on Liberty's hair, definitive in the eagle's wings and "above average" on the eagle's head. When discussing 1796 quarters, "average" means almost no head detail on the eagle. On the present Specimen strike it is perhaps 90% complete. The surface quality is incomparable and no mentionable post-strike marks are evident. Delicate and original silver and golden-orange toning in the centers cedes to deeper hues of cobalt-blue at the margins, providing magnificent eye appeal.
The Rare Browning-1 Variety
Browning-1 is by far the rarest of the two die varieties of 1796 quarters struck by an approximately 3/1 margin. The B-1 variety is attributed by the 6 in the date being relatively low; that is, it does not touch the bust.
Perhaps just 60 examples exist from these dies, most of which have been heavily circulated or damaged. This variety is so rare that many of the most famous coin collections ever assembled did not include one. The Norweb Collection did not have one, nor did the Pittman or the Garrett collections. Additionally, many of the most famous collections that specialized in United States quarters such as those of Phillip Spier, James A. Stack, and Reed Hawn had no comparable Browning-1 example.
A Short, But Legendary Pedigree
This coin has been owned by just four collectors over the past 167 years! Mathew Stickney owned it for more than 50 years. He started collecting in 1823, and by 1843, he was trading directly with the United States Mint Cabinet, counting himself as one of just a half dozen active coin collectors in the entire country. Presumably, Stickney had the opportunity to choose any of the 1796 quarters that were in existence at that time. He chose the present example, and his phenomenal collection is still recognized as one of the finest ever assembled.
Stickney died in 1894 and his collection, including this coin, was offered at public auction in 1907 by Henry Chapman. Hopefully Chapman savored his chance to auction this coin because no other coin dealer would have the opportunity to do so for nine decades! The coin was purchased by numismatic legend John Clapp, known to be a connoisseur for quality generations ahead of his time. Clapp chose the present coin offered today and owned it for the next 35 years.
In 1942, the Clapp Collection was sold privately, en masse, to the most famous coin collector in history, Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. This 1796 quarter would reside in the Eliasberg cabinet for the next 55 years. Eliasberg died in 1976, but the coin remained in his estate for two more decades. This legendary quarter was finally offered in the Eliasberg Sale on April 6, 1997. This was the coin's first appearance at public auction in 90 years, and realized $176,000. This represented a world record for the most amount of money ever paid at auction for a United States quarter at that time. After the sale, the coin was immediately submitted to PCGS, where it was assigned its current SP66 grade. Days later, the coin was sold privately to the present consignor for $200,000.
An Unparalleled Opportunity
Combining all of these factors, it is easy to understand why this legendary 1796 quarter is one of the most sought after and desirable regular issue coins ever released by the United States Mint. This represents just the third opportunity to own this coin in the past 107 years. The winning bidder will add a World Class Rarity to his/her collection, and will also add their name to numismatic history. While the most serious coin collectors in today's market compete for numismatic immortality, the rest of the world will be watching intently to discover what value is attached to this classic rarity.
Ex: Matthew Stickney Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1907), lot 1116; John H. Clapp; Clapp Estate; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (Bowers and Merena, 4/1997), lot 1356.
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