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1854-S $2 1/2--Damaged, Cleaned--ANACS. XF Details, Net VF20. Ex: Atwater Collection. The 1854-S Quarter Eagle is one of th...

2005 September Long Beach Signature Auction #384

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Auction Ended On: Sep 23, 2005
Item Activity: 10 Internet/mail/phone bidders
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Location: Long Beach, CA
Extremely Rare 1854-S Quarter Eagle - Ex: Atwater Collection
1854-S $2 1/2 --Damaged, Cleaned--ANACS. XF Details, Net VF20. Ex: Atwater Collection. The 1854-S Quarter Eagle is one of the landmark rarities in U.S. numismatics. Among gold coins struck for circulation and so used, only three issues have a lower mintage: the 1875 Eagle, the 1875 Half Eagle, and the 1841-O Half Eagle (which is unknown in any collection). Of the 246 pieces originally minted, it is reliably estimated that no more than 12 to 15 exist today, all of which are low grade.
The '54-S was unknown until the early years of this century when the discovery coin (a Good-VG example) was purchased by H.O. Granberg out of a Max Mehl sale. The piece offered here is actually one of the finest known of this extremely rare issue. Listed as the #2 piece on Breen's condition census, the list of previous owners reads like a Who's Who of 20th century collectors. The coin was cleaned at one time and shows the resulting hairlines on each side. A couple of planchet depressions are seen in the upper left obverse field, and there is a distinctive abrasion above the 13th star that identifies this as the #2 coin. The striking details are a bit soft on each side with less definition on the reverse, as always. There are also unusual mintmade defects that we have never seen before on any other coin; on the left side of the obverse and the lower reverse there are numerous cracks in the planchet. These are quite extensive on the obverse and under magnification give a "dry creek bed" appearance to the coin. Since we have never encountered this before and there is nothing in the standard references to explain it, we are left to speculate about its origin. We assume because it is a unique occurrence, these cracks may have something to do with the conditions under which these coins were produced. At the time the San Francisco mint opened in 1854, there was a shortage of parting acids on the West Coast. This shortage had existed since the earliest days of territorial coinage beginning in 1849. As a result, many of the territorial issues were struck from unalloyed native ore. The mint in San Francisco experienced the same difficulties during the first several years of production in that facility which resulted in the cessation of gold coinage on several occasions. Our theory is that the network of cracks seen on this piece may have something to do with impurities in the ore from which this coin was struck. Without a sufficient supply of parting acids it may have not been possible to separate the gold from the impurities in the native alloy. We would welcome any comments from anyone who may have seen this effect on other coins, or anyone who may have a better alternative theory.
Curiously, for a coin of such rarity, the price history of '54-S Quarter Eagles has been something less than impressive. This is apparently because the known survivors are all relatively low grade pieces. It may also have to do with the fact that the coin is "too rare." Meaning, if a few more pieces were available then it would be possible to more widely publicize the issue, and with increased publicity would come higher prices. This "absolute rarity" is one of the two driving forces behind the dated gold market, and the exceptional rarity of the '54-S has created an underpublicized situation for this date. The 1854-S is also not nearly as sensitive to grading distinctions as other 19th century gold issues. This "condition rarity" is the second force that drives much of the rare gold market, and this issue is hobbled in that regard. With the combination of both absolute and condition rarity in its corner, the challenge is just to find a coin, any coin. Condition is at best a secondary consideration. This coin presents an opportunity for the serious numismatist to own one of the rarest and most underrated of all U.S. coins in any metal produced as a circulating medium in the United States.
Ex: William Cutler Atwater (Max Mehl, 6/46); Grant Pierce (Stack's, 5/65); Miles (Stack's, 10/68); 1973 ANA (Jess Peters, 8/73), lot 826; 1974 MANA, lot 1547; Arthur Lamborn; "Fairfield" (B&R, 10/77), lot 1544.(#7773) (Registry values: P2) (PCGS# 7773)

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