1854-S $2 1/2 Good 6 PCGS....
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Only 246 Pieces Struck, 12 Known Survivors
The Discovery Coin, Ex: Sears, Clapp, Eliasberg
Surprisingly, A.G. Heaton took no particular notice of the 1854-S quarter eagle when he wrote his seminal treatise on mintmark coinage in 1893. Heaton casually mentioned that quarter eagles were struck at the San Francisco Mint from 1854 to 1879, with a few breaks in the series, but the low mintage of the 1854-S and its elusive nature went unnoticed. Similarly, in his 1909 Official Premium List of United States Private and Territorial Gold Coins, Edgar Adams remarks on the 1854-S were limited to "No record of public sale." The issue was unknown in any collection until about 1910, when the coin offered here surfaced in a consignment to B. Max Mehl. As Mehl stated in his 1944 catalog of the Belden Roach Collection:
"Until 1910 not a single specimen of this coin was known to exist in any collection. I discovered one specimen through my extensive advertising. It was sold to Mr. John Clapp of Washington at over $500."
Some confusion exists about the early history of this coin, however. In the May 1911 issue of The Numismatist, Edgar Adams reported some conflicting information:
"... for the benefit of especially the quarter eagle collectors the long sought-for 1854 $2.50 gold piece from the San Francisco Mint has come to light and is now in the collection of Mr. H.O. Granberg of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This rare mintmark recently came to Mr. Granberg's notice, and of course was carefully examined by him. It was found to be authentic beyond a doubt. Mr. Hudson Chapman has also examined the coin and has stated that it was the only specimen of the variety that had ever been located."
John M. Clapp recorded his numismatic purchases in his notebook, which he kept meticulously from about 1891 until his death in 1906. After his death his son, John H. Clapp, continued the family collection, but his record keeping was not as thorough as his father's, and there is no mention of an 1854-S quarter eagle purchase in 1910. There is a notation recording the purchase of an example from Elmer Sears in 1915, however. Present-day numismatists believe Mehl was mistaken in saying that he sold this coin to Clapp in 1910 when he made his remarks 34 years later in the Roach catalog. It seems more likely that he sold the coin to Granberg, who bought and sold a number of collections in the period from 1913-1919. Clapp probably acquired this coin later, via Elmer Sears, after Granberg sold it. The Clapp Collection was sold intact in 1942 to Louis Eliasberg in a blockbuster transaction brokered by Stack's.
After its delayed discovery, the 1854-S quarter eagle became one of the classic rarities in the U.S. gold series. A few more examples have surfaced over the years, and we have listed 12 distinct specimens in our roster below, with some additional appearances that may be duplicate citations of the coins in the roster. All of the coins are in circulated condition and one is included in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution.
The present coin is well-worn, but the date, mintmark, legend, denomination, and LIBERTY are all legible. The reverse rim is worn flat in some areas. The pleasing surfaces are problem-free, with a scattering of minor abrasions on both sides. The surfaces remain brightly lustrous and appealing. Few coins possess the absolute rarity and compelling history of the coin offered here. We expect intense competition from advanced collectors when this lot is called.
Roster of 1854-S Quarter Eagles
1. AU53 NGC. F.C.C. Boyd (World's Greatest Collection, Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 242; Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 222; New Netherlands (51st Sale, 6/1958), lot 837; later, Harry W. Bass, Jr. (Bowers and Merena, 10/1999), lot 472; Pre-FUN Auction (Superior, 1/2004), lot 792. Bass' acquisition records indicate he acquired this coin in October 1974 from an unknown source. Past rosters have incorrectly included the Superior Rio Rancho offering (lot 89, just below) here.
2. XF45 PCGS. Rio Rancho Collection (Superior, 10/1974), lot 89; Heritage (2/2007), lot 4325.
3. XF45 NGC. C.L. Lee Family (American Numismatic Rarities, 9/2005), lot 1128. Reportedly held by several generations of the C.L. Lee family since the late 1850s.
4. XF45. Smithsonian Institution. Prior provenance unknown. Illustrated by David Akers in Auction Analysis of Quarter Eagles and in 100 Greatest U.S. Coins and Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, both by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
5. VF35 NGC. Auction '86 (Paramount, 7/1986), lot 1867; Chicago Sale (RARCOA, 8/1991), lot 937; Los Angeles Signature Auction (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1224.
6. VF35 NGC. Davis-Graves Collection (Stack's, 4/1954), lot 825; Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 3/1988), lot 2025; Richmond Collection, Part I (DLRC Auctions, 7/2004), lot 1149; Pittsburgh Signature (Heritage, 10/2011), realized $253,000; Rarities Night (Stack's Bowers, 11/3013), lot 2173.
7. VF25 NGC. Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 1001; Gilhousen Collection (Superior, 2/1973), lot 184; Rio Rancho Collection (Superior, 10/1974), lot 90; Dr. Franklin Altany (Paramount, 2/1977), lot 589; Windsor Collection (Abner Kreisberg Corp., 11/1981), lot 307; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 2/2005), lot 7584.
8. AU Details NGC. Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 2072; Grant Pierce (Stack's, 5/1965), lot 1154; R.L. Miles (Stack's, 10/1968), lot 166; 1973 ANA (Jess Peters, 8/1973), lot 826; 1974 MANA (Kagin's 304th Sale, 11/1974), lot 1547; Fairfield Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1977), lot 1544; Scott-Kinnear Collection (Sotheby's, 10/1982), lot 13; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 10/1995), lot 5527; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/2005), lot 4337; Boston ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2010), lot 3424; Rarities Night (Stack's Bowers Galleries, 8/2011), lot 7614; Rarities Night (Stack's Bowers, 1/2013), lot 13292. Illustrated in Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. This lot was unplated in the Atwater catalog. However, B. Max Mehl described the coin: "On the upper left obverse field there is a slight indentation or probably a tiny nick." This matches later plates of the piece and no others in the roster.
9. Fine. Wolfson Collection (Stack's, 10/1962), lot 165; S. Hallock DuPont (Sotheby's, 9/1982), lot 85; Grand Central (Herbert Melnick, 11/1983), lot 2762; 400th Sale (Stack's, 1/1988), lot 366, Broadus R. Littlejohn, Jr. Collection (Schuyler Rumsey, 2/2012), lot 345.
10. Fine 12 NGC. Ezra Cole Collection (Bowers and Merena, 1/1986), lot 2546; Jascha Heifetz Collection (Superior, 10/1989), lot 4037; Boys Town (Superior, 5/1990), lot 5431; May Sale (Stack's, 5/2006), lot 2220; Baltimore Signature (Heritage, 7/2008), lot 1902.
11. Very Good. 1979 ANA (New England Rare Coin Auctions, 7/1979), lot 82; Auction '81 (Paramount, 7/1981), lot 1405; E. George Elliott, Part II (Stack's, 5/2000), lot 1194.
12. Good 6 PCGS. The discovery specimen. B. Max Mehl; H.O. Granberg; Elmer Sears; John H. Clapp; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 170; Stetson Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1993), lot 587; the present coin.
A. Very Fine. J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 240. Illustrated in the catalog but unmatched to any above. The catalog description calls the piece "Strictly very fine." The piece illustrated appears XF or even finer by today's standard and is most likely the finest known Bass coin, although an exact match of the plates is impossible. In his Complete Encyclopedia, Walter Breen assigned the Bell coin to both the Boyd-Bass specimen and the Farouk specimen.
B. Fine. Abner Kreisberg and Hans M.F. Schulman (2/1960), lot 2592. Described there as "The obverse is just about Very Fine, Reverse Fine." The piece is illustrated, but the catalog quality renders plate matching impossible. Based on assigned grades, the coin is almost certainly absent among the first few coins listed above. It is also not the Eliasberg coin, as he owned that piece in 1960. We believe the Wolfson coin (number 9 in the roster) is the closest match.
C. Very Fine. King Farouk (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 278. This was a group lot that offered 15 different quarter eagles, described as "Some very fine." The 15 coins constituted a complete 1853-1856 set of quarter eagles including mintmarked issues. Individual coins were unplated. Breen provided an earlier pedigree for this coin from Waldo Newcomer and Col. E.H.R. Green, but it is unverified today. Breen also claimed this was the J.F. Bell coin and gave it a later pedigree to Gilhousen, et al. (number 7 in our list above). Gaston DiBello's annotated copy of the sale recorded Paul Wittlin as the purchaser of this lot and evaluated Farouk's 1854-S as "funny."
D. Very Fine. Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 1326. Unplated. Breen assigned this appearance to the Boyd-Bass finest known specimen.
E. AU. Pennsylvania Sale (Kagin's, 2/1947), lot 2449.
F. XF. Texas Sale (Kagin's, 12/1951), lot 1693.
From the Collection of Donald E. Bently, sold for the benefit of the Bently Foundation.(Registry values: P2) (PCGS# 7773)
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