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PR58 1841 Quarter Eagle, The Illustrious 'Little Princess'

1841 $2 1/2 PR58 NGC. The 1841 quarter eagle is a famous early proof-only issue in the Liberty Head series that over the last half-century or so has gained the appellation of "Little Princess," a nod to its notoriety and desirability. The "Little Princess" is ranked number 86 in Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth's 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, appearing just before the 1854-S quarter eagle at number 87. Interestingly, one example of each appears in the present sale.
The circumstances surrounding the production of the 1841 quarter eagles are curious at best, and have been the subject of much speculation over the years by numismatists, in the absence of hard facts. Although from 15 to 18 pieces are believed to exist today, there is no Mint record of the making of 1841 quarter eagles. The mintages were sometimes small, but the Philadelphia Mint struck business strike quarter eagles every year from 1834 through 1862, through numerous design changes--except for the 1841.
Besides the curious absence of business strikes, the presence of proofs is equally mystifying. The Mint could have produced a small quantity of business strikes, exactly as the San Francisco Mint did in 1854 for the quarter eagle. Although a few early proof quarter eagles are known, the Mint only marketed proof coins to the general public beginning in 1859. Earlier proofs were mostly struck for only well-heeled collectors, or to mark some special occasion. Although David Akers in 1975 doubted that the 1841 is a proof-only issue, Garrett and Guth in 2006 were firmly convinced that it is. (Akers does mention, however, that all 1841s are struck from the same dies, and it would be most unusual for some nonproof gold coins to be struck from the same dies as the proofs of the same year.)
Some numismatists have conjectured that the Little Princesses were struck for inclusion in presentation sets for some special occasion, but few proof 1841 half eagles or eagles are known--two proof half eagles and three proof eagles, to be precise. It would be most unlikely for presentation sets to include only quarter eagles and not the larger gold coins.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding their issuance--which will remain shrouded in mystery unless new documentation comes to light someday--Akers' final thought on the issue is as cogent today as it was more than 30 years ago: "As you can see, this coin poses many interesting questions and, for that reason, it is for me one of the most intriguing and enigmatic of all United States gold coins."
The present example is only moderately circulated, with only minor loss of high point definition, and there are a few slight contact marks, most of which are located on the obverse. The fields retain almost all of their mirrored effect. The surfaces are orange-gold color, and the precise strike, squared-off inner and outer rims, and detailed articulation, on both Liberty's curls and beaded hair cord and the eagle's feathers throughout, are as expected from a proof striking. A tiny spot of dark toning over the last S in STATES serves as a pedigree identifier.
This example should provide another opportunity for "exciting bidding," as collectors compete for one of the most desirable--and mystifying--of all U.S. coin issues.
From The R.M. Phillips Limited Partnership Collection.(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# 25LZ, PCGS# 7867)

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Auction Dates
Jul-Aug, 2009
31st-2nd Friday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 11
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
Page Views: 6,521

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