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The Unique 1855-S Proof Quarter, PR64
Pedigreed Directly to San Francisco Mint
Superintendent Dr. Lewis Aiken Birdsall

1855-S 25C PR64 NGC. CAC. Briggs 1-A. Ex: Golden Gate Collection. The San Francisco Mint opened for coinage in 1854, but in that year it struck only gold coins. It would be 1855 before the facility got around to striking Seated quarters and half dollars. The mint's first superintendent, Dr. Lewis Aiken Birdsall, was clearly intent on preserving proof strikes of San Francisco's first issues.

A provenance dating back to the time of issue and directly to Birdsall heightens the historical importance of this numismatic masterpiece, the unique proof 1855-S quarter dollar, believed to be the first quarter dollar minted in San Francisco. Nearly everyone who has handled this specimen has stated that it is unique, and indeed, it appears to be a one-of-a-kind item. This is only its eighth auction appearance since 1886, the piece that Birdsall preserved after its production in 1855.

Every aspect of the strike is full, save for slight weakness on some border dentils. Liberty's head and foot are both complete, with bold horizontal and vertical shield lines on the obverse. Similarly, the reverse has complete details throughout, including sharp claws and bold feather details. The surfaces are light ivory with splashes of delicate gold and pale blue toning. Both sides are nicely mirrored with satiny devices and reflective fields. Those fields are less deeply mirrored than on Philadelphia proofs, but far beyond any accidental creation through mere die polishing. The fields and devices meet crisply and concisely, without any blurring or merging of the details. Representing the Briggs 1-A die marriage, both dies are new with no signs of deterioration, further supporting the "first quarter dollar minted" tradition.

In the August 1998 Rarities Sale, Q. David Bowers provided notes about William W. Long. He operated the "Museum Hotel" in Philadelphia during the 1850s and issued his own tokens that advertised a variety of entertainment options, such as a pistol and rifle gallery, billiards, bowling, bagatelle, and shuffleboard, as well as liquors, oysters, segars [sic], a refectory, and a museum. Items from his museum were offered in two auctions held by Moses Thomas & Sons in the 1880s.

In their 1965 sale of the Grant Pierce Collection, Stack's called this quarter dollar "one of the most interesting pieces of Americana sold in this century." We agree today, and further consider this offering to be one of the most historically important numismatic items from the San Francisco Mint.

We wrote the words above on the last appearance of this remarkable item, and the numismatic community apparently agreed with us, bidding this coin up to $276,000. Part of this is due to the piece's unique status as one of the most historic branch mint proofs of any denomination, and part is, undoubtedly, due to the piece's lineage directly back to Lewis Aiken Birdsall.

Twice before we have offered the same branch mint proof 1855-S half dollar graded PR65 NGC -- one of three known for the issue -- and that piece brought $276,000 and $170,375, respectively, in our Central States and FUN 2013 Signature auctions (Heritage, 8/2011, lot 7176; 1/2013, lot 5671). Birdsall conserved a different half dollar and sent it to the National Numismatic Collection, now housed in the Smithsonian, the inference being that likely Birdsall was responsible for conserving the other 1855-S proofs as well.

Birdsall was undoubtedly present at the striking of the very first double eagle produced in San Francisco, a proof 1854-S that now also resides in the National Numismatic Collection -- a unique coin that would undoubtedly sell for many millions of dollars were it ever to appear in the numismatic marketplace. Birdsall presented the coin to Mint Director James Ross Snowden.

We also offered, a few years ago, a very special presentation cane made of wood with a gold and quartz octagonal top, presented on Christmas Day, 1854, to Dr. Lewis A. Birdsall (sometimes called Robert Aiken Birdsall), superintendent of the United States Branch Mint at San Francisco, by his coworkers at San Francisco. Even the cane brought -- $17,250.

As the only example known of the proof 1855-S Seated quarter, the historical importance of this piece simply cannot be overemphasized. Even if this piece will not bring nearly what its unique 1854-S double eagle proof counterpart would, it is a coin every bit as desirable to series specialists.
Ex: Lewis Aiken Birdsall, San Francisco Mint superintendent; W.W. Long Museum (Philadelphia); Dr. Edward Maris (H.P. Smith, 6/1886); Grant Pierce Collection (Stack's, 5/1965), lot 655; Donald Groves Collection (Stack's, 11/1974), lot 440; Auction '86 (Paramount, 7/1986), lot 1615; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/1998), lot 179; Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 3/2005), lot 1524; Golden Gate Collection / Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2011), lot 7109, which brought $276,000.
From The Greensboro Collection, Part IV. (NGC ID# 269F, PCGS# 5562)

View all of [The Greensboro Collection, Part IV ]

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Auction Dates
August, 2013
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 11
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
Page Views: 1,796

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