Classic Rarity 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle, BD-2, AU531796 $2 1/2 No Stars AU53 NGC. Breen-6113, BD-2. R.4. The 1796 No Stars quarter eagle has been a numismatic talisman from the very beginning of the hobby. The coin is a benchmark for any early gold specialist. It also has special status as the first year of issue and a one-year type coin. The combination of all these qualities creates intense competition whenever an example is offered at auction. A particularly fine specimen was offered in A Gentleman's Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 6/2005), lot 1002. On that occasion, the coin sold for 1.38 million dollars, a record for any early U.S. gold coin.
The year 1796 was a very important one for U.S. coinage. It was the first year in which the Mint was able to produce all of the coinage denominations authorized by the Mint act of 1792. The year saw the first production of dimes, quarters, and quarter eagles. The first delivery of quarter eagles, consisting of a mere 66 pieces, took place on September 21,1796. Harry Bass believed that this delivery included all the specimens of the extremely rare No Stars BD-1 variety, characterized by longer arrows on the reverse. Only four examples of this variety are known to collectors today. The next delivery did not take place until December 8, 1796 and consisted of 897 coins. Experts believe that this delivery consisted of coins of the present variety, No Stars BD-2. In Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, John Dannreuther states that the long hiatus between deliveries was probably due to the early failure of the reverse die and the difficulty of replacing it. This circumstance accounts for the extreme rarity of the BD-1 variety.
The dies for the 1796 No stars quarter eagle were probably engraved by Robert Scot and John Smith Gardner. The obverse of the coin has a medal-like appearance, similar to some varieties of the Gobrecht dollar coined in later years. The unadorned simplicity of the design is prized today, but it was quickly abandoned in favor of the With Stars design later in the year. The reverse has the distinction of being the first use of the Heraldic Eagle design on any U.S. coin. Earlier dated coins from different denominations exist, but experts believe they were actually produced in 1798, using leftover obverse dies from the earlier years combined with the new Heraldic Eagle reverses.
The 1796 No Stars quarter eagle has a long auction history, and the issue has always been popular at its relatively frequent appearances. Collectors realized the importance of the coin early on, and made it a popular prize for any dealer who could offer one. The prices realized at the early appearances seem surreal to collectors today. One early appearance was in the Fifth Semi-Annual Sale (Woodward, 10/1864), lot 1658. The lot was sold to J.O. Emery for $9.50, a respectable sum at the time. Woodward sold this coin again when he sold Emery's collection on March 9, 1880. The example featured in the Sixth Semi-Annual Sale (Woodward, 3/1865), lot 2789, was described as, "1796 Without stars; extremely fine, nearly proof, very rare." Woodward, like other coin dealers of the time, was not very precise in his use of the word proof. The lot sold to Thomas Cleneay for $13.50. Cleneay's collection was sold by the famous Chapman brothers in one of their landmark sales in 1890. The first appearance of the remarkable, record setting specimen in the American Numismatic Rarities sale mentioned above was in the Parmelee sale (New York Coin and Stamp, 6/1890), lot 719, where it sold for $17.50. The issue has remained a popular staple of auction catalogs down to the present day.
In Collecting & Investing Strategies for United States Gold Coins, Jeff Ambio estimates that fewer than 150 examples of the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle survive today. Ambio advises, "With so few coins extant and strong competition from type collectors and gold specialists, it is not wise to be overly concerned with grade when it comes to the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle. Any example certified by PCGS or NGC represents an important potential addition to a collection or investment portfolio." An attractive AU specimen, such as the currently offered coin, is eminently acceptable in even the most advanced collection.
The present coin displays a better than average strike, with a little softness in the hair and the area where the shield meets the eagle's breast. These areas are almost always weak on this issue. There is crisp detail on all other devices. The surfaces have some remaining mint luster, with only slight wear on the highest points. A planchet defect in the right obverse field is the only distraction of note. Superior eye appeal and great historical importance make this coin a major prize for the advanced collector. Census: 1 in 53, 36 finer (9/08).(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# 25F2, PCGS# 7645)
Weight: 4.37 grams
Metal: 91.67% Gold, 8.33% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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