Near-Mint 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle
1796 $2 1/2 No Stars AU58 PCGS. Breen-6113, BD-2, R.4. The
1796 Draped Bust quarter eagle is available in two types--one lacks
obverse stars, and the other has 16 obverse stars. The reason for
the No Stars type is uncertain. Perhaps the star punch to engrave
the dies broke, or maybe Mint employees were reluctant to engrave
the stars because new states were being admitted to the Union. The
explanation might also lie in a rush to produce quarter eagles
Landmark One-Year Type Coin, BD-2
'Most Desirable 18th Century Gold Coin'
Whatever the reason for the omitted obverse stars, the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle is an important one-year type coin. Just 963 pieces were minted in what John Dannreuther and Harry Bass, Jr. (2006) believe comprise all of the two warrants for quarter eagle deliveries (66 and 897 coins) in 1796. Surprisingly, two die varieties are known for the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle. Bass and Dannreuther suggest the two varieties for this low-mintage type resulted from the failure of the first reverse die after only 66 strikes. This suggestion makes sense, in view of the fact that less than a half dozen examples are known for the BD-1 variety. The present coin represents the more-available BD-2 die marriage, with shorter arrows in the eagle's claw.
The 1796 No Stars quarter eagle has the distinction of being the rarest U.S. type coin, though estimates of surviving examples vary considerably. Dannreuther and Bass suggest that 100 to 130 specimens survive. Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth (2003) contend that at least 100 coins exist, with the possibility of 200 at the outside. PCGS and NGC have to date certified only about 100 examples in VF to MS65, the vast majority falling into the AU levels of preservation (6/10). A number of certified pieces, however, are likely resubmitted or crossover coins. All of this adds up to the 1796 No Stars being one of the priciest U.S. design types, and one that is usually missing from all but the most advanced collections.
The unusual No Stars design caught the attention of numismatists during the earliest days of the hobby. Early catalogers were careful to distinguish between the two types, as seen in this early appearance in the John F. McCoy Collection (Woodward, 5/1864), lot 1961, "1796 Without stars, uncirculated, a fine impression, extremely rare." The lot realized $15 to Heman Ely, a prominent collector from Ohio who bought heavily at most important auctions of the 1860s and 1870s. Ely's total bill for the purchases made at the McCoy sale was $1,182.90, an enormous sum for the time.
The popularity of the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle has continued unabated to the present day. The finest known specimen was sold as lot 3058 of the FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2008) for an astonishing price of $1,725,000, a world record for any early U.S. gold coin. Speaking of that specimen, Garrett and Guth state, "A good argument could be made proclaiming that coin as the most desirable eighteenth-century gold coin. Not only is it rare but also it is the only year this design was produced." Currently, that sale price for the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle ranks as number 14 on the "Top 250 Coin Prices Realized at Auction" listed in the 2011 Guide Book.
Of course, the supply of Mint State 1796 No Stars quarter eagles is minuscule. Due to the strong demand from different coin collecting disciplines, including type collectors and early gold enthusiasts, experts agree it is impractical to place too much emphasis on grade when selecting an example of this classic rarity. An attractive near-Mint specimen, such as the currently offered coin, is eminently acceptable in even the most advanced collections.
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. Those areas are almost always weak on this issue. There is crisp detail on all other devices. The rose-gold surfaces display much original mint luster, with only the slightest signs of friction showing on the highest points. Superior eye appeal and great historical importance make this coin a major prize for the advanced collector. Population: 14 in 58, 7 finer (6/10).
From The Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis Collection.(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# 25F2, PCGS# 7645)
View all of [The Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis Collection ]
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