Reflective Mint State 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle

    1796 $2 1/2 No Stars MS61 PCGS. Breen-1, Breen-6113, Bass-3002, High R.4. About 40 years ago, when Walter Breen published his monographs on the quarter eagles, he considered this issue to be High R.6, meaning that only 13 to 18 examples survived. At that time or before, there was some confusion regarding the order of strike and the number of coins known. Official Mint delivery records indicate that quarter eagles were struck and delivered at different times. Coins were delivered on September 22, 1796 and December 8, 1796 with 66 and 897 pieces delivered, respectively. One additional delivery of quarter eagles amounted to 432 coins, but these were not actually delivered by the Chief Coiner to the Mint treasurer until January 14, 1797. At one time, it was believed that the 432 pieces delivered in 1797 were actually coined in 1797. Montroville Dickeson, for example, claimed a mintage of just 963 coins for the 1796 quarter eagles. It is intriguing that Dickeson, who was not the most knowledgeable of numismatists, recorded that two types and three varieties of 1796 quarter eagles existed. Today, there are exactly two types and three varieties known, although one of these three was not generally known to exist until the 20th century.
    The three varieties that are known today were recorded in The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Museum Sylloge, and assigned numbers HBCC-3001, 3002, and 3003. The letters HBCC represent "Harry Bass Core Collection," the appropriate designation created by author Q. David Bowers to provide a unique cataloging system. The first two varieties are from a single No Stars obverse. Variety-3001 is a rarity with only six examples known, representing about 10% of the September 22 delivery of 66 coins. Variety-3002 is considered High R.4 with about 90 examples known, or about 10% of the December 8, 1796 delivery of 897 coins. Variety-3003, the only variety from the With Stars obverse die, is considered R.5 with about 45 examples known, which approximates 10% of the 432 coins delivered on January 14, 1797. Although exact records don't exist, the number of examples known of each variety today, compared to the three deliveries, provides strong evidence to suggest the original mintages of each variety, and a surprisingly high survival rate of 10%.
    This example, a splendid Mint State coin in an older green-label PCGS holder, has wonderful green-gold color with reflective surfaces. Both sides have pale orange toning and the highest point of the obverse has a faint bluish tint. While the surfaces are somewhat scuffed, there are no single marks of any significance. A few tiny lint marks can be seen, but these were present when this piece was coined and do not represent any later mishandling. The central obverse and reverse are somewhat weakly defined, as often is the case. This example is a late die state with the lower curls all but gone due to die lapping. In fact, this example is a later state than we have seen on any others. In addition to the usually seen die crack from the obverse border at 9 o'clock, which is actually almost invisible on this example due to die polishing, there is another crack from the right side of the E to the cap, known on many specimens. Another crack, not seen on many other surviving examples, begins at the base of L and extends vertically into the cap, eventually reaching the hair strands above and left of Liberty's ear. We have no pedigree information for this example at the present time, although it should not be hard to determine. There are relatively few higher grade survivors, and the number of such coins in the latest die state further limits the field.
    From The Alpine Zephyr Collection.(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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