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    Description

    1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle, XF45
    Extremely Rare BD-1 Variety
    Finest of Six Known

    1796 $2 1/2 No Stars on Obverse, BD-1, High R.7, XF45 NGC. Bass-Dannreuther Die State a/b. This is among the most compelling coins in the present offering. Few others can compete with its combination of history and rarity, and the pleasing quality of this Choice Extremely Fine example further complements the overall appeal of a numismatic treasure. To begin, only a select group of United States coins can claim a recorded birthday, and September 21, 1796 saw the first delivery of quarter eagles in the upstart Mint. The coiner struck only 66 pieces, and most researchers agree that these represent the BD-1 variety. Survivors reveal extensive reverse die damage, and this is the probable reason for the short run. Of these 66 BD-1 coins, only six have survived, and among these six, the present coin is the finest.

    In the current era the BD-1 has become the Holy Grail of early quarter eagle variety specialists. The variety was known to Edgar H. Adams in the early 20th century, but the sheer lack of collectors pursuing gold varieties caused the knowledge to be lost until Harry Bass "rediscovered" the variety. Bass "read the book before the coin," and was aware of its existence (through the Adams notebook) but could not locate an actual example. The eureka moment came in 1971, and is described in an article draft prepared by Bass in 1973:

    "...the thought of rediscovering so important a coin was firmly implanted and I have attempted to examine every 1796 no-star quarter eagle that I possibly could over the past seven years. In 1972 [sic, 1971 is intended] a coin dealer and close friend of mine by the name of Mike Brownlee brought to my office a 1796 quarter eagle which he had recently acquired at a coin show. He was merely showing it to me as a matter of interest for he knew that I would not be interested in the coin. He knew that I already had a nicer example of the 1796 no-star quarter eagle. His mistake was that he had not noticed the fact that the lost reverse was on his coin. You can imagine his surprise when I let out a loud yell, 'This is it, this is it," for he did not know what I was talking about. I proceeded to explain to him that the coin in my hand was a specimen of the reverse die referred to by Edgar H. Adams in his private notebook..."



    Robert P. Hilt, II formally documented the variety in Die Varieties of Early United States Coins (1980), and the hunt was on. Ed Price, who acquired an example in 1992, recalled his discovery moment, as described in our sale catalog, The Ed Price Collection of Early Dime and Quarter Eagle Varieties (July 2008, lot 1450):

    "I was lucky to find this coin. In the early 1990s I went to a few Wilmington [Delaware] shows, mostly for the chance to see Jules Reiver so we could discuss the 1801 half dime research we were then collaborating on. I saw this coin at the Long Island Numismatics table. It was clearly attributed as the rare Hilt 2-A [BD-1]. I knew what it was. I had the Hilt book in my car--just in case. So I knew that it was very rare. But, I did not know that I would see only one other example offered for sale in the next 15+ years--the Bass duplicate, which was dismal due to heavy scratches. I also had not yet fully decided to pursue a complete variety collection of quarter eagles. But I did understand that getting the rarities early made sense and I bought it. That purchase pushed me to try to get more of the quarter eagles and I was able to purchase a few more at the Heritage ANA sale the next month..."


    Bass and Price successfully found coins, as did Robert P. Hilt, II. Hilt's opportunity came in 1982, and was described by John Whitney Walter in The John Whitney Walter Collection of the Coins of 1796 (Stack's, 5/1999):

    "In the course of our [John Whitney Walter and Robert Hilt's] discussions, I learned about Robert's 'quest' to obtain an example of the 2-A [BD-1] variety. Knowing how much he coveted having one, when I viewed lot 332 at Stack's during the viewing of the Stack's portion of Auction '82, I thought to myself, that it wouldn't be proper for me to outbid Robert for this coin, because without his knowledge which he imparted to me about its very existence, I would not have bid on it because I had found a much finer example of what I would have thought previously was the same variety. I never spoke to Robert about not bidding, or that the coin was coming up at auction, but I was there at the auction and knew he was bidding...Bob never knew I laid off the 2-A [BD-1] so he could get it..."



    As a result, the reverse die of the BD-1 was the only die unrepresented in the Walter collection of 1796 coinage. Today there are six known examples of the BD-1, one of which is in institutional hands.

    Roster of the 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle (BD-1)
    1. XF45 NGC. Abner Kreisberg (9/1973), lot 1022; Carl S. Carlson; Auction '82 (Stack's, 8/1982), lot 332, realized $17,000; Robert P. Hilt, II; the present coin.
    2. XF40 PCGS. CAC. Long Island Numismatics (7/16/1992); The Ed Price Collection of Early Dime and Quarter Eagle Varieties (Heritage, 7/2008), lot 1450, realized $207,000.
    3. XF40. Mike Brownlee / Goliad, Inc. (12/13/1971); Harry W. Bass, Jr. Foundation. Listed in the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Museum Sylloge, HBCC-3001. There is an obverse gouge at 9 o'clock, just inside the rim.
    4. VF20. Stack's (4/1966), lot 713; World Wide Coin (10/11/1972); The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection Part III (Bowers and Merena, 5/2000), lot 80, realized $24,150. Sharpness of XF45 with heavy horizontal and vertical scratches.
    5. VF20. William F. Gable Collection (S.H. Chapman, 5/1914), lot 358, realized $42. Darker toning within the date and RTY of LIBERTY.
    6. VG8. Stack's (7/1977), lot 498; Auction '88 (Stack's, 7/1988), lot 1347, realized $5,610. Patch of spots below and to the right of Liberty's bust. Thin reverse scratches. Possibly the same coin described as the "poorest condition" specimen known by Robert P. Hilt, II, in a letter to John Walter Whitney, c. 1982, and owned at that time by Ben Levin.

    Physical Appearance
    The arrow length distinguishes the BD-1 and BD-2 reverse dies. On the BD-1 reverse, the arrows extend past the right side of N in UNITED, almost to the left side of I. The arrows on the BD-2 reach just to the right side of N. The present coin features original surfaces with russet and blue outlining Liberty and the 1796 date. There is a light horizontal line at Liberty's temple and several more in the field to the left of the cap. The reverse exhibits even gold color with darker contrast in the protected areas, an appealing appearance popularly described in recent times as "dirty old gold." A vertical die crack nearly bisects the entire reverse, heavier than on the Bass Foundation coin, but lighter than the Price example. This is a Choice example of an exceptionally challenging variety, one deeply connected with the most advanced gold die variety specialists of the current era.
    From The Liberty USA Collection. (Variety PCGS# 45501, Base 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.

    View all of [The Liberty USA Collection ]

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    Auction Dates
    January, 2015
    7th-12th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 20
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