1796 BD-3 Quarter Eagle, MS61
1796 $2 1/2 Stars MS61 NGC. BD-3, High R.5. Type coins and
gold are at the confluence of two of the most popular collecting
areas of American numismatics, yet numismatists who seek to
complete sets of one of each major U.S. gold type are met with
several "stoppers" at the outset. The 1796 No Stars, 1796 With
Stars, and 1808 quarter eagles are each major barriers, and each
occupies a slightly different position within the quarter eagle
With Stars Obverse
Heavy Clash Marks
The 1796 No Stars is a first-year type coin, and the only issue in the quarter eagle series that bears no stars around the obverse perimeter. The 1796 No Stars is also the first issue of the quarter eagle denomination to emanate from the U.S. Mint.
The 1808 quarter eagle occupies a unique position as the only representative of the Capped Bust, Type One or Large Cap design, one of the new creations of Mint assistant engraver John Reich. Thus the 1808 is clearly a one-year type as well.
If one asks the question "How many stars?" the truth becomes obvious: The 1796 With Stars is also a one-year type coin -- the only early quarter eagle with the obverse stars arranged eight left and eight right, 16 in all, signifying the addition of Tennessee to the Union on June 1, 1796. This obverse die has a distinctive and unusual star layout, with the stars arranged point to point. Each star has two rays pointing toward the border, and two others pointing to the interior. The orientation appears here and on 1794 silver dollars, but on no other varieties that come to mind.
Only a single die pairing was used to produce the 1796 With Stars quarter eagles, unsurprising given their tiny mintage. The obverse die was not simply a matter of adding stars to the 1796 No Stars, as Breen and others have pointed out, since LIBERTY and the date are spaced and positioned differently. The different star arrangement above the eagle on the reverse die signifies that neither was it used on the No Stars coins.
Not only is the 1796 With Stars a one-year type, but it is also considerably rarer grade-for-grade than the 1796 No Stars, which seems to have been kept in higher grades and more quantity overall; perhaps the distinctive No Stars design was responsible for that lower attrition rate. The mintage of the 1796 With Stars in early editions of the Guide Book was put at 66 pieces, but today it is given as 432 coins. Akers wrote in his 1975 and 1988 works that he believed no more than 20-25 survive, but John Dannreuther estimates 40-50 known in his 2006 reference. Many of the surviving examples are "problem children," harshly cleaned, ex-jewelry, quite worn, and so forth, although a few nice high-grade pieces survive, including one Gem NGC-CAC coin that brought slightly more than $1 million in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2008), lot 3059. Examples in the lower Mint State grades such as the piece offered here regularly trade in the six-figure range.
An extraordinary Mint State specimen, this quarter eagle has excessive clash marks, heavier than anything suggested in the Bass-Dannreuther reference. For 1796 With Stars, 1797, and 1798 quarter eagles, the author combines obverse and reverse die states into single descriptions. For most or all other varieties, he separates the obverse and reverse die states. This is a prime example of clashed dies that has to be seen to be believed. Both sides have a few scattered surface marks with brilliant and satiny green-gold luster and strong design definition. This MS61 example is the only NGC specimen at that grade level. The Census Report lists six in MS62 and four in MS63, along with a single MS65 specimen. We believe that the MS62 and MS63 listings include several resubmissions (3/13).(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# BFVN, PCGS# 7647)
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