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    About Uncirculated 1808 Capped Bust Left Quarter Eagle, A Legendary One-Year Type

    1808 $2 1/2 AU 50 PCGS. As anyone who has ever held a job knows, professional criticism is an unfortunate part of the daily rigors of working life. Contrary to popular belief, this criticism can be positive, especially if it comes from a fellow employee whose intentions are genuinely altruistic. More often than not, however, criticism reflects the jealousy and unguarded ambition of rival workers as they try desperately to claw their way higher up the professional ladder. Faced with such grim realities, it is little wonder that America's working population is constantly searching for ways and means of diverting their minds from the battlefield that they call 'the office.' While vacations and holidays are perhaps the most popular of these distractions, numerous people turn toward hobbies such as coin collecting in an effort to escape their daily toils. There is little doubt that, after quiet hours of studying coins under a loupe, the troubles of everyday life can fade into insignificance. Yet one must not forget that every numismatic keepsake reflects days of hard labor and creative frustration for coin designers from decades past. For these gifted artists, coins and their production represented the daily trials that frayed their nerves and tested their patience. Even more remarkably, coin designers were not spared the jealousy and/or criticism of professional rivals. While novice numismatists have surely heard of the dubious 'improvements' that Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber exposed to designs such as the Buffalo nickel and Indian Head eagle, he was not the first man to fill that post who let his personal ambitions impede the nation's artistic merits.
    John Reich's reputation as one of the leading engravers in the United States during the early 19th century undoubtedly explains the contempt that Chief Engraver Robert Scot held for his new assistant. Given Reich's undeniable skill, it is little wonder that Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson eagerly awaited his new designs for the nation's copper, silver, and gold denominations. In its myriad forms, the Bavarian-born engraver's Classic Head and Capped Bust designs made their debut between 1807 and 1809 on the half cent, large cent, dime, quarter (1815), half dollar, quarter eagle, and half eagle. While enough of Reich's work survived into the 1830s to earn him the respect of future generations of collectors, Robert Scot's thinly veiled jealousy brought about the untimely demise of the Classic Head large cent in 1816 and the Capped Bust Left half eagle in 1812. Despite the brevity of these series, one can most easily see Scot's desire to outshine his assistant in the plight of the Capped Bust Left quarter eagle.
    Completed early in the year, the Philadelphia Mint used Reich's dies to coin 2,710 quarter eagles on February 26, 1808. The limited desire for the denomination within economic circles precluded a further delivery, although Walter Breen (Encyclopedia, 1988) asserts that early die breakage may have also played a part. When the federal government resumed production of quarter eagles in 1821, Scot's crude adaptation of the Capped Bust Left motif had replaced Reich's fresh concept. Since the typical 1808 quarter eagle encountered in the numismatic community today is apt to grade no higher than Extremely Fine, the issue undoubtedly saw widespread circulation at the time of delivery. An unsurpassable rarity in all levels of preservation, the present About Uncirculated representative deserves added praise that stems from its memorable eye appeal. Curiously smooth for a circulated gold coin, the surfaces are free of mentionable contact marks. The subdued golden-tan surfaces reveal ample remnants of the prooflike finish. While the peripheral striking weakness is typical of the issue, the central features display crisp definition despite light wear across the highest points. A must-have issue among gold specialists, we anticipate that the winner of this lot will be the envy of collectors across the country.
    From the Joseph J. Abbell Collection of U.S. Gold Coins. (NGC ID# BFVZ, PCGS# 7660)

    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 Joseph J. Abbell Collection ]

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    Auction Dates
    January, 2000
    5th-7th Wednesday-Friday
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    The pre-sale publicity was more than I imagined, and the actual catalog better than I had expected - and my expectations were high!
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