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    Incredible Prooflike Gem 1796 B-2 Quarter Dollar
    From the Norweb Collection

    1796 25C B-2, R.3, MS65 PCGS. Ex: Norweb. High 6. In his 1796 Mint report, dated November 29, Elias Boudinot discussed some of the problems that faced the fledgling Mint in Philadelphia: "He has seen, with regret, an opinion generally prevailing, that the establishment is unnecessarily expensive, and less productive than was rationally expected by its advocates and friends." Among the problems was free coinage, meaning that the government paid the cost of refining silver and gold deposits, including the cost of copper that was necessary for alloy purposes. Boudinot continued: "not only the original cost of the works, and the salaries of the stated officers, fall on the public, but also the whole amount of the workmanship, with the alloy, wastage, and contingent losses."

    During the period from July 18, 1794 to November 12, 1796, a total of 39 deposits of silver were brought to the Mint. Among those were five deposits in August 1794 that were the exact fineness of standard silver (89.24% pure). Only seven of the remaining 34 deposits were lower-purity than standard silver, but those seven deposits totaled 98,556 gross ounces of silver, or nearly 25% of all the silver deposited during that 29-month period. The result was a necessity for the Mint to supply more than 2,100 pounds of copper to bring the silver deposits up to standard. At the prevailing rates, the cost of that copper alone was approximately $560. Copper collectors will be quick to point out that the cost of the alloy was equal to a little over 70,000 additional large cents that could have been minted.

    The 5,894 quarter dollars minted in the second quarter of 1796 were included among the silver coins minted at the time. Attempts to correlate silver deposit data from the 1796 Mint Report to coinage delivery records have failed, but research continues. Comparing those records does indicate an approximate delay of three months, suggesting that the silver contained in the coins was deposited around the first of the year.

    The 1796 quarters were the first of their kind, featuring the Draped Bust obverse modeled from the work of Gilbert Stuart, and the Small Eagle reverse that would soon be replaced with a Heraldic Eagle design. These are one-year type coins, the first quarter dollars ever minted, and a low-mintage issue. Total production included the 5,894 coins struck in 1796, and 252 additional pieces coined in February 1797. Modern research into die states shows that the Browning-2 quarters, with the High 6 date position, were the first coined, adding to the importance of this coin.
    More than a dozen Gem Mint State 1796 quarters still exist, although few of them have the strike of this example. On nearly all known examples, the eagle's head and neck are flat and indistinct, with the leaves above showing no detail. Although minor adjustment marks affect the strike on the present coin, the head still shows nearly full design definition. Breen claimed in his Proof Encyclopedia that "The weakness at eagle's head is characteristic of the design and is not to be attributed to imperfect striking." The mere existence of sharp heads on pieces such as the Norweb specimen clearly show that Breen was incorrect. However, the vast majority of pieces have poorly defined head and neck details on the reverse. Finding an example with full details at that location is a rare numismatic event.

    This boldly defined Gem is one of the finest existing 1796 quarters. Steel, russet, and sea-green toning enhances the underlying deep golden appearance. The fields are fully and obviously prooflike. Besides the bold definition on the head, the wing feathers are sharp, and the rock below the eagle has full detail. The border dentils, especially on the obverse, are bold and wide, providing a wonderful frame for the design elements. An early die state example, the Norweb Gem is struck from perfect dies, adding credence to the idea that it is a special presentation strike. A few light adjustment marks on the reverse are visible, but they hardly affect the incredible beauty of this piece. The cataloger for the Norweb Collection suggested that this is a special piece: "This is quite possibly a presentation coin, of the type which years ago used to be called Proof, struck, as Walter Breen suggests, at the beginning of coinage of the denomination on April 9, 1796." The combined attributes of this incredible coin from the Norweb Collection ensure that it will delight collectors for generations to come.

    Regrettably, there is no provenance recorded in the Norweb catalog. However, the numismatic history of the family will give today's scholars a place to start. Liberty Emery Holden (1833-1913), a graduate of the University of Michigan, studied law and had diverse business interests. He was a hotelier, miner, and newspaperman. As a hotelier, he built and owned the Fairmount Hotel and the Hollenden Hotel in Cleveland. As a miner, he managed and owned several mines, including the Old Jordan and Old Telegraph mines in Utah. He is perhaps most famous as the owner of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a newspaper that continues to operate today in its 168th year. Today, the publication's website notes that, beginning in 1885 "under the direction of Liberty E. Holden, the paper assumed the strict policy of political impartiality and objectivity in news coverage that continues to this day." Holden's interest in numismatics apparently began circa 1890.

    Liberty Emery Holden and his wife, Delia Elizabeth Bulkley, had nine children. Among them was Albert Fairchild Holden (1866-1913) who died of cancer in 1913, just prior to his father's death. The younger Holden was a Harvard graduate who studied mining and mineralogy. His hobbies were mineralogy and numismatics. His numismatic interests seem to have started about 1900, and continued concurrently with his father.

    Albert's daughter, Emery May Holden (1896-1984) developed her own interest in numismatics while very young, and was recording die varieties in her father's collection by the time she was 12 years old. She joined the ANA in 1914 and held membership in the organization for 70 years, longer than anyone else before or since. Most of her numismatic purchasing took place from the early 1930s into the 1960s, actively buying from New Netherlands in the 1950s. She married R. Henry Norweb, Sr. (1895-1983) in October 1917. Their son, R. Henry Norweb, Jr. was also active in numismatics, specializing in Brazilian coins.

    Today, the provenance hound may want to concentrate on two time periods for a source of this 1796 quarter. The Holdens, Liberty and Albert, collected from about 1890 to 1913, and Emery May Holden and her husband, R. Henry Norweb, Sr., actively collected from the 1930s to the 1960s, and even personally attended the King Farouk sale in Cairo in 1954. Likely sources for this Gem 1796 quarter include J.C. Morgenthau, New Netherlands Coin Co., B. Max Mehl, and other contemporary dealers, including the Chapman brothers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The opportunity to own this outstanding coin, surviving from the first striking of US quarter dollars, and later to the famous Norweb collection, may not present itself again for a long time.
    Ex: Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 3/1988), lot 1512; Boston Signature (Heritage, 8/2010), lot 3107.
    From The Pannonia Collection.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 23RA, Variety PCGS# 38920, Base PCGS# 5310)

    Weight: 6.74 grams

    Metal: 89.24% Silver, 10.76% Copper

    View Certification Details from PCGS

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2014
    4th-6th Thursday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 22
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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