1796 Quarter, Rare and Desirable MS63
1796 25C MS63 PCGS. B-2, R.3. The Mint Act of 1792
authorized coinage in denominations that ranged from milles (1/1000
of a dollar) to eagles. Pattern cents, half dismes, dismes, and
quarters were produced in 1792, but only the half dismes were
produced in any significant quantity, believed to be between 1,500
and 2,000 specimens. By September 1792 construction of the first
United States Mint in Philadelphia was essentially completed and
early the following year half cents and cents were struck.
First Year of the Denomination, B-2 Variety
The Mint Act, however, required that the Chief Coiner and Assayer each post a bond of $10,000 in order to coin precious metal, and this huge sum delayed production of gold and silver coins. Jefferson pushed Congress to lower the amounts, and on March 3, 1794 an act reduced the bonds to $5,000 for the Chief Coinage and $1,000 for the Assayer. Production of dollars came first, and in December 1794 half dollars were struck. In February 1795 half dimes were struck, dated 1794, and gold half eagles and eagles were issued later that year. Dimes, quarters, and quarter eagles were not struck until 1796.
These final three denominations were relatively unimportant in commerce and few were minted. The 1796 quarter had a mintage of just 6,146 pieces, which were delivered in four batches: 1,800 on April 9, 2,530 on May 27, 1,564 on June 14, and 252 on February 28, 1797. These were struck from two obverse dies and one reverse die. The two die varieties are easily identified by the position of the date: on Browning-1 the 6 is low and evenly spaced between the bust and the denticles, while on Browning-2 (this piece) the 6 is high and nearly touches the bust. The first variety, B-1, is a High R.4, which ranks it somewhat rarer than the R.3 B-2. Both varieties, however, are rightfully considered very scarce.
The second Director of the Mint, Henry William DeSaussure, made it a priority to improve the designs of United States coinage. Although he lasted only a few months at the post, DeSaussure was able to contract Gilbert Stuart, one of the most prominent American portraitists, to design a figure of Liberty to replace the Flowing Hair style used on the first silver coins. Stuart's contribution was the Draped Bust design, which first appeared on the silver dollar in late 1795 and on all silver coins the following year. (The short-lived Small Eagle reverse was designed by the relatively unskilled John Eckstein.) Although the great sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens is well known in numismatic circles for his coinage designs in the early 20th century, the equally important Gilbert Stuart's work more than 100 years earlier is often ignored.
With a mintage of 6,146 coins, the 1796 was destined to be an elusive issue from the start. A small number appear to have been saved as first-year representatives by the American public. The dollar and half dollar may have had too high a face value for most people to afford, the half dime, dime and quarter afforded an opportunity for some better off Americans to save an example of the country's earliest silver coinage.
Breen (1988) writes that Colonel E. H. R. Green, famous for his ownership of the 1913 nickels, amassed a hoard of more than 200 Uncirculated 1796 quarters. Population figures from NGC and PCGS, however, reveal that the number reported by Breen is a gross exaggeration. Both services combined report a mere 63 examples in all Mint State grades, and when one accounts for multiple submissions of the same coin, the true number of Uncirculated survivors is probably fewer than 50 -- perhaps dramatically less.
The present example boasts deep reddish-gold and lavender tones across both sides. The strike is outstanding, with the only noteworthy weakness at the center of the eagle and the upper right of the wreath, undoubtedly a result of positioning the obverse and reverse high points directly opposite. There are no distracting marks on either side. PCGS reports a total of 10 submission events at the MS63 level and only a dozen finer examples are reported (9/11). A magnificent specimen that appeals to type, date, series, and ultra rarity collectors.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 23RA, PCGS# 5310)
Weight: 6.74 grams
Metal: 89.24% Silver, 10.76% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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