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    Description

    1854-S Quarter Eagle, VF35
    Ex: Davis-Graves, Norweb, Richmond

    1854-S $2 1/2 VF35 PCGS Secure. Ex: Davis-Graves, Norweb. The present offering of a VF35 PCGS 1854-S quarter eagle ranks among the most memorable lots in this sale; in fact, the 1854-S quarter eagle is among the most memorable U.S. coin issues of all time, regardless of the particular venue. Only 246 examples were produced in the first year of operations at the San Francisco Mint, and it appears that all of them quietly slipped into circulation. Legendary Fort Worth, Texas, coin dealer B. Max Mehl discovered the first reported specimen in 1910 through his "extensive advertising," a piece he apparently sold privately to prominent Wisconsin collector H.O. Granberg.

    In addition to Granberg, the list of former owners of 1854-S quarter eagles today is a Who's Who of American numismatic luminaries of several generations: Atwater, Clapp, Wolfson, Boyd, Norweb, Eliasberg, Bass. The acquisition of this Choice VF specimen will confer instant numismatic immortality on its possessor.

    Interestingly, Mint Marks author Augustus Heaton was apparently quite confused on the rarity of some of the early mintmarked gold issues. He seems to have been aware of the production of the 1854-S quarter eagle and half eagle (mintage 268 coins, of which but three are known today), but he calls only the five dollar issue "exceedingly rare." His pamphlet, published in 1893, says of S-mint quarter eagles:

    "The San Francisco issue is from 1854 to '79, except '55, '64 and '74. The great prize of the series is 1858. 1876 is scarce, but no other date should be so from the amount coined."



    Today we know that San Francisco made no quarter eagles in 1858 -- and we wonder what mintage figure he was using for the 1854-S.

    As our detailed roster below indicates, somewhere between a dozen and a dozen and a half examples -- no more -- can be traced today. No Uncirculated examples of the 1854-S quarter eagle are known, and any survivor is sure to cause fervent bidding among the many specialists in Western gold.

    The San Francisco Mint opened on April 3, 1854, in a renovated building formerly occupied by Moffat and Co., striking its first gold coin, an 1854-S proof double eagle now in the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian. It is a mystery why San Francisco struck so few quarter eagles and half eagles during the year, as it produced a modicum of Type One gold dollars and a great quantity of double eagles and eagles -- in fact, the new branch mint struck every authorized gold denomination during the year except the three dollar gold. In the case of the quarter eagles, while the circumstances surrounding the low mintage are lost today, it continues a trend that persisted throughout the denomination's history at the Mint, to treat it as the "red-headed stepchild" of U.S. gold coinage. (The half eagle is even more curious, as the five dollar gold was a workhorse denomination with plentiful mintages for most of Mint history; whatever the circumstances were, they clearly were unique to the time, place, and economic situation; perhaps bullion depositors simply preferred the larger eagle and double eagle at the time when available parting acids made gold coinage feasible.)

    In the appearance of this coin in the Norweb Collection, the cataloger noted:

    "In addition to the low recorded mintage, the 1854-S has the distinction that in David Akers' survey it was the second rarest quarter eagle in terms of the number of auction appearances over the years, and was tied with the exceedingly rare 1806/5 overdate and the 1841. Only the 1814 variety with 13 reverse stars appeared less frequently."



    This Choice VF piece is moderately abraded, with three pinscratches appearing behind Liberty's head and more in the reverse fields. The surfaces nonetheless remain quite luminous, with original luster appearing in the obverse margins, which are a lighter yellow than the honey-gold of the rest of the piece. A diffuse sage-colored copper spot occurs at the rim above OF on the reverse. Solid detail contributes to the Choice VF grade, with the details practically those of the Extremely Fine level.

    We cannot overstate the importance of this monumental offering.

    Roster of Known Specimens
    1. AU53 NGC.
    F.C.C. Boyd (World's Greatest Collection, Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 242; Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 222; New Netherlands (51st Sale, 6/1958), lot 837; later, Harry W. Bass, Jr. (Bowers and Merena, 10/1999), lot 472; Superior (1/2004), lot 792. Bass' acquisition records indicate he acquired this coin in October 1974 from an unknown source. Past rosters have incorrectly included the Superior Rio Rancho offering (lot 89, just below) here.
    2.
    XF45 PCGS. Rio Rancho Collection (Superior, 10/1974), lot 89; Heritage (2/2007), lot 4325.
    3.
    XF45 NGC. C.L. Lee Family (American Numismatic Rarities, 9/2005), lot 1128. Reportedly held by several generations of the C.L. Lee family since the late 1850s.
    4.
    XF45. Smithsonian Institution. Prior provenance unknown. Illustrated by David Akers in Auction Analysis of Quarter Eagles and in 100 Greatest U.S. Coins and Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, both by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
    5. VF35 ★
    NGC. Auction '86 (Paramount, 7/1986), lot 1867; Chicago Sale (RARCOA, 8/1991), lot 937; Los Angeles Signature Auction (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1224.
    6. VF35 PCGS.
    The present specimen. Davis-Graves Collection (Stack's, 4/1954), lot 825; Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 3/1988), lot 2025; VF35 NGC, Richmond Collection, Part I (DLRC Auctions, 7/2004), lot 1149; Heritage (10/2011), lot 4692; Stack's (11/2013), lot 2173
    7. VF25 NGC.
    Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 1001; Gilhousen Collection (Superior, 2/1973), lot 184; Rio Rancho Collection (Superior, 10/1974), lot 90; Dr. Franklin Altany (Paramount, 2/1977), lot 589; Windsor Collection (Abner Kreisberg Corp., 11/1981), lot 307; Heritage (2/2005), lot 7584.
    8. AU Details Scratches, Cleaned NGC.
    Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 2072; Grant Pierce (Stack's, 5/1965), lot 1154; R.L. Miles (Stack's, 10/1968), lot 166; 1973 ANA (Jess Peters, 8/1973), lot 826; 1974 MANA (Kagin's 304th Sale, 11/1974), lot 1547; Fairfield Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1977), lot 1544; Scott-Kinnear Collection (Sotheby's, 10/1982), lot 13; Heritage (10/1995), lot 5527; Heritage (9/2005), lot 4337; Boston ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2010), lot 3424; Rarities Night (Stack's Bowers Galleries, 8/2011), lot 7614. Illustrated in Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. This lot was unplated in the Atwater catalog. However, B. Max Mehl described the coin: "On the upper left obverse field there is a slight indentation or probably a tiny nick." This matches later plates of the piece and no others in the roster.
    9. Fine 12 PCGS.
    Wolfson Collection (Stack's, 10/1962), lot 165; S. Hallock DuPont (Sotheby's, 9/1982), lot 85; Herbert Melnick (11/1983), lot 2762; Stack's (400th Sale, 1/1988), lot 366; Broadus R. Littlejohn, Jr. Collection (Schuyler Rumsey, 2/2012), lot 345; Denis Loring and Donna Levin.
    10. Fine 12 NGC.
    Ezra Cole Collection (Bowers and Merena, 1/1986), lot 2546; Superior (10/1989), lot 4037; Superior (5/1990), lot 5431; Stack's (5/2006), lot 2220; Heritage (7/2008), lot 1902.
    11. Very Good.
    1979 ANA (New England Rare Coin Auctions, 7/1979), lot 82; Auction '81 (Paramount, 7/1981), lot 1405; Stack's (5/2000), lot 1194.
    12. Good 6 PCGS.
    The discovery specimen. B. Max Mehl; H.O. Granberg; Elmer Sears; John H. Clapp; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 170; Stetson Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1993), lot 587; Donald E. Bently Collection (Heritage, 3/2014), lot 30266.

    Additional Appearances
    A. Very Fine.
    J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 240. Illustrated in the catalog but unmatched to any above. The catalog description calls the piece "Strictly very fine." The piece illustrated appears XF or even finer by today's standard and is most likely the finest known Bass coin, although an exact match of the plates is impossible. In his Complete Encyclopedia, Walter Breen assigned the Bell coin to both the Boyd-Bass specimen and the Farouk specimen.
    B. Fine
    . Abner Kreisberg and Hans M.F. Schulman (2/1960), lot 2592. Described there as, "The obverse is just about Very Fine, Reverse Fine." The piece is illustrated, but the catalog quality renders plate matching impossible. Based on assigned grades, the coin is almost certainly absent among the first few coins listed above. It is also not the Eliasberg coin, as he owned that piece in 1960. We believe the Wolfson coin (number 9 in the roster) is the closest match.
    C. Very Fine.
    King Farouk (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 278. This was a group lot that offered 15 different quarter eagles, described as "Some very fine." The 15 coins constituted a complete 1853-1856 set of quarter eagles including mintmarked issues. Individual coins were unplated. Breen provided an earlier pedigree for this coin from Waldo Newcomer and Col. E.H.R. Green, but it is unverified today. Breen also claimed this was the J.F. Bell coin and gave it a later pedigree to Gilhousen, et al. (number 7 in our list above). Gaston DiBello's annotated copy of the sale recorded Paul Wittlin as the purchaser of this lot and evaluated Farouk's 1854-S as "funny."
    D. Very Fine.
    Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 1326. Unplated. Breen assigned this appearance to the Boyd-Bass finest known specimen.
    E. AU.
    Pennsylvania Sale (Kagin's, 2/1947), lot 2449.
    F. XF.
    Texas Sale (Kagin's, 12/1951), lot 1693.
    From The Barry F. Smith Collection. (Registry values: P2) (NGC ID# 25J3, PCGS# 7773)

    Weight: 4.18 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper


    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    View all of [The Barry F. Smith Collection ]

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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2018
    25th-29th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 34
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