Unique Proof 1838 Seated Quarter
1838 25C No Drapery PR63 PCGS. "Once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity" is a phrase that is bandied about far too often in the
numismatic community. However, in the case of the unique proof 1838
Seated Liberty quarter, the phrase is justified. The last time the
coin appeared for sale at public auction was five months before
this aged cataloger was born. This is the only specimen recorded in
Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof
Coins, 1722-1989, where the author noted that "Wayte Raymond
knew another." In the Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial
Coins, the same author wrote simply that there was "only one
proof reported." Unless or until the other piece, the one that
Wayte Raymond knew about, turns up, we submit that this 1838 Seated
quarter is unique as a proof.
The Dupont-West PR63 Specimen
Christian Gobrecht succeeded William Kneass as the new chief engraver of the Philadelphia Mint in 1836, and soon completed his iconic Seated Liberty obverse. The new design appeared on silver dollars in 1836, and on other denominations from 1837 to 1839. Following production of Capped Bust quarters during the first several months of 1838, the Mint switched to the Seated Liberty design. Gobrecht combined the Seated Liberty obverse, which he made famous over the previous couple of years, with the older-style eagle reverse, similar to the Kneass design that appeared on the earlier Capped Bust quarters and half dollars.
Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson sent 20 examples of the new-design quarters to Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury on September 13, 1838. In his 1977 Proof Encyclopedia, Breen comments that Patterson "did not" call them specimens. A decade later in his Complete Encyclopedia, Breen writes that "the term 'specimens' was Patterson's." The manufacturing method of those 20 coins remains unknown, although we might surmise that they were special pieces, perhaps proofs, and they were certainly struck on the Thonnelier steam presses that were installed at the second mint about two years previously.
Production of the first regular issue, business strike Seated quarters began on September 29, 1838. Most likely, that production followed the approval of Woodbury, who earlier examined the 20 specimens that were sent to him on September 13, and likely struck that same day. If that is the case, and if this Select proof specimen is one of the 20 coins, we might assume it was struck on September 13, 1838.
We are only aware of a single proof example of the 1838 Seated Liberty quarter, the example offered here. This specimen, which Breen cited in his Proof Encyclopedia, appeared in the Anderson-Dupont sale (Stack's, 11/1954) as lot 1815, and later in the Edgar A. West consignment (Stack's, 5/1957) as lot 667. Breen incorrectly attributed the West sale to Abe Kosoff. The present specimen clearly matches the plates in both the Dupont catalog and the West consignment, and it is likely that our consignor purchased the coin directly from the 1957 Stack's sale. Our consignor comments: "This coin adds a page to numismatic history and fills out further the enigmatic chronicle of early 19th century proof coinage."
In 1954, Stack's described the coin as "Brilliant gem Proof. Unlisted in the Breen monograph on Proofs. Probably unique in this condition." Although shy of a Gem, this Select proof is so much more than a mere brilliant proof. Every individual design element is bold, including full stars, complete head details, and a full sandal on the obverse, to the sharp claws, arrow feathers, leaf venation, and eagle feathers on the reverse. Both sides of this beautiful piece exhibit broad, squared rims with deep, mirrored fields and satin reliefs. Those fields, while showing faint hairlines and contact marks, display fine Mint-made striations, up to the right on the obverse and up to the left on the reverse. Similar striations are often encountered on 19th century proof coins. The surfaces show hints of heather with splashes of golden-lilac and pale blue gathering near the peripheries.
Overemphasizing the importance of this opportunity will prove difficult. It is a unique proof of the 1838 No Drapery Seated Liberty design, the first year of issue for the Seated Liberty quarters. Collectors of proof Seated Liberty coinage will have no other opportunity to acquire this issue. This is the ultimate addition to a first-year type collection, representing the Gobrecht design as well as the three-year No Drapery subtype. In April 2008 we offered the Phil Kaufman specimen of the 1839 No Drapery proof quarter, also unique, a coin that realized $517,500. We consider this 1838 even more important than that 1839 proof quarter.
Ex: Anderson-Dupont Sale (Stack's, 11/1954), lot 1815; Edgar A. West Consignment (Stack's, 5/1957), lot 667; the current consignor. (PCGS# 5527)
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