I recently studied an 1841 quarter eagle graded PR53 by PCGS which was offered by Heritage in their February 2007 Long Beach auction. Numismatic tradition states that around 20 1841 quarter eagles were struck, all as Proofs. Numismatic tradition, in this case, is wrong.
The 1841 in the Heritage sale was unquestionably produced as a business strike. I’ve seen at least three other examples which I believe were produced for circulation as well.
Here are a few observations about the 1841 quarter eagle which I’d like to share:
1. Given the fact that around fifteen 1841 quarter eagles exist, let’s assume that the actual original mintage figure is more like 25-30 instead of the presumed 20 (I actually think it could be as high as 50). Then, let’s look at one other important fact: the mintage figure for Proof quarter eagles during the 1840’s is, with the exception of the 1841, less than ten coins per year. In some cases (i.e., 1847 and 1849) Proofs from this decade do not even exist. Why is the Proof mintage figure so high? Especially given the fact there is nothing “special” about this year; nothing, that is, which would cause so many Proofs to be struck.
2. Proof gold coins from the 1840’s look like Proofs, even when they are well-circulated. The 1841 in the Heritage sale did not look remotely like a Proof. It had absolutely no reflectiveness in the protected areas, the rims were not squared and the overall “look” of the coins did not suggest that it had been made for presentation purposes.
3. There are 1841 quarter eagles that exist in grades as low as Very Good to Fine. No other Proof gold coins from the 1840’s are known in very low grades so why should 1841 “Proofs” be found with this degree of circulation?
4. Despite having its own nickname (the “Little Princess”) the 1841 quarter eagle is a coin whose status as a Classic American Rarity seems to have diminished in recent years. My guess is that this is because specialists feel that since it is considered to be a “Proof-only” issue it isn’t necessarily an integral member of a business strike set of Liberty Head quarter eagles. It is curious that the 1854-S quarter eagle, an issue that was traditionally valued at lower levels than the 1841, is now regarded as a “better” coin and is bringing higher prices.
David Akers, who I regard to be the most knowledgeable expert of all-time on the subject of United States gold coinage has stated in his seminal work on quarter eagles that he believes that the 1841 quarter eagle was struck in two formats: as Proofs and as circulation strikes. However, in their 2006 book “Encyclopedia of United States Gold Coins,” Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth state that “only Proof quarter eagles were produced in 1841; circulated examples are said to exist, but these are actually mishandled Proofs that entered circulation.” I am clearly in the Akers camp in this debate and the 1841 quarter eagle I just viewed at Long Beach makes me feel more strongly than ever that business strike 1841 quarter eagles DO exist.