The Bass 1855-C Quarter Eagle

2009 isn’t even two months old and I’ve already had the good fortune to handle some pretty special coins. I’d have to say that one of the very best that I’ve handled so far is the Bass 1855-C quarter eagle, graded MS65 by NGC, which is shown below. Let’s take an in-depth look at this specific coin and analyze where it fits into the Pantheon of Great Charlotte Quarter Eagles.

I regard the 1855-C as the second rarest Charlotte quarter eagle, trailing only the 1843-C Small Date. Of the 3,677 coins originally produced, an estimated 85-105 are known. This date tends to be found in the EF-AU grade range and it does not appear to have circulated with the intensity of other dates from this era which are more often found with considerable wear. At one time, the 1855-C was exceedingly rare in Uncirculated and when I wrote the first edition of my Charlotte book back in the 1980’s I was not aware of a single Mint State piece.

Due to gradeflation and new discoveries, the 1855-C has become a more available coin in Uncirculated and today there are as many as six or seven known. There are two really great pieces accounted for: the Bass coin and an example in a private collection graded MS64 by NGC and owned by dealer Harry Laibstain back around 2000-2001.

The Bass 1855-C is unquestionably the finest known 1855-C quarter eagle and it is one of just a handful of Gem quarter eagles from this mint (more on this later...). I had no idea that this coin even existed until I saw it when I viewed the Bass III sale in October 1999. Bass had supposedly obtained the coin via private treaty on August 31, 1977. When it made its initial auction appearance it was graded MS64 by PCGS but, according to my comments in the catalog, I graded it MS65 and described it as follows: “GEM!!!” After the sale, the owner cracked it out of its PCGS holder and sent it to NGC where it, rightfully, was upgraded to its current MS65 holder.

When viewing this coin, there are a few things that really stand out. The first is this coin’s amazing luster. I doubt that the image above will capture the subtleties of this coin’s incredible hybrid frosty/reflective texture. This issue is sometimes seen with good luster but on this example it is so dynamic that it gives the coin a unique “crisp” appearance that very, very few branch mint coins of any era possess.

There is some weakness of strike seen on the stars at the top and on the eagle’s right leg. This weakness is typical for the issue and, in fact, the overall detail seen is better than average. The surfaces are exceptionally clean with a virtual absence of marks. There are some raised die striations in the obverse fields and some mint-made roughness around the eagle on the reverse that add character to the overall appearance. Both sides have some light to medium rose and orange-gold color that is attractive as well.

When this coin was last sold at public auction in October 1999, it realized $41,400. It was later sold to a North Carolina collector and it has been off the market for close to a decade. I just sold it to an anonymous collector who specializes in Charlotte coins and it is regarded as one of the current highlights of his collection.

There are four Charlotte quarter eagles known to me that are decidedly better than all the other surviving examples from this mint. These are the only four Charlotte Liberty Head quarter eagles that I regard as Gems and it is pretty remarkable to think that out of the 217,833 pieces produced between 1840 and 1860 that only three Gems exist.

The Charlotte quarter eagle that I regard as the unquestionable finest known of any date is the Elrod 1842-C, graded MS65 by PCGS. This piece sold for $90,850 back in February 1999 and it is now owned by a Southern collector who is well-known for his discerning eye. The coin has also been graded MS65 by NGC. What is even more impressive about this coin is the fact that the 1842-C is an extremely rare coin in high grades and the Elrod coin is the finest of just three known in Uncirculated.

The 1843-C Large Date is among the more available Charlotte quarter eagles in Uncirculated and there are two Gems known. The first is currently graded MS66 by NGC and it was earlier in a PCGS MS65 holder. What is remarkable about this coin (besides its grade) is the fact that it was once in an ANACS MS64 holder and it sold at auction for a paltry $5,500 back in September 1997. The second Gem 1843-C Large Date is a PCGS MS65 that is currently owned by a North Carolina specialist. I have had the chance to view this coin and it is a bona-fide Gem with superb luster, color and surfaces. The fourth and final Gem Charlotte quarter eagle is, of course, the Bass 1855-C.

Are there other Gem Charlotte quarter eagles known? It is possible that a few pieces might exist in shipwrecks, hoards or old collections but I would be surprised if many turn up in the coming years. It is more likely that one or two of the very nice MS64’s will “morph” into MS65’s.

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