In my opinion, the 1826 is one of the rarest and most underrated early quarter eagles. Most every “fact” that is traditionally associated with this issue is incorrect. I recently purchased a lovely PCGS AU55 example (see the photo below) from the Bowers and Merena Baltimore auction acting as an agent for a collector who is attempting to put together a high quality date set of early quarter eagles. It had been quite a while since I had owned a nice 1826 quarter eagle and this inspired me to gather some facts about this issue.
For many years, the 1826 quarter eagle has been called an “1826/5” overdate. This is clearly wrong and there is a very easy way to prove this. The 1825 obverse die employs large stars while the stars on the 1826 are far smaller. In addition, there is no evidence of an overdate when the date is examined with light magnification. I believe there is either some minor recutting or a small die defect. This issue should more properly be called an 1826/6.
The mintage figure has long been reported to be just 760 coins. Given the fact that around thirty or so exist, I feel that this figure is incorrect. It is probable that some of the quarter eagles struck in early 1827 were dated 1826. The actual mintage figure is more likely in the area of 1,250-1,500; possibly as many as 1,750.
One thing that is certain about this date is its rarity. It is the third rarest early quarter struck after 1797, trailing only the extremely rare 1804 13 Stars and the 1834 No Motto. As I stated above, there are an estimated thirty pieces known. Most are in the lower AU grades, indicating that this issue did not see much actual circulation. I am aware of two or three Uncirculated pieces and none of these, with the possible exception of one coin, appears to be finer than MS61.
The finest known 1826 quarter eagle is in the Harry Bass core collection at the American Numismatic Association. It has an incredible pedigree (Garrett 2: 746, ex Appleton, Mickley) and it sold for $75,000 back in 1980 which remains an auction record for this issue. I estimate this coin’s grade to be at least in the MS61 to MS62 range. The second highest price that I am aware of is $69,000 for a PCGS AU58 sold by Stack’s in their November 2008 auction.
I have personally handled one Uncirculated example, a PCGS MS61 that I sold to a specialized early gold collector around three or four years ago. In all, PCGS has graded fifteen 1826 quarter eagles including three in Uncirculated (an MS60 and two in MS61). NGC has only graded seven in all including six in AU58. It is very likely that this includes a number of resubmissions.
To put the rarity of this issue in better perspective, the 1826 quarter eagle is a considerably scarcer coin than the 1796 No Stars or the 1808. It is clearly not a more valuable coin as both the 1796 and the 1808 are distinctive one-year types that are very desirable as such. The 1826 is clearly the rarest of the five Capped Bust Large Size quarter eagles produced between 1821 and 1827. But, the type collector is likely to select one of the more available dates (like the 1825) which means that the 1826 will probably remain undervalued for the foreseeable future.