This is one of my favorite "sleeper" dates in a series that, as of the end of 2011, offers as much value on a per coin basis as any group of gold coins in all of American numismatics. This bright, highly lustrous slider has the naked-eye look of an MS61 to MS62 piece but there is just the slightest touch of rub on the high spots. The surfaces are very clean and the eye appeal is very high for the date and grade. Only 1,300 business strikes were made and, unlike the low mintage Threes of the 1880's, this date was not hoarded by contemporary collectors and dealers. At around double the price of a common date issue like an 1854, 1874 or 1878, this is a remarkable value for the savvy collector.
As with most of the Reconstruction Era quarter eagles, the 1871 is a forgotten rarity that is typically seen in circulated grades. Only 5,350 were produced of which a few hundred are known. I believe that around 15 or so are known in Uncirculated (maybe less) and most are in the MS60 to MS62 range. This choice example has a fresh, vibrant appearance with great rose and orange-gold color. There are a few light scuffs in the fields and a faint reverse grease stain above and behind the head of the eagle. In the February Heritage Long Beach sale a comparable example (graded MS63 by NGC) brought $4,830. Coins like this seem like great value to me.