A Record-Breaking Dahlonega Quarter Eagle

Lost in the post-sale chatter about the 1794 dollar was a record-breaking Dahlonega coin which became the highest-priced single quarter eagle from this mint ever sold at public auction. Stack’s Bowers was able to do something which no one else has ever done before: elicit a six-figure bid for an 1839-D quarter eagle.

1839-D $2.50 PCGS MS64 CAC, photo courtesy of Stacks Bowers

The coin in question is an 1839-D quarter eagle graded MS64 by PCGS and approved by CAC. It was consigned by the owner of the Stellar collection and it was previously Lot 859 in Stack’s October 1994 sale of the famous James Stack collection where it brought $55,000. Nearly two decades later, it was offered as Lot 13291 in the Rarities Night session of the Stack’s Bowers January 2013 auction where it brought a sizzling $105,750.

The previous auction record for a Dahlonega quarter eagle of any date was $86,250, set by the Goldberg 2/12: 1209 coin; an 1855-D graded MS63 and approved by CAC, which I purchased and later blogged about.

I hadn’t seen this 1839-D in many years, and when I had a chance to view it again in person at the 2013 FUN show, I was suitably impressed. It was coin which had aged well; the color was as wonderful as I had remembered from before and it was very high end for the date and grade. But did I expect it to shatter the record for all Dahlonega quarter eagles? To be honest with you, I didn’t and now, a few days later, I finally understand why this coin was a record-setter.

Before I give some thought as to why it broke a record, I think a little background information about the 1839-D in particular and the D mint quarter eagle series in general is in order.

Of the 20 quarter eagles made at the Dahlonega mint between 1839 and 1859, the 1839-D is only the 13th rarest in terms of the number known in high grades. There are a few hundred known in total from an original mintage figure of 13,674 and as many as 8-11 exist in Uncirculated. I do not consider this to be an especially rare issue but I consider it to be very popular and very fundamentally desirable; two points that I will touch on in more detail in a minute.

Looked at as a series, the Dahlonega quarter eagles are the rarest of the three primary denominations struck at this mint. While there are a few common issues, virtually all Dahlonega quarter eagles are hard to find in AU55 and higher grades and very choice Uncirculated pieces, regardless of date, are very rare. The Dahlonega quarter eagle series doesn’t appear to be “hot” to me and I haven’t seen a flood of new collectors in this market but I have noted a strong level of demand for all very high end Dahlonega coins, regardless of date or denomination, in recent months. Noting this, I’m not surprised that the James Stack/Stellar 1839-D did well.

I don’t know who bought this coin but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the new owner was a type collector as opposed to a Dahlonega specialist. The 1839-D is a unique issue among Dahlonega quarter eagles in one regard and this is what gives it a far more broad level of appeal than a rarer issue like an 1855-D.

The 1839-D quarter eagle is a first year of issue coin AND it is a one-year type. It is the only quarter eagle from this mint that employs the short-lived Classic Head design and, as a result, it is the only quarter eagle from this mint with the mintmark placed on the obverse. It is one of the few Dahlonega quarters eagles (maybe the only one, in fact) that a collector who wasn’t a specialist would buy and in this regard, it is similar to issues like the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles.

There are some other interesting facts about this coin which were not discussed in the Stack’s Bowers description. It is regarded as the single finest known 1839-D quarter eagle (despite being tied with one other as the finest graded by PCGS) and it has been graded MS64 since it was first slabbed back in the mid-1990’s unlike so many other high grade Dahlonega quarter eagles which have “gradeflated” over the years. In looking back at my notes from the 1994 Stack sale which the coin first appeared in, I called it a “Gem” back then and I still think it deserves serious consideration today at the MS64+ to MS65 level. There is certainly the possibility it was bought by a dealer who will break it out, send it to NGC and hope for an MS65 grade; if there was ever an 1839-D that deserved consideration at this level, it is the James Stack/Stellar coin.

The new owner of this coin has added a very special 1839-D quarter eagle to his collection The purist in me can think of other Dahlonega quarter eagles which are more “valuable” but I totally understand why this coin is the current record holder. Branch mint collecting has changed dramatically in the last few years and “dates” aren’t always as important as “types.” The 1839-D is a coin which “checks all the boxes” for the new breed of Dahlonega collector and, ultimately, its record breaking sale at the January 2013 Stack’s sale is a great shot-in-the-arm for the Dahlonega market.

Coins That I Never See With Good Eye Appeal Part Two: Quarter Eagles

In the first installment of this multi-part feature, I discussed some of the gold dollar issues that are rarely seen with good overall eye appeal. In this, the second part, I am going to look at quarter eagles that do not generally come with good eye appeal. Note that I said "good eye appeal." This doesn't mean that I'm focusing on the rarest dates in the series. Obviously, issues like the 1841 and the 1854-S are very rare in all grades and rarer still with good eye appeal. But that's not my emphasis here. Rather, I am interested in coins that while scarce or even rare based on their overall availability, are especially rare with choice, original surfaces.

As a rule, most pre-Classic Head quarter eagles are scarce to rare in all grades and harder still to find with good eye appeal. One issue that comes to mind as a coin that is just about never seen with good eye appeal is the 1796 With Stars. As you would suppose from a coin with just 432 struck, it is a rarity in all grades. But what most people do not realize is that nearly all survivors are either unoriginal and unappealing or they show multiple planchet imperfections as on many other of the gold issues produced during this year.

The last nice 1796 With Stars to be offered for sale was Stack's-Bowers 2011 ANA: 7593, graded MS63* by NGC, that sold for $287,500. It was earlier sold as Lot 1791 in the Stack's 5/99 auction and was part of the fabulous specialized collection of 1796 coinage assembled by John Whitney Walter. But the best 1796 With Stars of them all is the incredible Gem (NGC MS65) from the Byron Reed collection that was later sold for $1,006,250 in the Heritage 1/08 auction.

Other early date quarter eagles that I believe are very hard to find with good eye appeal include the 1797 and both varieties of 1806 (1806/4 and 1806/5).

The Classic Head quarter eagle that is hardest to find with good eye appeal is a date that will surprise you: the 1839. While not a really rare coin in terms of its overall number known, this issue is rare in properly graded About Uncirculated and very rare in Uncirculated. I have only seen three or four that I would call Uncirculated and none finer than MS62. The single best 1839 quarter eagle that I have seen was Bass II: 309, graded MS62 by PCGS, that sold for a reasonable $10,925.

In the long-lived Liberty Head quarter eagle series, there are numerous individual dates that are hard to find with good eye appeal. To make it a bit easier to analyze them, I'm going to break down the series into a mint-by-mint list.

There are many Philadelphia quarter eagles of this type that are hard to find with good eye appeal. The one that comes to mind as perhaps the most difficult is the 1842. With a mintage of just 2,823, you would expect this coin to have a strong degree of overall rarity. But it is far rarer in higher grades than most collectors realize. I can't recall having seen more than four or five in any grade that I thought were above-average quality and the finest of these, by a mile, is the Superior 9/99: 1863 coin, graded MS62 by PCGS, that I purchased out of this sale for $31,050. A few years later I handled this coin again and sold it to a Midwestern collector who still has it in his world-class set of quarter eagles.

Other dates from this mint that are very hard to find with good eye appeal include the 1844, 1848, 1864, 1865, 1869 and 1870.

There are a few Charlotte quarter eagles that stand out as being especially hard to locate with good eye appeal. In my experience, the ones that are the hardest to locate are due to being poorly made. These include the 1842-C (a date that is actually not poorly made but is, rather, generally seen well worn), 1844-C, 1846-C, 1852-C and 1856-C.

The 1842-C is one of my favorite Charlotte quarter eagles. It is reasonably well made but its lack of eye appeal tends to be as a result of the fact that it was an issue that was used extensively and not saved. There are two or three known in Uncirculated (the finest is the amazing Elrod MS65 coin that was last sold by Heritage in the 2/99 sale) and a small number in properly graded AU55 to AU58.

The other dates on this list are rare with good eye appeal because they were not well made. As an example, the 1856-C is nearly always seen on poor quality planchets and with grainy, unappealing surfaces. The 1846-C is another date in which is invariably the case although there are a few more decent-looking examples around than for the 1856-C.

Eye appeal is not as much of a problem with the quarter eagles from New Orleans is it is with the other branch mints. That said, there are still a few issues that are hard to locate with good appeal. One that comes to mind is the 1856-O.

This is a peculiar date. It is not rare from an absolute standpoint as there are as many as 200-300 known. For some reason, this issue is extremely hard to find with original color and surfaces and even a nice AU55 to AU58 is very hard to find. In Uncirculated, this date is extremely rare. There are at most four to five known and none are better than MS62. It has been years since an Uncirculated example has been available.

Other New Orleans quarter eagles that are hard to find with good eye appeal include the 1842-O, 1845-O and 1846-O.

There are a number of Dahlonega quarter eagles that are hard to find with good eye appeal. I would have to say, though, that one date is notorious for lacking eye appeal. In fact, this date is so rare with "eye appeal" that I'm not certain that a good-looking example exists. This date is the infamous 1865-D.

Only 874 examples were produced, making the 1856-D the only issue of any denomination from this mint with a mintage lower than 1,000. Due to improper preparation of this dies (and possibly the planchets as well) every known example of this date has an appearance that could be called--charitably--"odd." The strike is weak and blurry and the surfaces are often rough and full of raised defects. This makes the 1856-D an extremely hard issue to grade and a hard one for the non-specialist to appreciate.

Other Dahlonega quarter eagles that are very hard to locate with good eye appeal include the 1840-D, 1842-D, 1854-D, 1855-D and 1859-D.

The final mint that produced quarter eagles was San Francisco. The issues from this facility tend to be well made but there are a few that, for various reasons, are hard to locate with good eye appeal.

In my experience, the San Francisco quarter eagles that are hardest to locate with good eye appeal are the Civil War issues, especially the 1862-S and the 1863-S. There are a few plausible reasons for this. To begin with, they are low mintage coins. As with all gold coins of this era, they were melted in large quantities. And because of the fact that no quarter eagles were struck in San Francisco during 1864, the 1862-S and 1863-S seem to have circulated a little harder and a little longer than other dates of this era. Both of these dates are seldom found above AU55 and even when seen in comparatively high grades, the tend to exhibit bright, abraded surfaces. Choice, original pieces are rare.

Some of the other San Francisco quarter eagles that are not often seen with good eye appeal include the 1859-S, 1860-S and 1866-S.

There are dozens of date in the quarter eagle denomination that are hard to locate with good eye appeal. Not all of these are expensive and a few, the 1839 as an example, can be found in presentable grades for around $1,500.

For more information on quarter eagles with or without good eye appeal, please feel free to contact Doug Winter via email at dwn@ont.com.

Classic Head Gold: An Update

I frequently write about the state of the market as it pertains to early gold and Liberty Head issues but I haven’t commented on Classic Head gold in quite a while. So how is the market for Classic Head quarter eagles and half eagles and what do I expect the coming months to look like for these coins? To answer these questions, we need to turn the clock back a few years. Classic Head gold was dormant for what seemed like an eternity. Everyone thought these coins had “potential” but there was never much demand for Classic Heads and they snoozed away in their own little niche-like corner of the market.

This began to change around 2004-2005. A dealer in the Southeast had been quietly building a large position of coins (primarily in the EF-AU grade range) and he carefully began to raise his buy prices. Within a year or two, he had accumulated an impressive number of coins and, on paper, the value of the position had increased.

I never really understood what he did next. Instead of slowly marketing these coins, one day they showed up in another dealer’s inventory (apparently on a consignment) and for many months, the secondary dealer toted hundreds and hundreds of Classic Head gold coins to every major show. It was hard to get excited about this deal when it seemed like every Classic Head gold coin that had ever been slabbed was for sale. At once.

So now you had coins that doubled in price and were readily available. Would the market be able to sustain the new levels? The answer was “no, not really” but in some isolated cases yes.

Had the market for Classic Heads been properly developed, there would have been collectors lined-up for all the EF and AU common dates that were available. As I’ve written before, I think this series is begging for a collecting guidebook. Most dates have a number of very interesting varieties, the sets are completable by collectors on a relatively limited budget, the designs are great and the number of pieces that make up a set are not overwhelming (as with Liberty Head issues).

At the height of the Classic Head market run-up, it wasn’t unusual to see a common date quarter eagle in AU55 trade for $1,750 or so. Today, these same coins have dropped down to $1,250. That’s still a relatively strong level considering that these were $750-1,000 in the earlier part of the decade. How have the common dates in higher grades done? The current market for a common Classic Head quarter eagle in MS63 is around $7,000-8,000. These had been as high as $9,000-10,000 but only if the coin in question was exceedingly nice for the grade. Considering that common dates MS63’s had been around $4,000-5,000 for many years at the earlier part of the decade, I think they’ve held their value reasonably well.

The part of the Classic Head market that has always been the most interesting for me has been the branch mint issues: namely the 1838-C and 1839-C quarter eagles, the 1839-O quarter eagle and the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles. Unlike the Philadelphia Classic Head issues these five dates have the added demand level caused by branch mint specialists, first-year-of-issue collectors and individuals who just like “neat” coins.

Values for the 1838-C and 1839-C quarter eagles jumped to what I believe were unsustainable levels. This is especially so for the 1839-C. There were suddenly oodles of AU55 and AU58 examples available for sale in the $10,000-20,000 range but the demand for such coins couldn’t keep up with the prices. I think you’ll see levels for these two dates in AU continue to drop but they will remain strong in the “collector grades” (i.e., VF and EF).

The two Classic Head issues that continue to exhibit very strong demand in all grades are the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles. In the last thirty days, I owned three (!) 1838-C half eagles graded between EF40 and AU50 and, remarkably, every one of them sold within a week of being listed on my website. If I were able to purchase three nice 1838-D half eagles I believe the results would be the same. These are coins where the demand exceeds the supply and I won’t hesitate to continue to buy nice examples whenever they become available.

What are my expectations of the Classic Head market in the coming months? I think you’ll see some continued drops in prices for common date coins graded AU55 to MS63 with the exception of pieces that have nice original color and choice surfaces. I wouldn’t be surprised if the schlocky, processed shiny examples drop another 10-20%.

At new, lower levels I think choice, original common date Classic Head quarter eagles and half eagles are a good value. If you can buy a nice AU55 1834 quarter eagle in the $1,250-1,450 range that seems like a good deal to me. Same goes with a nice AU55 1834 half eagle at, say, $1,500 or so. As I mentioned above, I still love the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles and I think both of these issues have real upside at current levels.

I think the “secret” dates in the quarter eagle and half eagle series are probably worth exploring right now. I like the 1837 quarter eagle and have always thought that nice 1839 quarter eagles were highly undervalued. In the half eagle series, I think that the 1837 is a good value.

One final thing before I end this article. I’m not going to be the person who does this, but I’d sure like to see someone properly promote the Classic Head series the next time around. By this I don’t mean manipulate prices and demand, but help take a slightly chaotic market and make sense of it. Write a good book, get collectors interested in these coins and gently “push” the market in the right direction by actively buying and selling. That would be a beautiful thing...

Heritage's Charleston Collection Sale

In my last blog I wrote about the Husky sale conducted by Stack’s and how a number of early quarter eagles gave a good representation as to the strength in that market. Another recent auction, this one conducted by Heritage, contained an impressive set of Classic Head quarter eagles. This grouping, I feel, serves as a good look at the current state of the high-end market for this short-lived but increasingly popular type. The collection that was sold by Heritage was called the Charleston Collection. It was not complete (it lacked an 1838-C) and it was a little inconsistent as to grade (the common 1836 was only an MS61 and the 1839-C was an AU58 that could have easily been improved while the collector was actively buying). Nevertheless, there were some impressive coins in this group.

In higher grades (i.e. MS63 and above) the 1835 is rare and very underrated. The Charleston coin was graded MS64 by PCGS. I wasn’t totally wild about the quality but it was in an old green label holder and it is one of just two graded MS64 by PCGS with none better. The last PCGS example to sell at public auction was Superior 5/06: 996 which brought $18,975. Given the fact that the Classic Head quarter eagle seems much stronger today than it was in 2006, I expected this coin to bring around $22,500. It sold for $19,550. Had it been a better quality for the grade, I think it would have brought more.

Perhaps the most interesting Classic Head quarter eagle in the sale was an 1837 in PCGS MS64. This was a very attractive coin for the grade and a condition rarity to boot with a PCGS population of three in this grade and only one better (NGC hasn’t graded a single example higher than MS63).

This exact coin had been sold twice by Heritage within the last few years. In the 2004 ANA auction it brought $18,975 and in the January 2007 sale it realized $26,450. Given these prior records and the interest that I felt certain this coin would generate, I was expecting a very strong price; perhaps as high as $35,000-40,000. The final price realized was an exceptional $48,875; a record price for a business strike of this date. Interestingly, the finest known 1837 (the amazing PCGS MS65 Bass II: 305 coin) had only brought $37,950 back in 1999.

Another interesting Classic Head quarter eagle in the sale was an 1839 graded MS61 by PCGS. This date is a major “sleeper” in high grades and it is actually rarer in Uncirculated than such heralded branch mint issues as the 1838-C and the 1839-D. The Charleston: 1806 coin was attractive for the grade with the eye appeal of an MS62/63 but with some old wipe lines on the surfaces. The last PCGS MS61 example to sell at auction had been the B&M 6/03: 1510 coin that went very cheaply at $6,038. Given the fact that the population of the 1839 in PCGS MS61 is just two (and only one coin, an MS62, is higher) I expected that this coin would bring at least $10,000 and probably a touch more.

The 1839 quarter eagle wound-up selling for $12,650 which is a record price for a business strike of this date but which, in the big picture, is pretty cheap for a Classic Head quarter eagle that is as rare as this. The finest known remains Bass II: 309 (graded MS62 by PCGS) that sold for a very reasonable $10,925 back in 1999.

Another Classic Head quarter eagle of interest in this sale was an 1839-D graded MS62 by PCGS. This is an exceptionally popular coin given its status as the first year of issue from the Dahlonega mint and the fact that it is a one-year type. I did not care for the Charleston: 1808 coin as I thought it had funky color and a dull, lackluster appearance. Nevertheless, I anticipated that this coin would see some strong bidding. The final price realized was $34,500.

In January 2008, Heritage had offered another 1839-D quarter in MS62; this one graded by NGC. I didn’t care much for this coin either but it brought $34,500. Clearly, this is now the standard for this coin in this grade as the Charleston coin brought the exact same amount.

Lot 1809 in the Heritage sale was an 1839-O graded MS64 by NGC. This coin is tied for the highest graded with four others at NGC and four at PCGS. This was an attractive coin with good luster and color and it had been sold by Heritage as Lot 406 in their April 2006 auction for $34,500.

Given the new strength in the market for high quality New Orleans gold (as well as the interest in choice Classic Head issues) I expected that this coin would sell for at least $35,000-40,000. It brought $40,250 which is a record auction price for this date.

So what did I learn from this sale in regards to the Classic Head quarter eagle market? As I expected, the high end of the market is very strong. I thought the price realized by the 1837 in PCGS MS64 was pretty remarkable and I thought the mintmarked coins described above were strong to very strong. My guess is that we will continue to see strong prices in this series for a while although I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see some softening for the more common dates in higher grades as the levels for these have really shot up.

Attack of the 1839-C Quarter Eagles!

At the Heritage 2008 FUN sale it was the Attack of the 1839-C Quarter Eagles as there were no less than a dozen (!) examples of this popular Classic Head issue available for sale. How did these coins do and what nuggets o’ information can be gleaned from the auction results? The 1839-C quarter eagles in question ranged in grade from a low of PCGS VF30 to a high of NGC MS61 and included ten coins in NGC holders, one in a PCGS holder and one orphan in an ANACS net AU50 holder that had been cleaned.

Two interesting things can be determined right away from the statement made in the paragraph above. The first is that 1839-C quarter eagles are pretty difficult to define as “rare” if eleven examples appear in one sale (although if you read the rest of this blog I contend that a certain type of 1839-C quarter eagle is, in fact, quite rare...) and that secondly, NGC seems to have the market cornered on this date. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about this (cue raised brow...)

One last thing before we analyze. If I were a consignor I’m not sure I’d be thrilled that my 1839-C had to share the spotlight with eleven of its cousins. But, to Heritage’s everlasting credit, these giant auctions continually prove to me that there are enough people looking at the coins that quality typically trumps quantity.

An interesting place to begin is with Lots 3809 and 3810. The former was in an old green label holder and was called VF30 by PCGS (I graded it AU50 or thereabouts but noted in my catalog that it had been cleaned at one time) while the latter was in an NGC 45 holder and was, in my opinion, pretty marginal for the grade. The PCGS VF30 coin sold for $4887.50 while the NGC EF45 brought $4,600. This result wasn’t really a surprise but it doesn’t point out that when someone analyzes the Heritage auction archives they should assume that the 1839-C quarter eagle that they own in VF30 is worth $4,887.50.

The next pair to compare are the two examples graded AU53 by NGC, Lots 3812 and 3813. The result of these coins was interesting to say the least. The former sold for $20,700 while the latter brought $5,750. How is it possible for two coins graded the same by NGC to bring such a gigantic difference? The coin that sold for $20,700 was gorgeous. It was in an old “fatty holder,” had lovely original color and I thought it was a very solid AU58. As nice as the coin was, I was pretty surprised it sold for essentially MS60 to MS61 money. The other AU53 in the sale? It wasn’t very nice and the fact that it had to compete against the Lovely Lot 3812 couldn’t have helped.

No less than four NGC AU58’s were in the sale and every one of them brought $12,650. With Trends at $18,000, this seems a little bit cheap, no? Well actually I think the numbers were pretty right on when you consider that all four of the coins were not exactly high end for the grade. I was a bit surprised that Lot 3085 sold for the same as Lot 3082-3084. Lot 3085 was what I call on “OOG” coin. This acronym stands for “original overgraded.” Which means that although I didn’t think the coin passed the Winter Test as an AU58, it did at least have natural color and a decent overall appearance for the issue. Had this been the only 1839-C in AU58 in the sale perhaps it might have brought an extra 5-10%.

Neither the MS60 or MS61 examples in the auction sold. I didn’t think either one was very nice and both were reserved too high; never a great combination.

Remember earlier in this blog when I mentioned that despite there being twelve examples in the sale, a certain type of 1839-C quarter eagle was still rare? I think the fact that only one of these twelve coins had original coloration and was high end for the issue says something important. Most 1839-C quarter eagles have been cleaned or processed at one time and the one-in-twelve ratio for originality seems accurate in my experience.

So what did I learn about this issue as the result of The Attack of the 1839-C Quarter Eagles? Well, for one I learned that NGC AU58 examples are worth $12,650. I also learned that nice, original coins still bring great prices even when “lost” in huge sales and when competing against multiples examples of the same date. And I learned that if I had a nice 1839-C quarter eagle in an old holder, I would resist temptation and sell it “as is.”

Classic Head Gold Coinage, 1834-1838 Part One

For the first quarter of the 19th century, production of gold coinage was sporadic. Quarter eagles were produced intermittently and in very small numbers during this era. Half eagles saw the bulk of production but they were primarily storehouses of value and traveled from bank to bank. The eagle denomination was discontinued in 1804 and would not be resurrected until 1838. Many of the reasons for this lack of gold coin production were economically related. After the War of 1812, the economy of the United States was in shambles. Things became so bad by 1815 that, for the first and only year in the history of the U.S. mint, production of the Cent was suspended. In addition, the price of gold was very low in relation to silver and demand for high denomination gold coinage was non-existent.

A number of events converged to change this scenario. The Industrial Revolution, which overtook Western Europe during the early 1820's, was quickly transported to America, where it, too, revolutionized the economy and means of production. The discovery of large amounts of gold in Western North Carolina and North Georgia in the late 1820's and the early 1830's made gold more plentiful and made its price rise on the open market. By the middle part of the 1830's, there was clearly a need for circulating gold coins in the United States.

Chief Engraver William Kneass was ordered to produce a new design for the quarter eagle and half eagle. His design, known to collectors as the Classic Head, was to last until 1839 when it was replaced by the more familiar Liberty Head design of Christian Gobrecht.

Classic Head gold coinage represents an interesting transition between the old and the new types of United States gold coinage. These were the first United States gold coins to be produced in large quantities using technological breakthroughs such as the steam press and they were the first gold coins to be struck at the new branch mints which were authorized in 1835 and opened in 1838.

Despite the inherent collectability of these coins, they tend to be overshadowed by their earlier and later counterparts. It is my opinion that the Classic Head gold coins offer the collector an excellent value and a very fertile area in which to specialize.

A number of very interesting varieties exist for many of these dates. These are not currently popular with collectors but the affordability of most Classic Head issues (especially those produced at the Philadelphia mint) make them a good candidate to develop a strong die variety collector following in the future.

Classic Head Quarter Eagles

1834: More quarter eagles were struck in this year (112,234) using the Classic Head design than in the previous twenty years combined. The 1834 is, along with the 1836, the most common issue of this denomination and it is plentiful in all circulated grades. In Uncirculated, it is relatively available in the Mint State-60 to Mint State-63 range and is even available, from time to time, in Mint State-64. Gems are very scarce but are seen more often than any other Classic Head quarter eagle. The strike is usually sharp except for the hair curl around the ear of Liberty and on the corresponding reverse. The surfaces are often semi-prooflike or even fully prooflike and the natural color is often a very pleasing deep green-gold hue. Many show mint-made planchet problems. A small number of Proofs exist including the Pittman II: 1718 coin that realized $176,000 in May 1998.

A number of varieties exist. The most important are the Small Head (identifiable by the curl below star seven being somewhat distant and the curls at the back of the head being in a straight line) and the Large Head (identifiable by the curl below star seven being close, a much larger 4 in the date than on the Small Head and uneven curls at the back of Liberty's head).

1835: Despite a mintage similar to the 1834, this is a much scarcer date. It is typically seen in Very Fine to About Uncirculated grades. When available in Uncirculated, specimens tend to grade Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 and coins grading Mint State-63 and above are rare. I have only seen one or two real gems. The strike is not as sharp as on the 1834 with most showing considerable weakness at the central obverse. The luster ranges from frosty to semi-prooflike and the natural color is most often a medium to deep green-gold. The only Proof to be sold in recent memory was the Pittman II: 1719 coin that realized $176,000 in May 1998.

There are three minor die varieties with one obverse and three reverses employed.

1836: An incredible 547,986 quarter eagles were produced in 1836; a mintage figure that would not be exceeded in the quarter eagle denomination until 1851. This date is comparable to the 1834 in terms of its overall rarity and is also readily available in the lower Uncirculated grades. It is considerably scarcer than the 1834 in Mint State-63 and Mint State-64 and it is extremely rare in Gem condition. The strike is better than on the 1834-35 issues although most show weakness at the central obverse. The luster is typically a blend between satiny frost and prooflike reflectiveness while the coloration ranges from medium orange-gold to green-gold. A Proof was sold as Lot 1720 in the Pittman II sale and it brought $110,000.

A number of interesting varieties exist. This includes two distinct styles of 8 in the date: the Script or "Fancy" 8 and the Block 8. In addition, varieties exist with the Head of 1834 (the second curl on the top of Liberty's head lies directly the seventh star), the Head of 1835 (the second curl lies below the far left side of the seventh star) and the Head of 1837 (the second curl lies below the far right side of the seventh star). There are currently eight die varieties known and this is a very fertile issue for the die variety collector.

1837: The mintage figure for quarter eagles dropped to 45,080 in 1837. This issue is far more rare than the 1834-1836 and is exceeded in rarity only by the 1839 among the Philadelphia Classic Head quarter eagles. The 1837 is usually seen in Very Fine to extremely Fine grades and it is scarce in About Uncirculated. It is rare in any Uncirculated grade and very rare above Mint State-62. The only gem I have ever seen was the Bass II: 305 coin which was graded MS-65 by PCGS and which sold for $37,950 in 1999. This date is always found weak at the centers but usually has nice satiny luster and medium to deep green-gold color. In my opinion, it is a substantially undervalued issue.

There are a total of three die varieties but, unlike the 1836, none are significant.

1838: The 1838 has a mintage figure that is similar to the 1837 (47,030 were produced) but it is much more readily available. It is typically seen in slightly higher grades than the 1837 and locating a piece in any circulated grade is not hard. In high grades, the 1838 is moderately scarce in Mint State-60 to Mint State-62, rare in Mint State-63 and very rare above this. A few really superb pieces exist with the finest of these the incredible PCGS MS-67 that sold for $69,000 in the Bass II auction conducted by Bowers and Merena in October 1999. The 1838 is usually better struck than other Classic Head issues and has nice frosty luster, medium to deep orange-gold color and a very distinctive thick border on the obverse.

Only one die variety is known.

1838-C: This is the first branch mint quarter eagle and, obviously, the first Charlotte quarter eagle. Only 7,880 were struck and around 100-125 exist. Circulated examples tend to be well worn with most in the Very Fine to Extremely Fine range. While fairly hard to locate in the middle About Uncirculated grades, choice AU and Uncirculated 1838-C quarter eagles are actually a bit more easily located than generally believed; this is probably due to a small number being saved as souvenirs. There are as many as ten-twelve known in Uncirculated with the nicest of these being the North Georgia collection/Melish coin that sold for $40,250 in the 1999 FUN sale conducted by Heritage. Most show weak strikes at the centers, heavily abraded surfaces and low quality satiny luster. The original coloration tends to be a deep coppery-gold or green-gold.

Only one die variety is known. There are a number of Die States in which varying cracks are seen on the reverse.

1839: While almost never viewed as an important issue, the 1839 is actually the single scarcest Classic Head quarter eagle. I have personally owned more Uncirculated examples of the 1838-C, 1839-C and 1839-O than I have of this supposedly common date. The 1839 is most often seen in Extremely Fine and lower end About Uncirculated grades. It is very scarce in the higher AU grades and it is very rare in Uncirculated with fewer than ten known. The best I've personally seen are a pair of MS-62's including the Bass II: 309 coin that sold for $10,925. This is generally a well struck date that shows numerous surface abrasions and inferior luster. The natural coloration seen most often is light to medium greenish-yellow gold.

The 1839 is often described as an overdate but, in my opinion, it is a repunched date. There is only a single die variety known.

1839-C: The 1839-C is a much more available issue than the 1838-C. There are as many as 200-250 known and it is not hard to locate an example in Very Fine to Extremely Fine. There are more known in About Uncirculated than generally realized but many of these are enthusiastically graded. Uncirculated 1839-C quarter eagles are extremely rare and I have seen fewer than I have of the 1838-C. The finest known is the Miller/Bareford/Boyd coin, currently in an NGC MS-63 holder, that was last offered as Lot 6137 in Heritage's February 1999 sale. Most 1839-C quarter eagles are better struck than the 1838-C but tend to show weakness at the centers. The luster is usually not especially good and the natural color ranges from orange-gold to a medium green-gold hue.

There are three varieties known. An 1839-C recut date exists as does an 1839/8-C overdate. The overdate is found with two reverse varieties (one uses the reverse of 1838-C while the other is a reverse seen only on 1839-C quarter eagles).

1839-D: The 1839-D is the first quarter eagle produced at the Dahlonega mint and the only issue that has the Classic Head design. It is, in addition, the only quarter eagle from this mint with the mintmark on the obverse. It is quite comparable to the 1839-C in terms of its overall rarity and, like its Charlotte counterpart, it can be located in the lower to middle About Uncirculated grades without a great deal of effort. In Uncirculated it is more comparable in rarity to the 1838-C and less rare than the 1839-C but far rarer than the 1839-O. Some examples are very softly struck at the centers although a few exist that are reasonably well detailed. The surfaces are often abraded and the luster is better than average with a frosty texture most often seen. The natural color is a medium to deep orange-gold. The best piece I have ever seen is the James Stack coin, sold by Stack's in October 1994 for $55,000. It is now in a PCGS MS-64 holder.

1839-O: The 1839-O is the first gold coin produced at the New Orleans mint, the only quarter eagle that employs the Classic Head design and the only New Orleans gold coin with the mintmark on the obverse. These factors combine to make it extremely popular. More survive than the original mintage figure of 17,781 suggests and this is actually not a hard coin to locate in any grade up to and including About Uncirculated-58. There are a few dozen Uncirculated pieces known including a number in the Mint State-63 to Mint State-64 range. I have seen three or four accurately graded MS-64's and one that I consider a Gem by today's standards. Some show a good strike while others are weak at the centers; the luster is typically frosty and the natural coloration is often a pleasing orange-gold or deep green-gold hue. Many have been cleaned or dipped and original, problem-free pieces are desirable.

There are two varieties known. The more common has a high date with the 3 lower than the 89 and a widely spaced fraction; the scarcer has a lower date with the 839 more closely in line and a closely spaced fraction. These varieties are significant enough that I believe they will be collected side-by-side some day.

NOTE: Part Two will feature an analysis of Classic Head half eagles and will appear next month.