Stretch Dates: Liberty Head Quarter Eagles

Stretch Dates: Liberty Head Quarter Eagles

In October 2016 I wrote a blog entitled: “The Concept of the Stretch Date.” This blog was well-received and I thought it would be interesting to apply this concept to a few specific series. For my first attempt, I’ve chosen Liberty Head quarter eagles.

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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

Rare Liberty Head Quarter Eagles in the Heritage October 2011 Sale: An Analysis

In their recent October 2011 Pittsburgh auction, Heritage Auctions sold a comprehensive collection of Liberty Head quarter eagles. This collection contained many of the rarities in this series and I'd like to take this time to analyze the coins themselves and the results that they garnered. One of the rarest collectible Liberty Head quarter eagles is the 1841. It has now been decided with near-certainty that this issue, formerly believed to have been Proof-only, was struck in both Proof and business strike formats.

I am of the opinion that the 1841 quarter eagle is still an undervalued coin. There are fewer than 20 known, and it is clearly among the rarest individual dates in this series. If the Liberty Head quarter eagle series were to become more collected by date, I could see a nice example in the PR50 to PR60 range range having a base value of $250,000+, given what other less rare U.S. gold coins are currently selling for.

It was hard to determine if the 1841 in the Heritage sale (graded PR55 by NGC) was a business strike or a Proof, as it had been fairly harshly cleaned at one time and most of the original surface had been stripped away. I actually thought the coin might have been a Proof but would need to see the coin out of its holder to be more certain.

This coin sold for $132,250 including the buyer's premium. I thought that this was a reasonably strong price, considering that the coin was really not attractive. The last example to sell was Heritage 7/09: 1230, graded NGC PR58, which was considerably nicer.

There were some interesting Dahlonega quarter eagles in the sale. The most interesting was a really nice 1854-D graded MS63 by PCGS. It is the second finest known of around five or so in Uncirculated, and this is a date that is scarce in all grades with an original mintage of just 1,760.

This exact coin had appeared in Heritage's June 2004 Long Beach sale (as Lot 6200, in a PCGS MS62 holder) where it brought $34,500. It then appeared as Bowers and Merena 3/10: 3623, in a PCGS MS63 holder, where it sold for $63,250.

I was bidding on this coin in the Heritage sale for a client and before the sale began, I estimated that it would bring around $50,000-55,000. Shortly before the sale began, I realized that this range was too low and I raised my bid accordingly.

I wound-up being the underbidder on the coin, and it sold for a record-setting $86,250. The previous high for this date was $80,500, set by the Duke's Creek: 1511 coin (which I purchased), graded MS64 by NGC and the finest known.

The Heritage sale showed me that the market for very high quality Dahlonega quarter eagles is quite strong. But the market is also very discerning and more sophisticated than in the past. An 1844-D quarter eagle in NGC MS63 was impressive if you look at the numeric grade assigned the coin, but it was softly struck and over-graded in my opinion. It sold for just $18,400; a far cry from the $30,800 it had brought back in May 1998 when it sold raw in the Pittman auction.

I also thought that the nicer New Orleans quarter eagles in the sale did well. A sharply struck 1840-O graded MS62 by PCGS realized $17,250, a softly struck but fresh-looking 1846-O in an NGC MS64 holder was bid to $23,500 and a decent quality but not especially choice 1847-O in PCGS MS63 brought $14,950.

Another major rarity in the collection was a PCGS VF35 1854-S. This coin has the distinction of being the rarest regular issue Liberty Head quarter eagle with an estimated 12-15 survivors. Unlike other very rare issues, the 1854-S is nearly always seen in low grades with only one known in AU (an NGC AU53 that is ex Bass II; 472) and two or three in EF.

I spoke with a number of knowledgeable dealers about the 1854-S in the sale and the reaction was mixed. Nearly everyone agreed that the coin wasn't attractive, and that if it weren't a rarity like an 1854-S quarter eagle it might not have been graded by PCGS. But I think they are missing an important point: very rare coins have always been given certainly allowances by collectors and dealers alike, and in the world of 1854-S quarter eagles, this coin was better than most.

The coin in the October 2011 Heritage sale brought $253,000. This is almost exactly what I expected it to bring.

A damaged "no grade" 1854-S in the Stack's Bowers 2011 ANA sale had just brought $201,250, which meant that the coin in the Heritage sale was a shoo-in to sell for more than this. The best comparable result for an 1854-S was the Heritage 2009 ANA: 224 coin, graded VF35* by NGC, which was sold for $253,000.

If the Heritage 10/11: 4692 coin had been a nicer piece for the grade and still in a PCGS holder holder, I think it would have sold for over $300,000. Its scratched surfaces and lack of overall eye appeal held back the final price realized but, as I said, above this is such a rare coin that eye appeal is not as big a factor as on more common issues.

That said, the NGC EF45 Lee coin (ANR 9/05: 1128) that I purchased six years ago for $253,000 is now looking like a very, very good value.

One final rarity in the sale that I though was interesting was Lot 4716: an 1864 graded AU58 by NGC. For years, the 1864 was perhaps the single major "sleeper" issue in the Liberty Head quarter eagle series. Only 2,824 were made, and business strikes are extremely rare with fewer than three dozen known.

I didn't like the coin in the Heritage sale. In fact, I thought it was an Impaired Proof that had been misidentified as a rarer business strike. The coin brought $40,250 which I thought was a pretty lackluster result, given that Heritage had sold another NGC AU58 for $46,000 as Lot 5333 in their April 2011 auction.

Their were a few other things I noticed about the sale. The first was that the CAC coins typically brought significant premiums over the non-CAC coins. The coins that had CAC stickers were generally nicer than their non-CAC counterparts, and assuming that Heritage sent all the coins to CAC, it wasn't hard to figure which coins were the "best." There were exceptions to this. The aforementioned 1854-D, which should have been stickered as it was really a nice coin, did fantastically and some of the rarities mentioned above (1841 and 1854-S) did just fine without them.

But there some examples of coins in this collection whose value was greatly improved by the presence of a CAC sticker. I'll give you a few examples. Lot 4714 was an 1862-S graded AU58 by PCGS and approved by PCGS. This coin sold for $8,625. In their October 2010 sale, Heritage sold the same date in the same grade but without a CAC sticker for $6,900.

Another strong CAC-generated price was realized by Lot 4715, an 1863-S graded AU58 by NGC. It sold for $9,775. Compare this to the $6,900 that Heritage 12/10: 4325 brought (it was non-CAC stickered) and you'll see the value of the "green bean" to certain buyers.

My overall take on the sale was it did well but was not a "run-away." There were some coins that flew under the radar but very few bargains were to be had. The coins that appeared to sell for low prices weren't very nice. What I found surprising what that some of the coins that were nice but which were "hard sells" seemed to do just fine, even though there are not all that many end-users for them.

Some of My Favorite Obscure United States Gold Coins: Part One

One of the things about the Christmas/New Year's holidays is that they are a time of remembrance. If you are a coin dealer (and if you've been one for as long as I have...) this is a good time to sit around and get all nostalgic about interesting coins that you have seen or sold. I originally thought about writing an article that talked about the great U.S. gold coins that I have sold over the years. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a disingenuous puff piece and I think one of the reasons that people like to read my web articles is that they are not simply written to extol the virtues of Douglas Winter Numismatics. So, what I've decided to do instead is to modify the article but keep the basic theme. I'm going to discuss three interesting coins from each denomination that are, in my opinion, extremely important but not necessarily that well known. A few are coins that I've handled but most aren't. And none are currently for sale or are likely for sale anytime in the near future.

I. Gold Dollars

a) 1849-C Open Wreath Gold Dollar, Graded AU58 by PCGS

This coin is important to me for a number of reasons. I sold it back in 1999 via private treaty to another dealer who then sold it to a collector who resides in the South. It is still in this collection and it is still in the same old green label holder that it has been in since 1997.

The 1849-C Open Wreath is the rarest gold dollar and it is, by far, the rarest coin from the Charlotte mint. There are five examples known. One has been graded higher than this coin (an NGC MS63PL that was sold by David Lawrence Rare Coin Auctions in July 2004 as Lot 1005 in the Richmond I sale; it brought $690,000) but I personally like this piece more on account of its superb original color and unmolested surfaces.

This coin was part of the North Georgia collection that I sold in 1999 in conjunction with Hancock and Harwell. Jack Hancock was a good friend of mine and he died far too young. Jack and I did alot of business together and had a lot of non-coin related fun at shows and at his house in Georgia. The aforementioned 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar was the most expensive--and neatest--coin that the two of us ever handled together and whenever I think of this coin, I think of my buddy Jack.

b) 1863 PCGS MS68

I first saw this coin a number of years ago in David Akers' case at a show. Dave has owned it for a number of years and he likes to display it, from time to time. Its never really been for sale but its a coin that I find remarkable for a n umber of reasons.

The 1863 is one of the truly rare Philadelphia gold dollars. It has a much lower survival rate than the other Civil War issues and it is especially rare in Uncirculated. While a decent MS62 to MS64 trades from time to time (I sold a lovely NGC/CAC MS64 earlier in the year) Gems are extremely rare. But the Akers coin is just amazing. It is one of the finest business strike gold dollars of any date that I have seen with incredible luster and color and nearly perfect surfaces. The fact that it is really rare and really gorgeous makes it a very special coin.

c) 1875 PCGS MS65

This coin sold in the February 2010 Heritage sale as lot 1427. I had heard about it years ago but had never actually seen it. I wasn't disappointed. The coin is a total Gem with superb natural coloration atop gorgeous prooflike surfaces. It is housed in an older green label holder and would likely upgrade a point if it were resubmitted. The coin sold for $109,250 which I felt was extremely aggressive buy, as the old cliche goes, where are you going to find another one like this at any price?

The 1875 is a rarity in all grades with an original mintage of just 400 business strikes. When available, it tends to come in the AU range and I have never personally seen another Gem (and only a handful of nice Uncirculated coins).

This was another coin that, like the 1863 I mentioned above, neatly combined rarity, high grade and superb eye appeal in one neat package.

2) Quarter Eagles

a) 1842 PCGS MS62

The 1842 is among my favorite quarter eagles. It is a rare date in all grades. Only 2,823 were struck and most of the three to four dozen that exist are well worn. Which is why I think this coin, graded MS62 by PCGS and very choice for the grade by today's standards, is among the more interesting Liberty Head gold coins that I have ever handled.

I've actually owned this coin twice. I first bought it out of the Superior 9/99 auction where it brought $31,050. I sold it to a Nevada specialist who considered it one of the prizes of his quarter eagle collection. I purchased his entire collection from him in 2002 and then sold this coin to a Midwestern collector who has, without much fanfare, assembled the greatest set of quarter eagles ever assembled (and I'm proud to say that I've built essentially his whole set!)

I would love to have this coin in my case at a major show. I think it would be a great litmus test for dealers and collectors who fancy themselves experts on U.S. gold coins. If you are a true expert, you are going to swoon when you see a coin like this 1842; if you are a faux gold coin expert, you'll walk right on by and not even look twice.

b) 1842-C PCGS MS65

There are a small number of coins like this 1842-C quarter eagle: items that are not only spectacular from a condition standpoint but which are very rare as well. This 1842-C quarter eagle, which is best known to specialists as the Elrod coin (it was owned by the noted Charlotte gold expert Stanley Elrod from 1980 to around 1992) is not only the single best Charlotte quarter eagle of any date that I have seen. It is also the finest known 1842-C quarter eagle by a mile and it is one of just two or three examples of this date that exist in Uncirculated.

This coin last appeared for sale as Heritage 2/99: 6146 (as an NGC MS65; it was subsequently crossed into a PCGS MS65 holder) where it brought $90,850. I was the underbidder and this is one of the few expensive coins that I have ever bid on at auction with the total intention of buying it for myself and putting it away. Had I bought it I'm not sure I would have sold it yet and the current owner, a Southern connoisseur who does not specialize in branch mint gold, was smart enough to realize the significance of this coin.

c) 1864 NGC MS67

I have written about the Byrod Reed sale that was held by Spink's in October 1996. This is a sale that I'd love to be able to travel back in time to and spend about ten times more money than I actually did. Prices, at the time, seemed high but, in retrospect, they were dirt cheap. The most amazing thing about the coins in this sale where how fresh they were. You are talking about coins that had lain undisturbed since the 1870's or 1880's....ahhh, be still my heart.

There were numerous terrific coins in the Reed sale but the coin I remember most was the 1864 that was cataloged as "Gem Brilliant Uncirculated." It was by far the best example of this very rare date that I had ever seen (and there is still nothing even close). It later graded MS67 at NGC and sold for $132,000 in the auction.

I don't think this coin has traded in many years and I'm not certain where it is today. Whoever owns this coin has one of the really great Civil War rarities and it is a piece that I think might bring an extremely strong price if offered today.

3) Three Dollar Gold Pieces

a) 1854 PCGS MS68

You'll have to bear with me on this coin as I don't totally recall all the facts behind it. I do remember that the coin turned up at a small coin show in Dallas in the mid-1980's and I missed buying it by about five minutes, much to my chagrin. The coin was submitted to PCGS around 1987 and it graded MS67; back when MS67 meant , essentially, perfection.

Now here's where my memory is a bit murky. I think this coin was sold in the Superior January 1990 sale for $132,000 which, as you can guess, was an amazing price for a common date Three Dollar gold piece; still is, in fact. It was eventually sold to John Moores, the owner of the San Diego Padres, and it was in his incredible type collection that was sold by Sotheby's in November 1999 to raise money for Scripps Hospital. As with all the coins in this sale, it went very cheaply at $57,500. It finally resurfaced as Heritage 6/04: 6219, graded MS68 by PCGS, where it brought $112,215.

This is easily the finest business strike Three Dollar piece I've ever seen and it may be the best pre-Civil War gold coin I have seen as well. It has amazingly clean surfaces, glowing luster, a razor sharp and as much eye appeal as you could hope for. 1854 Threes come nice but, man, this coin is something special.

b) 1854-D PCGS MS62 This is not the most valuable Three Dollar gold piece (the 1870-S holds that honor) but it is clearly a coin that has very widespread appeal and would be considered desirable even by someone who owned no other examples of this denomination. This is a coin that is universally considered to be the finest known 1854-D and it resides in the incredible Great Lakes collection which is easily the finest set of business strike Three Dollar pieces ever assembled.

This coin last appeared for sale in the Superior January 1996 sale where it sold for a reasonable $72,600. It was later upgraded to MS62 by PCGS.

While it has been fifteen years since I've last seen this coin, I remember it well. It had superb color and surfaces and was well-made for the issue. At the time, it was the only 1854-D three that had ever been graded Uncircuclated by PCGS. Since then, PCGS has graded a few more in Uncirculated (as has NGC) but this is still the only example that I uncategorically regard as Mint State.

c) 1865 NGC MS67*

Its not so much the specific coin that I remember in this case; its more the collection and the thrill of the research that went with it.

This coin was one of the centerpieces of the wonderful Richard Jewell Collection of Three Dollar gold pieces. I assembled this collection with Rich from 2002 to 2004 and in the beginning of 2005, I was informed it was for sale. I decided to place it in the ANR March auction. As part of the agreement, it was decided that I would write a book about Threes with the Q. David Bowers.

Dave Bowers has been a hero of mine since I was a kid and the thought of working on a project with him was exciting, We had to race through the book due to time constraints but the day a finished Doug Winter/Dave Bowers book on Three Dollar gold pieces arrived at my office was one of the numismatic highlights of my career.

Part 2 of this article will cover half eagles, eagles and double eagles and it will be published on my website in around 30 days.

A Numismatically Significant 1859-D Quarter Eagle

I recently bought and sold a seemingly innocuous 1859-D quarter eagle that had a great degree of numismatic significance. Before I explain why, let me give you a little background on the specific coin and on this issue in general. This 1859-D quarter eagle has been graded as Fine-15 by PCGS. It is the single lowest graded example of this date seen by either service. In looking back through my records, I have seen very few that grade below Extremely Fine and certainly can't recall a non-damaged Fine example.

The example I sold is problem-free and actually quite attractive despite its extensive wear. It shows nice natural coloration and the obverse is a full Very Fine from the standpoint of detail.

This is the final quarter eagle produced at the Dahlonega mint. But, for all intents and purposes, the death knell for this denomination at the Dahlonega mint had been spelled as early as 1854 when mintages figures declined precipitously from the 1840's. In 1856, only 874 were struck; making this the lowest mintage figure of any coin ever produced at this branch mint. In 1857-D, the mintage increased to 2,364 but no quarter eagles were made in 1858. 1859 saw a resumption of the denomination but only to the tune of 2,244 coins. None were struck in 1860 and when the mint closed in 1861, no further plans had been made to coin quarter eagles.

The 1857-D and 1859-D are interesting issues among the quarter eagles from this mint. The grade distribution is different for these issues than for nearly all other coins from Dahlonega. The coins from the 1840's and early 1850's have what I regard as a typical distribution of survivors: most are in the VF-EF range with AU coins being scarce to rare and Uncirculated coins being very rare to extremely rare.

But in 1857 and 1859, the distribution curve looks different. These two dates are almost never seen in grades below EF and are most often seen in About Uncirculated. Both are rare in Uncirculated but not as much so as their very low mintage figures would suggest. There are as many as ten Uncirculated 1859-D quarter eagles known as well as another four or five dozen in About Uncirculated. This doesn't seem like a lot of coins but when you consider that there are only 150 or so known from the original mintage, the fact that nearly half grade AU or better suggests that this issue didn't circulate as freely as the quarter eagles from the 1840's.

I had long believed that the 1859-D was an issue that saw very little circulation. The existence of the coin shown above is proof that at least a few examples did circulate. I don't believe that this Fine-15 example was a pocket piece as it shows all the hallmarks of extensive natural circulation. Ironically, it is more rare in this grade than it is in Uncirculated and, to my way of thinking, this is one of the neater Dahlonega quarter eagles to have come up for sale this year: a highly circulated example of a date that was hitherto believed to have never seen extensive circulation. Considering that this coin cost its new owner well under $2,000 I think it is an amazing piece of Southern gold history.

Revisiting The 1841 Quarter Eagle

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about 1841 quarter eagles that basically stated that the currently-accepted belief that all of the known examples were Proofs was wrong. After recently being able to examine no less than four 1841 quarter eagles at one time, I am now totally convinced that this issue exists in two distinct formats. Numismatic tradition states that the 1841 quarter eagle was struck only as a Proof. This has never made sense to me. With as many as 15-17 pieces known, why would the Mint have made so many Proofs in 1841 when virtually none were struck in any other year between 1842 and 1853? And why would most of the survivors be in such low grades (EF40 to AU50) when most of the Proof gold coins from the 1840's that still exist tend to be in reasonably high grades?

This enigma has become a semi-obsession of David Hall's and when you are the head of Collector's Universe/PCGS you can get things done. David was able to wrangle four different examples of the 1841 quarter eagle including a PR60 illustrated below. A few weeks ago, one of his security detail flew the four coins up to my office in Portland and I am now more convinced than ever that 1841 quarter eagles exist in two formats.

1841 $2.50 PCGS PR60

First, a few words about the Proofs. One of the main reasons that you can determine that a Proof 1841 quarter eagle actually is a Proof is that is “looks like one.” These coins are not weakly struck, nor is there any question about whether they have squared edges or incomplete reflectiveness to the fields. These coins look just like other Proof gold coins from the 1840's. They may have some mint-made flaws such as pits in the planchet or lintmarks but their appearance is not much different than Proofs from the latter part of the 19th century either.

There appear to be just three or four Proofs known. The finest is a PCGS PR64 owned by a prominent Texas collector that is ex Heritage 6/04: 6204 where it brought $253,000; it was earlier in the Eliasberg sale and it sold for $82,500 in October 1982. The second Proof is owned by a customer of mine and it is graded PR60 by PCGS. I purchased it out of Bass II in October 1999 and paid $110,000 for it. A third Proof is in the Smithsonian. I have not seen the coin in person but it has been confirmed by Jeff Garrett whose opinion I respect. A possible fourth Proof is the ex Davis-Graves coin that was last sold as Superior 2/91: 2664 at $66,000. This coin might be the piece that appears in the PCGS population report as a PR62.

When I recently examined the Eliasberg and Bass Proofs, I made the following observations about them. I’m certain they apply to the other one or two Proofs as well.

*Proof 1841 quarter eagles have fully reflective fields that look like Proofs should. They are not "semi-prooflike" or "mostly prooflike." They are Proofs, no ifs and or buts.

*On Proof 1841 quarter eagles, there is sharpness of strike on the curls below the ear of Liberty. This sharpness does not appear on business strikes.

*The texture on the face of Liberty is different on Proofs. This may be attributable to the fact that the luster pattern on the cheek has not yet been worn off as it has on circulated business strikes.

*The curls on the back of the neck have a bold, almost three-dimensional look on Proofs. On business strikes they are not as sharp.

*On the Proofs the edges are sharp and fully squared. They are not as sharp and clearly not fully squared on business strikes.

I can quickly summarize why I think the lower grade 1841 "proofs" are not proofs at all and were clearly produced as business strikes (but using the same dies as the Proofs).

First of all, logic dictates that there are just too many 1841 quarter eagles known for all these coins to be Proofs. The number of coins that I feel are real Proofs (three or four) is consistent with the number known for other Proof quarter eagles from the 1840's. It just doesn’t make sense that the Mint would have made 30 or so Proofs in 1841 but five or so (if that) in every other year during the 1840's. Could they have been struck for a special occasion? It's possible but I have always doubted this reason and until documentation is found that states that they were made to commemorate an event or to give to VIP's, I am skeptical at best.

Secondly, many of the surviving 1841 quarter eagles are very low grade; in the Fine to Extremely Fine range. I have never seen or heard of another Proof quarter eagle from the 1840's that was this impaired.

Thirdly—and I believe most importantly—the business strikes, while Prooflike, just don’t "look" like Proofs. The marks on them don't fall in the same pattern that you see on Impaired Proofs; i.e., they look like circulated business strikes. As I stated above, they are not as well struck as the unquestionable Proofs and lack the squared rims and bold central details that are found on the true Proofs. They just don’t look or "feel" like Proofs.

In my opinion, David Hall and PCGS are to be credited for bringing this issue out into the opinion. It will be interesting to see if PCGS starts categorizing 1841 quarter eagles as Proofs and circulation strikes/business strikes and it will be interesting to see if the market starts according a premium to the Proofs as there should be, given their greater rarity.

America's Forgotten Rarities: The 1842 Quarter Eagle

In the second part of this series on coins that I believe are truly rare but not fully appreciated I am turning my focus on an issue that is very interesting to me: the 1842 quarter eagle. 1842 is, in general, an interesting year for quarter eagles. Four mints produced these coins: Philadelphia, New Orleans, Charlotte and Dahlonega. The mintage figures ranged from a low of 2,823 at Philadelphia to a high of 19,800 at New Orleans. With the exception of the 1842-O, all four are quite scarce in any grade and each is very rare in high grades.

Although it is not the most highly valued quarter eagle dated 1842 (that honor goes to the 1842-D), the 1842 is the rarest, both in terms of overall and high grade rarity. There are an estimated 35-45 known in all grades with most in the Very Fine to Extremely Fine range. I believe that there are six to eight in properly graded About Uncirculated and I think this date is unique in Uncirculated.

The most recent PCGS/NGC population figures show a combined total of fifty graded. This includes two in Uncirculated (more on these in a moment...) and eighteen in About Uncirculated. The population figures are, as usual, inflated, especially the AU coins listed by NGC.

This is generally a well made issue which shows good overall detail at the centers and borders. The luster tends to be semi-reflective but most 1842 quarter eagles are either worn to the point that they show no luster or they have been stripped and display little if any original surface. Most of the pieces I have seen have been abraded and at least a few are either damaged from having been scratched or show evidence of rim filing. The natural coloration is a bright yellow gold.

The finest known 1842 quarter eagle is a piece in a Midwestern collection that has been graded MS62 by PCGS. It first came to the market as Superior 9/99: 1863. I bought it for $31,050 and immediately sold it to a collector in Nevada. A few years later, when I handled the sale of his collection, I placed it privately with the Midwestern collection referenced above.

A few quick words about this PCGS MS62 1842 quarter eagle. I think this is one of the truly great Liberty Head quarter eagles of any date. No, its not a Gem. But it is so head and shoulders better than the next finest piece that it is an unbelievably important coin and certainly one of the less well-known but really significant pieces known from this era. Not to mention the fact that it is choice, original and very attractive as well.

There are two nice AU 1842 quarter eagles that come to mind. The first is ex Bass II: 340 where it was graded AU55 by PCGS and it sold for $13,800. I known that this coin subsequently upgraded to AU58 when it was sent to NGC; I am not aware what its current grade is. The other is ex Pittman II: 1736 where it was conservatively graded "XF" by David Akers. It sold for $12,100 and was later graded AU58 by NGC.

I believe that this date is extremely undervalued. The most recent Trends prices are $3,250 in EF40, $5,000 in EF45, $6,250 in AU50 and $10,000 in AU55. As befits a coin of this rarity in high grades, there is no published valuation over AU55.

A quick check of my records shows that I have handled a whopping three 1842 quarter eagles in the last five years with the most recent being a PCGS EF45 that I sold a few months ago to an advanced collector.

I doubt if this date will ever get the attention it deserves. Its a quarter eagle, its a Philadelphia issue and its too rare to ever promote. That said, the 1842 quarter eagle is a coin that I have great respect for.

1842 $2.50 PCGS EF40

The 1845-O Quarter Eagle

If I had to list my favorite United States gold coins, the 1845-O quarter eagle would be at the top of the list. This is an issue that I like for a variety of reasons. It’s rare, it’s enigmatic and it has an interesting numismatic background. After striking a comparatively large number of quarter eagles in 1843, the New Orleans mint did not produce any in 1844. None were actually struck in the calendar year of 1845 either; all 4,000 dated 1845-O quarter eagles are known to have been delivered on January 22, 1846. This meant that there was no official record of the 1845-O quarter eagle in the Mint Director’s Annual Report. As a result, this issue was all but unknown to numismatists until the beginning of the 20th century.

The first public record of the 1845-O was in the December 1894 issue of The Numismatist and in 1909, the famous uber-collector Virgil Brand purchased an 1845-O quarter from J.C. Mitchelson for the then-astounding price of $150 (this very coin is traceable today and it is the finest known; see the Condition Census listing below for more information).

Of the 4,000 struck, it is believed that just 65-75 are known. Most are very well worn and the typical 1845-O grades in the VF to EF range. Properly graded About Uncirculated pieces are very rare with fewer than a dozen known to me. I am aware of just three known in Uncirculated. These are as follows:

1. Private collection, ex: Doug Winter, Heritage 1999 ANA: 7836, Bowers and Merena 1987 ANA: 538, Bowers and Merena 10/83: 110, Virgil Brand collection, J.C. Mitchelson. Graded MS63 by PCGS and NGC. 2. Louisiana collection, ex: Doug Winter, Nevada collection, Bowers and Merena 11/90: 477, Paramount Auction ’87: 386, Bowers and Merena 6/86: 149. Graded MS61 by PCGS. 3. Kansas collection. Graded MS60 by NGC.

Most 1845-O quarter eagles show considerable wear and I know of a number that have rim damage or have been cleaned to the point that they would not grade at PCGS or NGC. This issue tends to come with a decent strike. The obverse is typically sharper than the reverse and even lower grade specimens have nicely defined radial lines at the centers of the stars. Nearly every example has a mint-made depression that runs from the area between the curls on the back of Liberty’s head towards the final star. It is the result of a foreign deposit adhering to the die when it was struck. This does not affect the grade of an 1845-O quarter eagle.

There are two other die characteristics seen on 1845-O quarter eagles that are of interest. A series of raised die scratches can be seen inside of the first star. There is also a diagonal bar on the face of Liberty; this can be seen only on higher grade examples. A few 1845-O’s also have a reverse depression from the O in OF down to the back of the eagle’s neck.

As one might expect, it is exceptionally hard to find an 1845-O that has original color and surfaces. The natural color is a deep coppery-orange hue and this can be very attractive. I know of an example in a North Carolina collection (ex: Eliasberg) that has superb original color and this is among the more pleasing examples that I have seen. The finest known is clearly the Brand coin. It is very choice for the grade and has claims to the MS64 level. It would set a record price if it became available in the near future.

This is an issue that has become very popular in recent years. I think it is exceedingly undervalued in VF and EF grades. The current Trends value for an EF45 is just $3,500 and in my opinion, an accurately graded EF45 example is worth more than this. Prices for nice AU coins have risen considerably in recent years but I still think a nice AU55 or AU58 is a good value at the new, higher levels. It is hard to ascribe a value to this date in Uncirculated given its extreme rarity and high level of demand.