Unlike their gold dollar and half eagle counterparts, high grade Dahlonega quarter eagles are very rare. This denomination is extremely hard to find in Uncirculated grades and there are a number of dates, especially the rarities, that are virtually non-existent. That's why a recent purchase of mine so excites me. Here's some information about the coin and my take on why it lays claim as the single most significant quarter eagle of any date from this mint. (Please note that this coin is not currently for sale and that this isn't an ad masquerading as a blog in order for me to sell this piece)
There are essentially six rarities within the Dahlonega quarter eagle series: 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D, 1854-D, 1855-D and 1856-D. Each of these dates has fewer than 100 known in all grades and most of them are High R-7 to R-8 in Uncirculated (meaning that around one to three properly graded Mint State pieces are known).
The two rarest Dahlonega quarter eagles from the standpoint of high grade rarity are the 1855-D and the 1856-D. These have the two lowest mintage figures for any quarter eagle from this mint. The total numbers struck are 1,123 for the 1855-D and 874 for the 1856-D, respectively.
Both of these dates are major rarities in Uncirculated. Before the recent discovery of the 1855-D in PCGS MS63 (more on this in a second), the 1855-D was more or less unknown in Uncirculated. I say "more or less" because while a few examples had been graded in the MS60 to MS61 at PCGS and NGC, none of these were coins that I think had unanimous approval as being truly Uncirculated. The same holds true for the 1856-D.
The story behind this newly discovered 1855-D is interesting. It was part of a collection of coins, with an emphasis on Charlotte and Dahlonega gold, put together by William and Beuelaress ("No, I can't pronounce this either...") Hemel from Orlando, Florida.
I know nothing about the Hemels from the standpoint of collecting. They flew well under the radar and from the look of their recently-sold collection, they appeared to be hole-fillers who primarily bought cheaper, more affordable C+D coins including many cleaned or damaged pieces. But they had a few great coins in their collection and the 1855-D quarter eagle was clearly the best piece that they owned.
From the scant pedigree information that the Goldberg sale contained, it seemed that the Hemels were most active with their coin buying in the 1970's. They bought a few coins out of auction but a quick perusal of Stack's and Paramount sales from this era shows no 1855-D quarter eagles that fit the description of the coin in the Hemel sale. We'll probably never know where this coin came from but perhaps it was from a local dealer that the Hemels had contact with or maybe even an accumulation of coins from a Southern family that had put the 1855-D away a century before.
I have handled virtually every higher grade 1855-D quarter eagle that is known and I have never seen a truly nice one. The strike of this issue is irregular, to say the least, and a significant number of the coins that I have seen in higher grades have planchet irregularities and/or have been processed in an attempt to hide these surface problems.
The coin in the Goldberg sale was truly special. It was extremely well made with a great quality planchet and it had, by far, the best luster that I have ever seen on this date. In fact, now that I think of it, I'm not sure that I've ever seen an 1855-D with enough luster remaining to really know for certain what the "right" texture for this issue actually is. The look of the coin was really exceptional as well with lovely natural yellow-gold color. It was clearly an original piece and, as I said above, this is unusual for a date that is nearly always found with "improved" surfaces.
When I was figuring what to pay for this coin, I thought that the best comparable was the 1854-D quarter eagle graded MS63 by PCGS that Heritage sold as Lot 4690 in their October 2011 sale. That coin brought $86,250. But, and this is a huge but, that coin had something "interesting" lurking in its past. The very same piece, as recently as 2004, had been graded MS62 by PCGS and had brought just $34,500 in the Heritage June Long Beach sale of that year. So, in my opinion, the 1855-D in the Goldberg sale was clearly a "better" coin.
I wound up purchasing the 1855-D for $86,250; a record price for the date but, I think, a very good value.
After the sale, I starting thinking: what are the greatest single Dahlonega quarter eagles? If I made a Top Ten list, which coins which I include on it? And after I made this list, where would the 1855-D place?
In chronological order, here is my Top Ten list of D Mint quarter eagles along with some comments:
1. 1839-D PCGS MS64, ex James Stack. Finest Known Classic Head D Mint.
2. 1840-D NGC MS62, ex Duke's Creek/Bareford. Unique in Mint State.
3. 1841-D PCGS MS63, ex Green Pond. Finest known of four in Mint State.
4. 1842-D NGC MS62, ex Duke's Creek/Norweb. Finest known of 2 or 3 in Uncirculated.
5. 1847-D NGC MS65, ex Duke's Creek. One of two known D Mint quarter eagles in Gem.
6. 1850-D NGC MS65, ex Duke's Creek/Eliasberg. The other Gem D mint quarter eagle.
7. 1854-D NGC MS64, ex Duke's Creek. Finest known.
8. 1854-D PCGS MS63, ex Heritage 10/11: 4690. Record price at auction for any D mint quarter eagle.
9. 1855-D PCGS MS63, ex Goldberg 1/12: 1209. Tied for record price and finest known of the date.
10. 1856-D NGC MS61, ex Duke's Creek. Finest known of the rarest D mint quarter eagle.
After thinking about the coins on this list, I think a few can be eliminated for being "common coins in uncommon grades" while others can be knocked off for "only" grading MS61 or MS62. I think the best candidates for the Best D Mint Quarter Eagle of All Time are the 1839-D in MS64 and the 1855-D in MS63. The 1855-D wins my vote for the better of the two given the relative availability of the 1839-D in MS60 to MS62 grades.
For more information on this 1855-D quarter eagle or on any other Dahlonega gold coinage, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.