Only four examples of the 1837 Classic Head Proof quarter eagle are known to numismatists today. One of those coins is located in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and a second example is in impaired condition. Heritage Auctions is privileged to present the finest known example of this landmark early proof rarity as a part of our August 14-18 ANA World’s Fair of Money Signature Auction.
The only gold denominations coined in 1837 were the quarter eagle and half eagle (coinage of eagles was suspended after 1804 and did not resume until 1838). Both denominations featured the Classic Head design. Business-strike mintages were about average for both denominations, as 45,080 quarter eagles and 207,121 half eagles were coined. Proof mintages were not recorded, but they were undoubtedly small (only four Proof quarter eagles and a single Proof half eagle have been identified in recent times).
Normally, proof coins of this era were struck to order, to meet the requirements of an influential collector or government official. Whenever Proofs were requested, Mint personnel would select and polish the required number of planchets, polish a pair of working dies, and strike the coins on the medal press to improve striking quality. The same dies were often used to mint both Proof and business-strike coinage.
For some years, Proofs are known from different die pairs, i.e., there are three different die varieties of proof 1836 quarter eagles.
The four Proof 1837 quarter eagles we know about today were all struck from the same die pair (JD-1), but die evidence suggests they were struck at different times during the year, for different purposes. The JD-1 obverse has the date centered between the bust and dentils, with the 7 centered below the left edge of the lowest curl. All examples seen have a prominent die crack through star 8 and the bust, in different stages of development. Star 6 points to the top half of the headband and light recutting shows on stars 8 and 9 and TY in LIBERTY. The reverse has only two pale gules in the shield and the eagle has a tongue. Curiously, these dies were never used to strike regular-issue coinage, making the JD-1 a Proof-only issue. We know the coins were struck at different times because the coin in the National Numismatic Collection displays a different die rotation (about 17 degrees counter-clockwise) from the others. Also, the impaired specimen is from a later die state than the others, with two bisecting die cracks through the obverse.
The coin offered here has one of the longest and most distinguished pedigrees of any U.S. federal issue. It has been a highlight of some of the most famous and important numismatic collections ever formed, and its history can be traced back to the 1850s.
This delightful Plus-graded Premium Gem, as certified by PCGS, exhibits sharply detailed peripheral design elements, but a touch of the always seen softness shows on IB in LIBERTY and the eagle’s leg and shield border. Some central softness is seen on all known specimens of this issue, probably due to the extensive die cracks that disrupted the metal flow. The devices of this piece are richly frosted and the fields are deeply mirrored, creating an intense Deep Cameo effect. The well-preserved yellow-gold surfaces show only insignificant signs of contact, including a thin, nearly invisible, hairline below the T in UNITED and a tiny spot under the eagle’s left (facing) wing. A few minor planchet flakes are evident on close inspection. A dramatic die break is seen from the rim, through star 8 and the bust, to the serif of the 7 in the date (Dannreuther Die State b/a). Overall eye appeal is simply stunning.
This coin is the finest known example of this early Proof rarity by a full three grading points and its exceptional quality and eye appeal are attested by the Plus designation and CAC approval. It boasts an illustrious pedigree to some of the most important collections of all time. This piece has not been off the market for 16 years and it may be many years before another example becomes available. The discerning collector will bid accordingly.