It took about 100 years for the 1841 quarter eagle to be widely recognized as one of the most intriguing and enigmatic of all U.S. gold coins. Mint records show no 1841 P-mint quarter eagles were produced in any format (Proof or circulation strikes). Yet, “The Little Princess” does indeed exist, and this issue ranks among the rarest of all U.S. coins.
The traditional explanation why no official mintage is reported is that all 1841 quarter eagles are Proofs. Early Proofs were not reported by the Mint. The fact that all 1841 quarter eagles are struck from Proof-only dies supports this theory. All quarter eagles from 1840 to 1848 feature a common Proof reverse die, with the final vertical shield line extending upward through all the horizontal lines to the shield border.
PCGS announced in March 2012 that it would certify both Proofs and circulation strikes, based on the “most likely scenario” that a small number of circulation strikes and an even smaller number of Proofs were struck from the same Proof dies. The announcement explained:
“This is a monumental decision on our part, and we have taken two years to reach the decision. The really interesting thing about the whole process is that this is not a unanimous point of view in the numismatic community. There are world-class U.S. coin experts on both sides of this issue. Some of the smartest numismatic minds of all time feel very strongly that circulation strike 1841 Philadelphia Mint Quarter Eagles were indeed minted. But there are also some of the best coin minds of all-time who believe only Proofs were struck.”
While PCGS recognizes both Proof and circulation strikes, NGC certifies all 1841 quarter eagles as Proofs. “The Little Princess” remains definitively rare in any format. Heritage Auctions has confirmed just 16 examples, including one coin that was reported stolen many years ago and has not been seen since. Three others reside in institutional collections, unavailable for public or private sale.
Famously, Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. needed an 1841 quarter eagle as the final issue to complete his set. Despite owning the unique 1870-S three dollar gold piece and one of two known 1822 half eagles — plus innumerable gold coins of great rarity — a suitable 1841 $2.50 gold piece eluded him until March 1948 and served as a fitting capstone to the collection. There can be no greater testament to the issue’s rarity and demand.
The present Richmond Collection coin remains in its previous-generation PR50 NGC holder. It displays light circulation wear, with considerable mirroring readily seen among the devices, glittering brightly when the coin is viewed at an angle. Although there are light field abrasions and a few scattered, minute marks, the surfaces radiate pleasing orange-gold color with pale-olive accents. 1841 quarter eagles emerge only when well-heeled collections come to auction.
We expect high-spirited competition when “The Little Princess” takes center stage at our July Signature Auction.