By James McCartney – Senior Numismatist, Stack’s Bowers ……
The Coinage Act of April 2, 1792 authorized the production of three gold denominations at the newly established United States Mint, including the $10 eagle, the $5 half eagle, and the $2.50 quarter eagle.
While the half eagle and eagle were first struck in 1795, it would be 1796 before the first quarter eagles rolled off the presses. The half eagle turned out to be the most popular of the three denominations for general commerce, while the eagle was useful for large overseas transactions with Europe.
The quarter eagle, however, did not prove especially useful.
The first 1796 quarter eagles minted featured an obverse without stars – an unusual choice considering that both the half eagle and the eagle had stars as part of their obverse designs. Later in the year, however, stars were added to the obverse design and further quarter eagles were struck. For the entire 1796-dated quarter eagle issue, three die pairs using two obverses and three reverses were employed.
Only one set of dies — the BD-3 die marriage — was required to produce the entire run of 432 Stars on Obverse quarter eagles. And as with most early U.S. Mint gold issues, a large number of 1796 quarter eagles ended up in the bullion speculator’s crucible during the 1820s and ’30s, leaving only a small quantity for numismatists.
The 1796 Stars on Obverse quarter eagle is much rarer than the No Stars variety as a whole. While the No Stars BD-1 pairing is exceptionally rare, perhaps only a third as many BD-3 pieces as BD-2 No Stars coins are extant. At most, 40 to 50 examples of the Stars on Obverse variety are thought to survive, with slightly more than a dozen at the Mint State level.
We are thrilled to offer an incredible MS-62 (NGC) example in our August 2020 Auction that ranks among the finest known. The vivid medium gold surfaces of this piece reveal faint olive undertones and iridescent rose highlights. Overall, the striking detail is bold to sharp, with the impression just a tad soft along the left obverse border and at isolated high points on the reverse. Semi-reflective in the fields with a satiny texture otherwise, this is a lovely coin that would serve as a highlight in the finest gold cabinet.
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This Mint State 1796 With Stars quarter eagle is a major highlight of our August sale, accompanying rarities from the Sherwood Collection of Civil War Tokens, the ESM Collection of Large Cents, selections from the Anthony J. Taraszka Collection of Early Eagles, selections from the D. Brent Pogue Collection and many other rarities. The sale is will be available for bidding and viewing on our website www.StacksBowers.com, or you may contact us to secure a copy of the printed catalog. Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our auctions via your Android or Apple device.