The 1796 No Stars quarter eagle shares a reputation with its later sibling, the 1808 quarter eagle, as among the most significant and rarest gold type coins of any denomination. Both are single-year types, with low mintages (an estimated 963 pieces for the 1796 No Stars, and 2,710 coins for the 1808).
The 1796 No Stars quarter eagles are now known to appear in two varieties, with the Normal Arrows (BD-2) and Extended Arrows (BD-1) reverses sharing a single obverse. Although the BD-1 pairing is considerably rarer in terms of numbers known, the incredible demand for the 1796 No Stars overall, as a first-year type, lessens the price differences between the two varieties. An appearance of either variant at auction is bound to be the occasion for intense bidding on the part of multiple collectors – a similar phenomenon to the 1796 Draped Bust quarter dollar, another one-year type known in two varieties.
The companion piece to the 1796 No Stars is the 1796 With Stars quarter eagle, which is also technically a one-year type with an even lower mintage (put at 432 coins, based on delivery warrants). Even though the 1796 With Stars is the only obverse in the series with 16 stars, it is an underrated variety due to its association with the other With Stars quarter eagles (showing 13 or 14 stars), which extend through the 1807 issue.
Two Gem examples of the 1796 No Stars and With Stars from the Heritage Auctions FUN 2008 Signature sale provide recent comparisons. The finest certified 1796 No Stars MS65 PCGS (Heritage, 1/2008), lot 3058, a coin pedigreed to the legendary collection of Lorin G. Parmelee, realized $1,725,000. The 1796 With Stars MS65 NGC, also the only certified Gem, brought $1,006,250 in the same auction. Clearly, the marketplace today values the 1796 No Stars highly, given the increased emphasis and popularity of type collecting.
The Heritage January 8-13 FUN Signature Auction of US Coins features a 1796 No Stars Obverse quarter eagle graded MS63 by NGC. This high-grade example has uniformly bright yellow-gold surfaces. The centers on each side show the usual softness, and the reverse displays light, diagonal die adjustment marks. Both obverse and reverse display the small, scattered abrasions one would expect from an MS63. The only marks that might be used for pedigree purposes is a curved abrasion in the upper-right obverse field, and a shallow scrape on the reverse between STATES and OF.