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Coin Profiles: Proof 1836 Quarter Eagle With 1834 Small Head

All proof U.S. gold coins from the 1830s are very rare, and only six specimens of the 1836 Classic Head quarter eagle are known in proof format. No record was kept of proof mintages in this era, as the coins were only struck at the behest of some influential party, like Secretary of State John Forsyth, who ordered the famous 1834 proof sets that included the 1804 dollar.

The six known 1836 quarter eagle proofs represent three different die varieties, with two coins from each variety. They were presumably produced on three different occasions, to serve three different purposes, but we have no direct information about the strikings. It is certainly possible that more coins were struck from each of these dies, or even from die pairs that have not been identified yet. Whatever the original totals were, they must have been extremely small.

The different die varieties have been noted by catalogers whenever the 1836 appeared at auction in recent years, but it was only in the 2007 catalog of the Loewinger Collection that the six coins were correctly listed by their respective varieties. Previous descriptions failed to identify the coins correctly, and, at the time of the Loewinger sale, the variety of the present coin had not been officially recognized. This coin and its companion piece were simply called “Unlisted variety” in the Loewinger catalog, but Heritage numismatist Mark Borckardt has adopted the term “Small Head of 1834” to identify this variety, which he lists as Variety-9.

Below are the distinguishing characteristics of this die pair are listed in the Loewinger lot description in Heritage’s Permanent Auction Archives

Unlisted Obverse Die, Script 8, Reverse of Variety G (AM widely spaced). R.8, two known. Misattributed by NGC as Head of 1835, this coin is an unlisted variety in the standard references: Breen, McCloskey, Bass, Garrett-Guth. The coin is the same variety as lot 1720 in the sale of the John Jay Pittman Collection conducted by David Akers (5/98), later offered by Bowers and Merena Galleries as part of the Cabinet of Lucien M. LaRiviere, Part III (5/01). The coin went unsold in the Bowers and Merena auction. The Pittman-LaRiviere coin is pictured on the www.coinfacts.com website (Collector’s Universe, Inc.) for the 1836 quarter eagle under Item 1. The site notes that “This coin offered a completely new obverse die that had never been seen on any 1836 Quarter Eagle!” Specimens of the 1836 quarter eagle are traditionally (and perhaps unfortunately) called Head of 1834, Head of 1835, and Head of 1837. And yet, this coin’s obverse is none of those three heads.

This example is a second specimen of this rare and unlisted variety, but it is not the same coin as the Pittman example, the apparent discovery coin. The present coin, graded PR66 Ultra Cameo by NGC, is clearly finer than the PR64 Pittman coin. The present example has a Script (or Fancy) 8, and yet it is not the Head of 1835. All Script 8 examples listed in the standard references (Varieties D, G, and H) bear the Head of 1835. The Script 8 is identified by a thick juncture of the top and bottom loops of the 8, and those loops appear to be flattened ovals, or ovals lying on their sides. None of the listed obverse dies is an exact match for this coin. While the obverse bears a passing similarity to the Head of 1834, there are many obvious differences as well:

–Even a casual glance will confirm that the bust is taller and narrower than on the Head of 1834, and the profile from the forecurl to the tip of the nose is nearly straight. On the Head of 1834, the profile shows a slight indentation at the bridge of the nose.
–Star 6 is far from the hair curl–not nearby as on the Head of 1835–but it points to the middle front of the headband, unlike the Head of 1834 where it points to the juncture of the lower headband with the curls below.
–Star 7 is more or less centered over the second hair curl above the head, but it points toward the rear of the second curl, while on the Head of 1834 star 7 points toward the front of the second curl.
–Star 8 on the present coin points directly downward to the deepest part of the “valley” between hair curls 3 and 4 above the coronet, while on the Head of 1834 star 8 points toward the rear of the third curl. This and the following are probably the most immediately obvious markers.
–The first (leftmost) hair curl above the coronet has two waves, while on the Head of 1834 it has a single wave.
–Two hair ribbons are seen behind the head, yet they are shorter than on the Head of 1834, most notably on the upper ribbon.
–There is no earlobe visible on the present coin, while the Head of 1834 has a prominent earlobe.
–The bottom hair curls and the truncation of the bust are both shaped differently.

The 6 in the date is malformed, with a shelflike top to the loop of the 6 and showing a sharp angle rather than a gentle curve. The 3 in the date has the top ball joined to the center point, and the bottom ball is nearly joined. In addition, clear doubling shows on many of the letters of LIBERTY, most visibly on the right side of the Y.

The reverse shows a berry in the olive branch, and the A and M in AMERICA are widely separated. The middle arrowhead ends beneath the left side of the C in AMERICA. These diagnostics are consistent with the reverse found on the Variety G specimens (which is usually found paired with the normal Head of 1835).

The offering of any Classic Head proof gold coin is a rarity in itself, and the 1836 quarter eagles are even more illustrious and popular, due to the numerous (and expanding) number of varieties. Apparently only six proof specimens are known, including two each of this unlisted variety, the Head of 1835, and the Head of 1837. No proofs are known of the Head of 1834. The Smithsonian Institution example has been described in past literature as a Head of 1835, including most recently in the Garrett-Guth Gold Encyclopedia. However, the coin that Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth depict in their reference (noted as the Smithsonian specimen) is clearly an example of the Head of 1837 obverse style, and the same die variety as the Harry Bass specimen. Thus we have the following revised Census information:

–Unlisted variety. PR64 Cameo NGC. John Jay Pittman-LaRiviere collections.
–Unlisted variety. PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC. The example offered here.
–Head of 1835. Brian Hendelson 1836 proof set.
–Head of 1835. Stack’s 55th Anniversary Sale.
–Head of 1837. PR66 Deep Cameo. Smithsonian Institution.
–Head of 1837. PR65 Cameo PCGS. Harry Bass Collection.

The current specimen, in addition to being the finest known of this rare and unlisted variety, is tied with the Smithsonian Head of 1837 PR66 Deep Cameo as the finest known of the issue. NGC and PCGS together have graded nine pieces, a figure that surely includes some overlap and duplication (9/06).

This extreme rarity shows the softness of highpoint detail seen on all true proofs from this year. The fields displays unfathomable depth of mirrored reflectivity, and the heavily frosted devices combine to give the coin a stark cameo contrast. The obverse of this specimen has markedly bulged fields with heavier die sinking around the date, and presents a highly unusual appearance. Bright yellow-gold color, a couple of small planchet flakes in the right obverse field are noted, and will serve as future pedigree identifiers. This coin is a delight both to behold and to catalog, as it serves as a reminder that numismatics never fails to offer new frontiers to explore, and new discoveries to be made.
Ex: 68th Anniversary Sale (Stack’s, 10/03), lot 2072.
From The Dr. Robert J. Loewinger Collection. (#97712)

Heritage’s CSNS Signature Auction, scheduled for April 18-22 in Schaumburg, IL, will feature an attractive Choice specimen of this rare proof issue, with deeply mirrored yellow-gold surfaces that show profound Cameo contrast with the frosty devices. The dies used to strike this coin were lapped, as seen by the lack of detail on the lower reverse, where the berry stem has been completely effaced. Some softness is noted on the central devices, a characteristic even more pronounced on the other example of this variety. Only minor signs of contact are evident and the eye appeal of this piece is truly extraordinary. Past owners of this coin include famous numismatists like F.C.C. Boyd and John Jay Pittman.
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Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auctionshttps://www.ha.com/
Heritage Auction Galleries is one of the world's largest collectibles auctioneers. Besides offering rare and valuable U.S. and world coins and currency, Heritage offers ancient coins, exonumia, antiques, comic books, sports memorabilia, and many other collectibles. The firm is based in Dallas, Texas.

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