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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Quarters of 1876, including a fabulous one in the news!

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #141 …..

Although 1876 quarters are not rare, all Liberty Seated Quarters are at least somewhat scarce and a fabulous 1876 quarter really grabbed my attention. It was in the Stack’s-Bowers Rarities night event of Nov. 15th. It is likely to be the finest known 1876 quarter. While I later discuss this coin in detail, a main purpose here is to discuss 1876 quarters in general. These are appealing and popular. Moreover, 1876 quarters in most grades are not particularly expensive. Almost every collector of 19th century coins can afford an 1876 quarter.

This fabulous 1876 is PCGS graded ‘MS-67+’, which is the highest grade that experts at the PCGS have awarded to an 1876 quarter. Furthermore, its grade has been approved by the CAC. John Albanese is the president of the CAC. His insights regarding this coin’s nature are incorporated later in this discussion. I refer to 1876 quarters in a wide range of grades before focusing on this one supergrade coin.

Why am I focusing on 1876 quarters, even though these are not close to being rare and are not key dates? As surprising as this may be to devoted collectors of Liberty Seated Quarters, most buyers of Liberty Seated Quarters do not aim to complete (or nearly complete) a set of all dates of Liberty Seated Quarters from 1838 to 1891. After all, such a set-building task is best suited for enthusiasts who wish to allocate a great deal of time to it. Furthermore, some people collect only rarities. Others tend towards one Mint location, such as San Francisco, or one time period, such as post-1865 coins. Still other buyers just collect the Liberty Seated Quarters that they find to be attractive or otherwise neat. Of course, many people collect Liberty Seated Quarters ‘by type.’

A type set of Liberty Seated Quarters requires just six coins as there are six design types: 1) No Drapery (1838-40); 2) ‘No Motto’ on the reverse (1840-53, 1856-65); 3) ‘Arrows & Rays’ (1853 only); 4) Arrows on obverse, ‘No Motto’ on reverse (1854-55); 5) ‘With Motto’ – ‘In God We Trust’ on the reverse, (1866-73, 1875-91); and 6) Arrows on obverse, Motto on reverse (1873-74). The obverse is the front of the coin (head) and the reverse is the back (tail). From 1853 to 1855 and, again, in 1873 and 1874, arrows were placed at the sides of the numerals of the ‘date’ (year).

An 1876 quarter is of the ‘With Motto’ design type of Liberty Seated Quarters. It is also significant that it is a coin issued during the year of the centennial, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the nation. ‘The Declaration of Independence’ of the United States from Great Britain was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, the same city where this 1876 quarter was minted.

In last week’s article on some Liberty Seated Dimes, I discuss collecting by design type and the concept of a ‘date’ in regard to coins. (Clickable links are in blue.) The present discussion concerns just 1876 quarters.

I. Scarcity of Business Strikes

The PCGS CoinFacts site puts forth a “survival estimate” of six thousand, business strike 1876 quarters, in all grades. In my view, this estimate is too high. I suggest that there are fewer than 3600, many of which are not gradable due to corrosion and/or very harmful cleanings.

While no one would argue that 1876 quarters are very rare, these are scarce. In the past, many collectors of choice (63 and higher grade) and/or gem quality (65 and higher grade) Liberty Seated Quarters ‘by date’ did not think much about 1876 business strikes because most such collectors each obtained a Proof 1876 quarter, as Proofs of this date are not too difficult to locate.

Before the late 1970s, collectors typically mixed Proofs and business strikes in the same sets. A Proof of the same or similar grade was then considered to be superior to a business strike of the same respective date. Since the early 1980s, a new policy of collecting Proofs and business strikes separately has become accepted, though I hold that the tradition of mixing them in the same sets is better.

In any event, I very tentatively suggest that 325 Proof 1876 quarters currently exist. Regarding business strikes, the PCGS and and the NGC have probably certified more than four hundred DIFFERENT 1876 quarters as grading higher than MS-60. Data published by the PCGS and the NGC includes multiple counts of some of the same coins. There are probably around ninety different 1876 quarters that meet PCGS or NGC standards, more or less, for MS-65 or higher grades.

Apparently, the CAC has already approved nineteen of these ninety. The CAC was founded in Oct. 2007. The PCGS was founded in 1986 and the NGC in 1987.

While a small number of collectors will ever own a gem quality 1876 quarter, thousands own circulated 1876 quarters. Indeed, there are probably more than three thousand circulated 1876 quarters in existence. Most of these grade less than Very Fine-20.

II. Circulated 1876 quarters

Circulated 1876 quarters have never been particularly difficult to locate. An 1876 in Good-04 grade could be purchased for less than $20 and maybe a Very Good-08 grade piece could be bought for less than $25.

A long-established, retail dealer in circulated U.S. coins recently offered an 1876 quarter that he grades as “Fair-02” for “$12.50.” He also offered an “AG-03” grade 1876 quarter for “$16.25.”

Over the summer, a different dealer, who has advertised widely for years, was asking “$35” for an 1876 quarter that he grades “VG” and “$40” for one that he grades as Fine. My belief, though, is that Fine-12 to -15 grade 1876 quarters sell, at small or medium size coin shows, for prices in the range of $25 to $35.

It is not unusual for widely known mail order dealers to price their coins at higher levels than similar coins may sell for at small coin shows. It is also true that many coins offered by relatively unknown dealers at coin shows are mis-represented. Please see my article on advice for beginning and intermediate level collectors and my piece on assembling sets of silver quarters.

A clearly gradable Very Fine-20 1876 may retail for a price somewhere in the range of $35 to $55. In May 2011, Heritage sold a not gradable 1876 that is (or was) in an NGC holder that indicates it has the details of a Very Fine grade coin and has suffered “environmental damage.” Although I have never seen this coin, the pictures on www.ha.com suggest that it is probably a half-decent coin. The $23 price seems like a good deal.

In Dec. 2010, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded Extremely Fine-40 1876 for $104, a strong price, certainly in the retail range. I repeat, though, that many 1876 quarters are not gradable. Finding one that is deservedly, PCGS or NGC graded EF-40 may not be easy.

While the PCGS has graded seventeen as EF-40 and twenty as EF-45, this total of thirty-seven includes multiple submissions of some of the same coins. In regard to circulated, non-rare Liberty Seated coins, many collectors and even some dealers remove them from their holders because they prefer coins that are not encapsulated. (I recommend buying coins that are PCGS or NGC certified and keeping them in their respective holders.) So, over the last twenty-five years, some of the exact same circulated, Liberty Seated coin may be ‘cracked out’ by two or three different collectors and then re-submitted by different dealers before being offered for sale again.

A PCGS graded AU-50 1876 would probably sell at auction, if soon offered, for an amount between $125 and $145. The retail price range for one so certified may fall between $140 and $165, depending upon the characteristics of the individual coin, and the nature of the seller.

On Oct. 20, 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded AU-55 1876, with a CAC sticker, for $158.63, which is not a strong price. It seems likely that this coin has a retail value in the range of $180 to $200. I have not seen it. Maybe there is something about this specific coin that bothered bidders in that auction?

In Sept. 2012, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded AU-55 1876 for $211.50. Online images of it suggest that it has been moderately to heavily dipped, not long ago. I would not recommend it. A naturally toned, choice AU-55 grade 1876 should not be too hard to find, probably for less than $211.

III. Uncirculated 1876 quarters

Finding a nice, ‘Mint State’ 1876 quarter is much easier than finding a VF-20 to AU-50 grade 1876 quarter that is truly gradable, minimally marked and naturally toned. Not all uncirculated or ‘Mint State’ 1876 quarters, though, are nice or even gradable.

On Oct. 20, 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-61 1876, with a CAC sticker, for $305.50. In Oct. 2005, Spectrum-B&M auctioned an NGC graded MS-62 1876 quarter for $316. In Jan. 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-62 1876, with a CAC sticker, for $417.45.

In March 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded MS-64 1876 for $632. About six months earlier, the same firm auctioned an NGC graded MS-64 1876 for $834.

In Nov. 2010, Stack’s-ANR auctioned a PCGS graded MS-64 1876, in a holder with an old green label (printed insert), for $1782. Coins that PCGS graded in the 1990s and put in holders with green labels are often, though not nearly always, worth more than coins of the same date, type and numerical grade in PCGS holders with blue labels.

In Sept. 2011, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS graded MS-66 1876 for $2185. During March 2012, in New York, Heritage sold a PCGS graded MS-66 1876, with a CAC sticker, for $2300. Retail prices may be higher.

Certified MS-67 grade 1876 quarters are not auctioned very often. The PCGS reports that six have been graded, plus this one “67+” grade 1876 that really grabbed my attention. The NGC reports five as grading “MS-67,” and none grading higher. This total of twelve certified “MS-67” 1876 quarters probably amounts to maybe eight different coins. Some ‘crack-out’ artists, who remove coins from holders with the idea of quickly re-submitting them, do not return the printed paper inserts (labels) to the grading services and thus the published data is not adjusted for such ‘cracked out’ coins.

In March 2007, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-67 1876 for $6325. This coin is certainly not the same as the PCGS graded “MS-67+” 1876 that I focus upon herein.

During Aug. 1998, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-67 1876, which is not currently illustrated on ha.com, for $6612.50. Curiously, the coin sold in Aug. 1998 was one of just two 1876 quarters that were then PCGS graded MS-67.

The catalogue description in 1998 refers to “fairly concentric hues of pinkish-gold, turquoise, and orange,” which raises a remote possibility that it is the same as the 1876 quarter that Stack’s-Bowers auctioned on Nov. 15, 2012, though I do not remember seeing color on it that I would refer to as “pinkish-gold.” The 1876 quarter that is currently PCGS graded “MS-66+” may better fit this description from 1998 than either the coin that Stack’s-Bowers auctioned on Nov. 15, 2012 or the one that Heritage auctioned in March 2007.

IV. The MS-67+ Coin

This fabulous 1876 quarter, which was auctioned on Nov. 15, is PCGS graded “MS-67+,” and has been approved by the CAC. When a coin that has already received a ‘plus’ grade from the PCGS or the NGC is submitted to the CAC, experts at the CAC ignore the plus aspect of the already assigned grade. Therefore, CAC approval of a PCGS certified coin with a plus grade does not necessarily indicate that graders at the CAC are in agreement with the plus aspect of the already assigned grade.

The CAC approval of this PCGS graded “MS-67+” 1876 quarter does not reveal whether experts at the CAC grade this coin as “67A,” high end, or “67B,” mid range. In my view, its grade is in the ‘high end’ of the 67 range, a true ‘plus’ or ‘67A ‘grade coin. Indeed, I grade it as 67.8.

This 1876 quarter is more than very attractive. The toning is definitely natural and is very pretty. The orange-tan, orange-russet, mellow beige, green-blue and especially pastel blue colors are exceptionally pleasing. Additionally, some nice red and green colors are found on the obverse (front).

The toning on the reverse (back) is especially well balanced. Deep brownish-russet and orange-russet patches, along with some waves of deep blue, appear at the periphery. Golden and pastel blue tones shine within, about the letters and outer fields. The motto and inner fields tend to be sort of a dusky orange-russet. The eagle is lighter, mostly beige, with touches of orange, blue and tan.

This coin scores extremely high in the category of originality. I did not perceive any evidence of it ever having been cleaned or dipped. A little mottled toning and a few, very small, relatively dark toning spots further testify to this coin’s originality. There is a good chance that it went from the Philadelphia Mint to a bank to a collector, in 1876! There might not even have been a bank involved.

Perhaps a collector selected it while visiting the Philadelphia Mint in 1876!Undoubtedly, Philadelphia was a popular tourist destination in 1876.

This 1876 quarter is well struck and the few contact marks on it are nearly microscopic. Even under five times magnification, almost zero contact marks are evident on the reverse. Indeed, the reverse would merit a 68 grade if analytically isolated. This is one of the best business strike Liberty Seated Quarters that I have ever seen, and I have viewed many that are certified as grading MS-67 or MS-68! This coin is extremely memorable.

On Nov. 15, in Baltimore, the reserve on this coin was aggressive and seems to have required the commitment to pay the $12,650 that this coin realized. This result is likely to be an auction record for a business strike 1876 quarter. In my view, this result is very strong, though comprehensible.

About a week ago, on Nov. 29, a PCGS graded MS-67 1889, which is a much scarcer date, sold for $4,477.93. On May 31, 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded MS-67 1880, with a CAC sticker, for $6325. In Jan. 2012, Heritage sold an NGC graded MS-67 1875 quarter, also with a CAC sticker, for $8050.

Most of the business strike Liberty Seated Quarters that have sold for more than $12,650 at auction are much scarcer than an 1876 and/or are certified as grading “MS-68”! For example, the 1877 is in the same category of scarcity as the 1876. In Jan. 2009, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS-68 1877 for $12,650, though, in my view, that 1877 quarter is overgraded. It is true, though, that, in Aug. 2007, Stack’s-ANR auctioned a different NGC graded MS-68 1877 quarter for $17,250.

It is often misleading to cite coin auction data without discussing the physical characteristics of the coins that were sold. This “MS-67+” 1876 quarter should be seen in actuality to be fairly appreciated. In my view, it is superior to a few Liberty Seated Quarters that have been certified as grading “MS-68.”

V. Insights from Albanese

At my request, John Albanese, the founder of the CAC, provides insights as to why this 1876 quarter brought a “strong price.” John remembers this specific, PCGS graded “MS-67+” coin and notes that it has “beautiful color and unusually nice luster.”

Albanese emphasizes that its luster distinguishes this coin from other gem quality 1876 quarters. John notes that many uncirculated “1876 quarters come very nice. [Contact] marks are not really a problem. They [tend to be] well struck. But, their luster can be fuzzy. There are a lot of MS-65 ’76 quarters, but because of the usual weak luster, very few [grade] higher” than MS-65.

Earlier, I estimated that there are probably ninety 1876 quarters that grade MS-65 or higher, in terms of widely accepted grading criteria. Albanese asserts that many “have adequate luster for a 65, but not the super luster [that often characterizes] a MS-67 or a -68” grade Liberty Seated Quarter.

To illustrate his point in regard to gem quality 1876 quarters, Albanese cites the existence of a substantial number 1879 quarters that grade MS-66 or higher, which, he says, “are almost like the perfect type coins. They are often dazzling. They are usually much more vibrant than 1876 quarters.”

John and I figure that imagining a collector in the 1870s choosing coins at the Philadelphia Mint may shed light on the distinction between gem 1876 quarters and gem 1879 quarters. “If an 1876 quarter and an 1879 quarter both were chosen by the same collector at the [Philadelphia] Mint in the [respective] year of issue, there is more than a 95% chance that the 1879 would have better luster than the 1876 quarter,” Albanese declares.

“The 1879s were struck with better luster to begin with. Luster is part of the equation of grading,” John stresses. Albanese concludes that a primary reason why this fabulous 1876 quarter is of superb quality, is particularly important, and brought “such a strong price” at auction, is that it has really great luster, which is very unusual for an 1876 quarter.

©2012 Greg Reynolds

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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