By James McCartney, Numismatist & Cataloger – Stack’s Bowers ……
Showcased in Rarities Night of our November 2017 Baltimore Auction is a rare treat for enthusiasts of early Unites States type coins. From the exceptional Murray Hill Collection comes a pair of 1796 quarter eagles displaying the two design types struck that year. Lot 10114 is lustrous AU-53 (PCGS) example of the legendary No Stars issue, followed by a dazzling MS-63 * (NGC) example of the Stars on Obverse type in lot 10115.
The offering of either of these examples would represent a significant occurrence, though their appearance in tandem marks our November 2017 Baltimore Auction as a truly significant event.
Authorized by the Mint Act of April 4, 1792, the quarter eagle was the smallest gold denomination struck by the U.S. Mint until the debut of the gold dollar in 1849. Due to less demand from the public and merchants than for the half eagle and eagle, the mintages for the early quarter eagles were meager in comparison.
First struck in 1796, the inaugural issue had two distinct Capped Bust Right design types, one with Stars on the Obverse and one with No Stars. Specialist John Dannreuther suggests that Mint personnel deliberately left the stars off the obverse die for the first batch and later decided, “it looked better with stars, and changed to that style.” Whatever the reason, just 963 examples of the No Stars quarter eagle are thought to have been struck, accounted for in two separate deliveries of 66 and 897 coins, thought to represent the two known varieties of the 1796 No Stars issue. The BD-1 variety was delivered on September 21, 1796 (after the first reverse die had failed), and the later BD-2 coins were delivered on December 8 once a new reverse had been created. Our November 2017 Baltimore Auction features an example of the BD-2 variety, one of only about 100 known survivors from this die pairing. This particular example can be traced back to Stack’s sale of the magnificent Herman Halpern Collection of United States Gold Coins in May 1989 where it was described as “an exceptional, well balanced example of this great gold rarity.”
Stars were first seen on 1796 quarter eagles with the delivery of an estimated 432 examples on January 14, 1797. With a mintage less than half of the previous type, the 1796 Stars on Obverse issue is extremely elusive and often underappreciated. It is also a one-year type within the overall Stars on Obverse design, displaying a tight arraignment of 16 stars as opposed to the 13 stars that would grace the obverses to follow. The Choice Murray Hill Collection example of this rarity offered in our November Baltimore auction traces its earlier pedigree to the famed cabinet of John Whitney Walter, “Mr. 1796”. The Walter Collection, offered by Stack’s in May 1999. Cataloged two decades ago as “possibly Third Finest Known”, this quarter eagle remains in the Condition Census of survivors and is currently certified MS-63 * (NGC). Only the MS-65 Byron Reed example is listed as finer on the NGC Census, though that coin has been recently encapsulated by PCGS and now resides in the Bob Simpson Collection.
Accompanying these lovely quarter eagles in the Murray Hill Collection is a magnificent Mint State 1808 Capped Bust Left quarter eagle in lot 10116 and a captivating Gem Cameo 1879 Flowing Hair Stella in lot 10118. Offered in consecutive lots at the beginning of the gold section in Rarities Night, the Murray Hill Collection is truly a highlight of our 2017 auction season. Call us today at 1-800-458-4646 to secure your copy of this thrilling catalog, or download our mobile app to participate via your Android or Apple device. Email [email protected] for more information.