Stack’s Bowers Galleries is pleased to present the Mickley/Norweb specimen of the 1827/3/2 Original quarter. This example, one of many exciting highlights of our Official Auction for the ANA World’s Fair of Money, is graded Proof-65 Cameo by PCGS, and has been approved by CAC. Our catalog and website, StacksBowers.com, will feature an extensive history and description of this fabulous coin, but we present here a condensed history of this legendary rarity.
Ironically, the story of this now-famous issue begins with a fact: per the Mint Director’s report, 4,000 quarters were delivered to the Mint Treasurer on December 29, 1827, representing the United States Mint’s entire mintage of quarters for the calendar year 1827 and, indeed, its first production for this denomination since 1825. It is the mintage figure reported for the 1827-dated Capped Bust quarter in most of today’s standard numismatic references, including A Guide Book of United States Coins (the popular “Red Book“) originally authored by R.S. Yeoman. The existence of so few examples, however, has cast a long shadow of doubt about the relevance of this mintage figure to the 1827-dated Capped Bust quarter issue.
Indeed, numismatic scholars of the 20th and early 21st centuries are nearly unanimous in their conclusion that this 4,000-piece mintage figure has nothing to do with the 1827-dated quarter. Others believe that it is a genuine mintage figure, as reported by the Mint Director, but assert that it represents quarters bearing a date other than 1827, including 1825 (Walter Breen) and 1828 (Karl Moulton).
If no 1827-dated quarters were included in the Mint’s 4,000-piece delivery of December 29, 1827, how is it that coins bearing this date, albeit few in number, are known today? After all, and as previously stated, there is no documentary evidence for the Mint’s striking of 1827 quarters, either during that or any other year. This omission strongly suggests that the coins are special.
Whereas yearly mintages for regular issue circulation strike coinage were typically reported by the Mint Director, the same did not happen for Proof gold and silver coinage until 1859, with Proof minor coinage not reported until 1878. In all cases, such coins were produced in very limited numbers, and in a few special cases for presentation or other official purposes. While the 1827 quarters that were actually struck that year were almost certainly not intended for presentation purposes, they were still produced in small numbers, are of superior workmanship to circulation strikes of the era, and with only a single exception are expertly preserved to suggest special distribution.
Karl Moulton has established that the only known obverse die of the 1827-dated quarter is the same that the Mint previously used to strike the nearly-as-rare and perhaps equally famous 1823/2 quarter. Although opinions differ as to why, in 1827 Mint employees retrieved the 1823/2 obverse die–which theoretically would have been in excellent condition given the small mintage of that issue–and prepared it for 1827-dated coinage. This process included a curious feature: in contrast to other overdates, produced by punching over only the final digit, all four digits have been re-punched with current punches, the 1, 8, and 2 being identical to those used on the quarters of 1828. All genuine 1827 quarters, regardless of striking period, exhibit an unusual and corroded texture on the bust of Liberty. This is consistent with overusing acid on the face of the die, perhaps to clean this obverse after four years spent in storage and in preparation for its use in 1827-dated coinage.
This obverse die, now overdated a second time as 1827/3/2, was paired with a fresh reverse die to strike quarters toward the end of 1827. This is the variety now known as Browning-1, the Original 1827 quarter. Only nine examples are known and, in fact, this figure probably represents the entire mintage from the B-1 die pairing.
Karl Moulton uses this number as the foundation of an interesting theory:
“I believe that late on the afternoon of Christmas eve  Director [Samuel] Moore ‘authorized’ a few special 1827 open collar ‘Christmas presents’ to be clandestinely made in honor of the Officers of the Mint; including one for Mr. [Christian Gobrecht] and the Secretary of the Treasury in Washington D.C.
“This list numbers eight people, which just happens to be the correct number of these … Original pieces traced by the author, excluding the example placed in the Mint Collection, where it remains today.”
Again, this is just a theory and lacks documentary evidence.
That these B-1 coins were struck in 1827 and deserve the title of Originals is beyond doubt, however, and for two reasons. First, they were obviously struck prior to the 1828 B-1 circulation strikes, which were coined from the same reverse die. Second, all genuine 1827 B-1 quarters have 108 edge reeds, which matches the count seen on the other quarters of this era. Clearly, the 1827 B-1 Original quarters were struck first, followed by the first of the 1828 B-1 circulation strikes, the latter probably representing the aforementioned 4,000-piece mintage reported for calendar year 1827.
The status of the 1827 B-1 coins as Proofs is problematic, insofar as they do not meet the requirements for Proof coins as defined by modern numismatics. For one thing, these coins are not fully struck, as each example displays isolated softness to the design elements. They are probably more accurately described as “Master” coins, a term not widely used today, and which in the case of the Original 1827 quarters is most conveniently defined as coins struck from newly (re-)polished dies.
Regardless of the intent behind their production, it seems that the Original 1827 quarters did not see immediate distribution. This is contrary to one of the most widely known and often repeated stories relating to this famous issue, a tale that has a particularly strong link to the specimen offered here. As told by Walter Breen (Encyclopedia, 1988), who more than any other numismatic writer is responsible for giving this story currency in the modern market:
“Joseph J. Mickley (1799-1878), ‘Father of American Coin Collecting,’ obtained four proofs from the Philadelphia Mint in late 1827 as change for a dollar (presumably Spanish or Mexican); for decades these were the only ones known.”
As Karl Moulton points out, this story originated with A.M. Smith and was first printed shortly after Mickley’s death in 1878. It was expanded upon by W. Elliot Woodward in the January 1884 Heman Ely sale catalog and, later, further embellished by Breen through his cataloging for New Netherlands.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Mickley ever owned more than one 1827 quarter and, more significantly, the numismatic market was not aware of these coins’ existence until the late 1850s. Moulton identifies their first mention in literature as the September 13, 1857, issue of the New York Dispatch; by 1867 all nine specimens were known to the numismatic community. It seems likely that the Original 1827 quarters remained in the Mint’s possession until the 1850s. With the appointment of James Ross Snowden as Mint Director in June 1853, interest in growing the Mint Cabinet Collection reached new levels, and duplicates of a rare and previously unknown coin like the 1827 quarter would have been prime candidates for trading with collectors for other items desired for the Mint’s holdings.
For more information on this and the many other incredible rarities offered in our August 2021 Official ANA Auction, visit StacksBowers.com or contact us at 800-458-4646 to order a copy of the printed catalog.