The 1843 Proof Quarter Eagle
Before the Mint began its program of commercial proof set offerings in 1858, only a handful of proofs were struck each year to satisfy the needs of influential Treasury officials or well-connected collectors.
Proof gold coins of the pre-1858 era are especially elusive, as few numismatists could afford to collect coins with such high face value in the mid-19th century. Although no specific records were kept of the number of proof coins struck in 1843, we can assume that at least five gold proof sets were produced that year, as five examples of all the gold denominations issued in 1843 have been reliably reported in proof format.
Two of those gold proof sets have remained intact until the present day. One set is in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and was probably acquired for the Mint Cabinet at the time of issue.
The other set is the remarkable complete copper, silver, and gold proof set in the original case that last appeared in the sale of the Amon Carter Collection in 1984.
John Jay Pittman succeeded in assembling another complete proof set in an original case in 1948, and that set remained intact until recent times, as well.
In addition to the coins in the sets, two more examples of 1843-dated proof quarter eagles, half eagles, and eagles have appeared as individual pieces over the years, so we can assume at least five sets were struck. A few more coins may have been produced, but none have been identified and it is extremely unlikely that any significant number of unreported survivors will appear at this late date.
The coin offered in Heritage’s January 29 – February 1 Long Beach Expo US Coins Signature Auction will be a pleasant surprise for collectors of early proof gold, as it has been off-the-market and unreported for decades.
We believe it is the coin that last appeared in lot 32 of the Golden Jubilee Sale (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), although the low quality of the image in that catalog prevents a conclusive plate match.
A different specimen was offered in 1946 and it brought $275. This result was a strong price for the 1940-1950 era, but the coin will undoubtedly realize many multiples of that figure today.
The 1843 proof quarter eagle is so rare that we can find no record of any individual example of the issue in a numismatic auction since Mehl’s 1950 sale. Garrett and Guth report an example that surfaced in a non-numismatic Connecticut estate sale in 2002, and was sold for $66,125. Pittman’s three gold coins were reportedly sold as a set in 2009, at the height of the recession, for a total price of $937,765. As Mehl said in 1950, this coin is essentially priceless.
The present coin is a delightful Select example, with razor-sharp definition on all design elements. Even the eagle’s left (facing) leg, which David Akers reports is usually softly rendered, shows fine detail on this specimen. The brightly reflective fields contrast boldly with the richly frosted devices, producing a dramatic cameo effect. Only a few minor hairlines and contact marks are evident and eye appeal is terrific. It may be decades, or even a lifetime, before another example of this rare proof gold issue becomes available again.
Roster of 1843 Proof Quarter Eagles
Grades are per the last auction appearance, unless a subsequent certification is known. It is virtually certain that some coins have been submitted, or resubmitted, to the grading services since their last public offering. Grade of the Smithsonian specimen is per Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
1. PR63 Cameo NGC. Jerome Kern; Golden Jubilee Sale (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 32; possibly the present coin.
2. PR63 Cameo PCGS. William Woodin; Woodin Collection (Thomas Elder, 3/1911), lot 966; Virgil Brand, journal number 57049; possibly John Zug; purchased by F.C.C. Boyd in 1939; World’s Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 110; J.F. Bell (Jacob Shapiro); Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 103; John Jay Pittman; Pittman Collection, Part I (David Akers, 10/1997), lot 832, as part of a complete copper, silver, and gold proof set; the three gold coins were reportedly sold by Blanchard & Company in May of 2009 for $937,765. Note: William Woodin owned a three-piece 1843 gold proof set in 1911, but he split the set, selling the quarter eagle and eagle in his 1911 sale, but retaining the half eagle until later, and exhibiting it at the 1914 ANS Exhibition. Woodin sold most of his half eagles to Waldo Newcomer circa 1924, but the inventory of Newcomer’s collection did not include an 1843 proof quarter eagle, so he could not have owned a complete gold proof set of that date. Someone, possibly John Zug, must have reassembled the set before 1946, as F.C.C. Boyd had all three coins in his collection by that date. John Jay Pittman purchased the three gold coins at the sale of the Memorable Collection, and united them with the silver and copper proofs of that date, which he purchased a few months later, to form a complete 1843 proof set in an original case.
3. Brilliant Proof. A coin in the complete copper, silver, and gold proof set in the original case reportedly presented by President Tyler in 1843 to an unnamed constituent; purchased by Richard B. Winsor for $100 circa 1880; Winsor Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1895), lot 1067; Fernand David Collection (Jacques Schulman, 3/1930), lot 112; purchased by an agent of B. Max Mehl at the Schulman sale in Amsterdam; Frank Stoddard; “Colonel” E.H.R. Green in 1932, via Mehl; Green Estate; Mehl again; Will W. Neil; Neil Collection (Mehl, 6/1947), lot 2292; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr.; Carter Family Collection (Stack’s, 1/1984), lot 630. Note: Walter Breen incorrectly identified this set as the one in a “New York State private collection,” meaning John Jay Pittman, but Pittman never owned this set.
4. PR65 Cameo. Mint Cabinet; National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution.
5. Proof. An example that surfaced in a Connecticut estate sale in 2002.