1796 Capped Bust Right Quarter Eagle. No Stars on Obverse. BD-2. Rarity-4. Die State d/b. AU-58 (NGC).
Impressive Near-Mint 1796 No Stars Capped Bust Quarter Eagle
Single Year Type Issue
Die Variety: The obverse die is the No Stars design, the first die engraved to launch the denomination in 1796. Likely, the engraver considered that with stars on the reverse, adding stars to the obverse would be redundant. (In contrast, the current half eagles and eagles had stars on their obverses, but their reverses had an eagle perched on a palm branch.) For the reverse design, the Great Seal was adopted with minor changes, including additional stars over the eagle's head to reflect the current number of states, 16 in this case. Thus, this reverse hub was engraved after June 1, 1796, the date Tennessee joined the United States, becoming the 16th state. The original 13 colonies are given a nod through the number of wing edge feathers on both wings (13); this is consistent through the Heraldic Eagle design on coinage, as discovered by researcher David Finkelstein. The design further reflects the 16 now-joined states, with eight strong bands in the shield combined with eight open spaces. This master hub of the eagle, scroll, branch, arrows, and clouds above was used as a template to lay out new dies, then the individual stars over the eagle and each letter were punched in by hand to complete the die.
This is an important single year type coin, lacking the obverse stars, and has been long known as one of the most difficult coins to acquire for a type set of United States coins. It is also one of the most distinctive designs.
The reverse die deserves further comment, as a total of four similar reverse dies were created to make this limited number of quarter eagles in 1796. The style and master hub are quite different on those initial four dies and they are attributed to Mint engraver John Smith Gardner, although specific records have not been seen. Gardner was employed at the Mint until late 1795, then left full time employment but was brought back on a contract basis in 1796 to complete the master reverse hubs used to create dies for each silver and gold denomination in 1796. Gardner's master hubs have distinctive features. The eagle has a long neck, and the stars above are arranged in the "star cross" pattern or more or less in straight lines as opposed to the arc pattern where stars follow the placement of the clouds above. The shield's vertical lines begin with a solid stripe and then alternate to open and solid to the right, ending with an open stripe. The eagle's tail feathers show two rows, and there are three talons reaching over each device. Four dies were created from this master hub. Three appear on the three varieties of 1796 quarter eagles; the fourth was not used until needed for the 1797 quarter eagles, and that reverse die was also used on 1798/7 JR-1 dimes as the reverse dies were designed to be interchangeable to produce both quarter eagles and dimes.
Die State: Obverse die state d, reverse die state b, the latest state reported but lacking the final obverse die crack above the one located at 9:00 o'clock. An irregular lumpy crack is noted down the right side of E of LIBERTY to the cap and curl junction below. The lumps are present on the right (facing) wing and along the tops of several letters in AMERICA -- perhaps these are residual heavy guide lines used by the engraver to place the letters at the same height on the die. Similar deep guide lines are known in this era on gold coins such as the 1798 BD-2 obverse on the half eagle with lines through the base of the date.
Mintage: Believed to be 897 coins from delivery records.
Estimated surviving population: We suggest that approximately 100 to 125 are known today, some of which are impaired, others generally in lower grades than seen here. CoinFacts estimates the number of survivors to be 88 distinct specimens. Collector demand has always far exceeded the quantity of examples that come to market.
Strike: The strike is generally crisp save for the central features of the obverse and reverse, this being typical. As always seen, the E of LIBERTY is softly struck, that feature being directly opposite the eagle's tail. The dies were not spaced close enough together to bring both of these features up fully. Furthermore, when the obverse die was engraved a rather prominent sunken lip around the edge was cut into the die; this aided the dentils in protecting the obverse devices from initial heavy wear. The sunken lip on the edge of dies is not as necessary when obverse stars are present, and either of these peripheral die features absorbs much of the circulation impact from normal commerce. Lipped dies on smaller coins with raised continuous rims surrounding the coin return with the new Muhlenberg coining press in the late 1820s.
Surfaces: The obverse and reverse are bright yellow gold with traces of residual luster in the protected areas.
Commentary: This is an American classic. It is the first year of issue of the quarter eagle as a denomination, as well as a short-lived type coin.
Q. David Bowers: As noted, this variety is a famous rarity. The vast majority of examples are in significantly lower grades. I expect that bids will come from all directions when this crosses the auction block. I congratulate the successful bidder in advance on the ownership of this prize!
PCGS# 7645. NGC ID: 25F2.
Pedigree: From the Dr. James A. Ferrendelli Collection.
NGC Census (both die marriages of the issue): 15; 12 finer (MS-65 finest).
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All population information listed above is intended to be as accurate as possible. Stack’s Bowers Galleries insists that you contact each certification source for further verification. No purchasing decisions should be made on this data alone, which is provided as a service and convenience to our customers. Returns based on inaccurate data will not be accepted.