This memorable 1796 quarter eagle without obverse stars offers phenomenal quality for the connoisseur. This variety, the first in the series, is extremely rare in Mint State. Within that category the present piece has great eye appeal. This satiny jewel was awarded the prized gold CAC sticker for its quality, a prize reserved for coins that appear to be undergraded. In presentation, the surfaces are a rich copper-gold with greenish accents in the fields and recesses. While the surfaces have minor handling marks, the fields retain a degree of reflectivity. This is most notable on the reverse with the complex devices protected the fields from any contact, while the broad and open obverse fields had no protection from stars or lettering within the left or right side. Reasonably sharp too in terms of strike, as the dies were able to bring up the curls of Liberty and all the tiny star centers and lettering well. Trace softness is noted at the center of the reverse, common to this variety, where the eagle's upper breast and neck are not fully brought up, as this area is precisely opposite Liberty's ear where the most gold had to flow to fill in the demands of the dies during the strike, apparently the coiner just didn't have enough strength of bring these features to their ultimate conclusion. Furthermore, this is a later die state of the obverse, with thin die cracks down from the center of the L(IBERTY) into the cap, another from the right side of the E of that word to that crazy curl of hair which wraps backwards up to the cap. No adjustment marks or handling marks of any great consequence are seen. and the visual impact of this treasure is a delight and feast for the numismatic eye.
The 1796 No Stars Capped Bust Right quarter eagle is one of the rarest type coins of all Federal issues. The mintage is believed to be 963 pieces, of which perhaps 100 to 130 are known today. Of this modest group, perhaps a dozen to fifteen qualify at the Mint State level, most in the MS-60 to 62 range. Quarter eagle coinage began in 1796 with this style, the obverse depicting a small cameo with Liberty's bust facing right wearing a cap, above is the word LIBERTY in small letters, then the date is tucked in below her truncation. No stars were added to the obverse. The open field left a circulating coin prone to marks and rapid wear on the central device. The dentils certainly protected the perimeter of the coin, but the broad and open fields directed any contact marks to Liberty herself, as well as the wear from circulation. Later in 1796 stars were added to the obverse design, and this style of the Capped Bust of Liberty with stars continued through 1807 on the quarter eagle denomination.
The first delivery of No Stars quarter eagles took place on September 21, 1796 and consisted of a mere 66 pieces, almost certainly the BD-1 variety of which four coins are known today. The reverse die soon broke, suspending coinage until a new die could be prepared. The next and final delivery of 1796 occured on December 8, 1796 of 897 coins, and these were the No Stars BD-2 variety which is offered here. Both the BD-1 and BD-2 1796 quarter eagles were struck with the same obverse die, with the earliest die state seen used for the BD-1 issue. The 1796 With Stars obverse BD-3 variety is believed to have been delivered on January 14, 1797 of 432 pieces. These numbers seem to fit well enough with the number of survivors today and considerable research by Harry W. Bass, Jr. and John Dannreuther confirms this theory.
The obverse design is attributed to Robert Scot, the chief engraver at the Philadelphia Mint during this period. New dies were in constant demand, and master hubs were created to assist in this process of die engraving. The hubs contained the central device, with the legends, date and stars added in by the engraver by hand one letter or small device punch at a time, into each die. Scot's position was supplemented by John Smith Gardner, the assistant engraver in the early years at the Mint. Gardner engraved several obverse dies of 1795 coinage, and was primarily in charge of reverse die engraving by early 1796. A dispute over his lack of pay caused him to leave the employment of the Mint in early 1796, but he was brought back in due to the desire to launch new denominations later that year, as the reverse designs had not yet been produced in master hub form. Gardner likely engraved the first Heraldic Eagle hubs, and did so for most of the denominations in the summer of 1796. Gardner's hand left stylistic nuances such as a taller, thinner neck on the eagle, sixteen shield stripes, three claws over the arrows and branch on the eagle, and two rows of tail feathers on the eagle. Gardner left the employment of the Mint in the late summer of 1796 for good. Scot was pressed to use these new master hubs, but apparently wanted to put his own stamp on the reverse hubs as soon as he was able to. These Gardner stylistic features are present on this early quarter eagle and most others until 1798 when Scot was able to create his own new reverse hub to his own style. Scot's style includes a shorter squat necked eagle, single claw over the arrows and branch and three rows of tail feathers on Pete the eagle. Each denomination saw these changes in succession as Scot had the time to create the new master hub punches required for each size of coin denomination. These master hubs required up to two weeks of careful engraving to produce in the positive form (raised) so they could be used to create dies (sunken) for coinage.
While certainly in the top ten known of the date and important type, this exciting No Stars quarter eagle may be well above that level if all the high grade examples could be gathered together and examined by experts. What is clear is this is a very high end coin for the grade assigned, and would be a welcome addition to the most advanced numismatic cabinet. One of the highlights of this extensive offering and a coin of exceptional beauty, quality and rarity.
Numismatic Reflections by Q. David Bowers
The offering of a 1796 No Stars quarter eagle is always an important numismatic event, and a Mint State coin such as this is especially so. The addition of the gold-label CAC sticker signifies quality above the usual and adds further appeal. I anticipate a lot of excitement when this piece crosses the block.
Population 3; 4 finer (MS-65 finest).
From the Werner Family Collection of 1796 Coinage. Earlier from Heritage's sale of August 2006, lot 5417.