Struck in two separate batches (one in September and one in December of 1796), the first of the quarter eagles appeared a year after the other two gold denominations of the era — the 1795 $5 half eagle and $10 eagle — were produced. Designed and engraved by Robert Scot, the 1796 quarter eagle with no stars on the obverse was produced in a very limited number of just 963 pieces; its appearance represents the first use of the Heraldic Eagle reverse in U.S. coinage. Later in December of 1796, after the production of No Stars quarter eagles had run its course, a new design type was produced, the famous and rare 1796 With Stars type, a design which remained in production through 1807. Both types of 1796 quarter eagle feature 16 reverse stars, one for every state of the Union at the time, including the newly admitted state of Tennessee.
One of just a handful of Mint State 1796 No Stars quarter eagles known, lot 11174 was a focal point of bidding activity even before the actual auction sale – the online bidding for the lot was active throughout the offering. As the live bidding began on the lot, the impressive quarter eagle soared majestically past the opening bid and soon reached $250,000 without effort, and spiraled upward from there in sizeable increments, soon passing $300,000. The bidding frenzy slowed a bit above $300,000, but one intrepid bidder stayed the course and was eventually awarded the coin at a lofty $350,000. After the buyer’s fee was tallied, an impressive figure of $402,500 was the end result of the spirited bidding activity!
The entire staff of Stack’s Bowers in attendance was surprised and elated at the magnificent performance of the 1796 No Stars quarter eagle. Though many staff members have seen great rarities bring enormous prices at public auction, any time a single coin passes the $250,000 mark, as did lot 11174, the excitement in the auction room is palpable. A polite but excited round of applause rang out when the final hammer price was reached. The present 1796 quarter eagle was a landmark offering, and its final price is one that will remain in the memory of all in attendance for years to come!