Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Sale 17

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Lot 1896

$2.50 Capped Bust. 1796. No stars on obverse, B-1, R-4. PCGS graded EF-45. A lovely example of this sought-after issue. The color is a natural hazy gold color on the obverse, more coppery luster on the reverse where the design elements protected the lustrous fields. Struck with adequate force on Liberty, even better on the reverse which is crisp on all but the tail feathers. This is an early die state, with a full and complete lower curl on Liberty, most seen are struck later, after the die was lapped and weakening this curl. There is no trace of the obverse die crack at 9 o'clock. As always, the E of LIBERTY is weakly struck, this letter had the unfortunate location of being directly behind the eagle's large tail, and when these were struck, there simply wasn't enough metal flow to fill in both the tail and the E. Finding a 1796 quarter eagle that is sharply struck is about as easy as locating a 1796 quarter with a full head on the eagle!
Historically speaking, the 1796 quarter eagle is very important. First off, the 1796 quarter eagle is the first coin to employ the heraldic eagle reverse, which would become standard on all silver and gold issues from 1798 to 1807. In addition, this was the first coin struck to reflect the admission of Tennessee into the United States, and the reverse displays 16 stars, one for each of the states then in the union. Curiously, this is the only precious metal coin struck by our country that didn't employ obverse stars, and this didn't occur again until the 1836 Gobrecht dollars were coined. This is also the first year of issue of the denomination, following close on the heals of the 1795 eagle and half eagle.
The dies are thought to have been engraved by Robert Scot, and show hasty preparation. Note how the 6 is squeezed into the drapery lines of Liberty, and the reverse shows unplanned execution as well, with stars planted wherever space allowed above the eagle. For some years the cap on Liberty was thought to be a slaves cap, or Phrygian cap (Liberty cap) of Roman times. A letter from Samuel More, Director of the Mint to Thomas Jefferson on February 14, 1825 seems to settle the matter (see Breen's Encyclopedia, pages 518-19) which states the cap was "taken from life, and considered a model of good taste of the fashion of the time" and was not intended to represent a cap of freedom or slaves cap. Jefferson responded to Moore's letter stating that Liberty had never been a slave, and therefore a slaves cap would not have been proper. In following years the cap disappeared from Liberty on gold coinage in 1834, silver (other than the dollar) in the late 1830s, where the cap moved to the pole until 1891. The cap returned on the Morgan silver dollar in 1878 and on half dollars again in 1916, perhaps reflecting the "good taste" of the fashion of later periods as well.
A classic example of this rare coin which boasts a mintage of a scant 963, of which perhaps ten percent survive most of which are in circulated grades. An impressive example for the true numismatist, and one that has been an expensive rarity for over 100 years (PCGS # 7645) .
Estimated Value $30,000 - 40,000.
From the Benson collection and purchased from an unknown source (probably Ira S. Reed or James MacCallister) around 1945 for $500.

Realized $50,600

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