US Coins

18th century coins offered at Heritage’s November sessions

Two 18th century Philadelphia Mint issues representing the first year of their denominations and a possible Branch Mint Proof quarter dollar are three of the standout lots at Heritage’s Nov. 15 to 19 U.S. Coins Signature Auction.

The 1794 Flowing Hair dollar is always coveted, with around 150 survivors from an original delivered mintage of just 1,758, each struck from a single die pair. Heritage will offer one graded Extremely Fine 45 by Professional Coin Grading Service and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker that last sold at the firm’s September 2006 offering of Troy Wiseman’s collection, realizing $264,500, and Wiseman’s name remains on the provenance line of its PCGS insert.

The provenance extends back over a century, with the coin’s first recorded offering at the Chapman brothers’ sale of the Harlan P. Smith Collection in May 1906. The introduction to that catalog focused on Smith, noting that he “was an ardent amateur collector of coins, and during the later period of his life engaged actively in dealing in them, but always endeavored to improve his own private cabinet…”

The subject offering features an unusually bold strike for a 1794 dollar, as the early Philadelphia Mint struggled to produce these large-sized coins. Heritage observes, “Aside from a few exceptional specimens, the issue is generally poorly produced and fraught with problems — well over 35% of surviving 1794 dollars are certified as impaired, while many others display strike weakness from misaligned dies, extensive die clashing, and/or prominent adjustment marks.” A pinpoint mark above the eagle’s beak is noted for provenance researchers, as are some planchet adjustment marks — as made, as the Philadelphia Mint adjusted the weight of the planchet prior to striking — along the reverse margin, with the deepest by the D in UNITED.

Uncirculated 1796 Capped Bust, No Stars $2.50

Another first-year-of-issue (and denomination) coin is a 1796 Capped Bust, No Stars $2.50 quarter eagle graded Mint State 62 by PCGS. Stars would soon be added by the U.S. Mint on the obverse die.

In the recent edition of their book 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth wrote, “The reason for [the lack of stars] remains uncertain. Some have suggested that the star punch used to engrave the dies broke. Another theory is that the Mint employees were reluctant to engrave the stars because new states were in the process of being admitted. With some states still in limbo, perhaps the Mint did not want to put an inaccurate number of stars on the coin.”

Q. David Bowers has stressed that the 16 stars present on the reverse would make obverse stars redundant.

The offered example was purchased privately in 2007.

Heritage calls the eye appeal outstanding, writing, “The pleasing orange-gold surfaces radiate a mix of satiny mint luster and understated semiprooflike reflectivity, with minimal signs of contact.”

It represents the BD-2 variety, as cataloged by Harry Bass and John Dannreuther, and Heritage’s condition census ranks it as the seventh finest known of the variety, alongside four other comparably graded examples.

New Orleans Specimen

An 1891-O Seated Liberty quarter dollar graded Specimen 65 by Numismatic Guaranty Co. is one of just two specimen strikes certified at NGC and has been considered a possible “Branch Mint Proof” struck at the New Orleans Mint. Walter Breen wrote in 1977 that it was struck to celebrate the resumption of coinage of this denomination at New Orleans, which was interrupted by the Civil War in 1860.

Proof coins of the era were produced at the Philadelphia Mint, and other Mints attempted to emulate the reflective surfaces and sharp strikes on their special issues.

Heritage wrote, “The fields on this piece have a depth of reflectivity that one would never find on a coin struck for circulation,” while recognizing that in contrast to Philadelphia Mint Proof strikes of the era, which were struck twice to maximize details, the offered coin was likely struck once, before concluding, “But the texture of this coin gives clear indication of the intent to produce a special coin most likely for presentation purposes.” The catalog entry provides a roster of three Specimen 1891-O Seated Liberty quarter dollars, with one lost and another example graded Specimen 66 by NGC presented by Heritage in its August 2013 auction of the Greensboro Collection, Part IV, where it sold for $129,250.

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