US Coins

Controversial pattern realizes $1.26 million in Heritage sale

A rare 1792 pattern, thought to be for a proposed quarter dollar, led bidding at Heritage’s April 22 to 25 auctions originally set for the Central States Numismatic Society but relocated to its Dallas headquarters.

The elegant white metal quarter pattern, listed as Judd 13 in the references, was deaccessioned by the New-York Historical Society. It is one of just four examples known, two of which remain in museum collections, including a “virtually identical” example retained by the Society.  

The pattern in the auction was graded About Uncirculated 58 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. It sold for $1.26 million at the April 24 Platinum Night session.

The discovery of the pattern made the front page of Coin World’s June 9, 2003, issue where Paul Gilkes reported on the New-York Historical Society finding the two patterns while researchers cataloged the museum’s roughly 800 coins and 3,000 medals.

Source of patterns

Heritage explained, “No record of the donation has been located, but the coins likely entered the Society’s collection not long after its founding in 1804.”

The design has traditionally been attributed to engraver Joseph Wright. Author Pete Smith commented in the April 4 issue of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society’s E-Sylum, “there are still more questions than answers about these pieces,” explaining that there is no contemporary proof that they were designed by Wright or that they were struck in 1792, as dated. He added, “The artistic style is very different from the other 1792 patterns, indicating that a different artist was responsible. They do not include the ‘Liberty Parent of Science and Industry’ legend and do not bear a denomination. They are not the proper size for a quarter pattern. Another curious feature is that the reverse die is about 2 mm larger than the obverse die.”

While Wright did perform work for the Philadelphia Mint, Heritage acknowledges, “it cannot be said with certainty this represented the dies used to strike the J-13 coins,” before concluding, “In any case, the Wright ‘quarter’ is easily the most artistically pleasing of the 1792 patterns, featuring a figure of Liberty with fine, delicate detail.”

Contemporary U.S. Mint records are frustratingly incomplete on many of the 1792 pattern coins. Heritage noted, “The inaugural year of the U.S. Mint may have produced only a few written records, but the surviving coins serve as reminders of a fledging attempt to assert America’s sovereignty through the medium of coinage, even if technically not at the standard of their European counterparts.”

Since the design lacks a denomination, numismatists debate whether it represents a proposal for a cent or a quarter dollar.

Specialist Bill Eckberg wrote in the April 11 E-Sylum, “It’s a lovely piece, but there’s no evidence it was engraved by Wright, that it was a 1792 pattern, or, if it WAS a pattern from the early Mint, what it was a pattern for.” In the same article, collector Alan V. Weinberg recalled seeing them on display at the society in 1999 and being told by a curator that they had been in the collection back to its founding in 1808, adding, “So the pieces were ‘discovered’ in 1999, not 2002.”

Heritage called the offering “far the finer of the two white metal, Judd-13 pieces available to collectors,” observing, “There is the slightest friction present on Liberty’s cheek and shoulder in the form of grayish patina, while the fields retain almost all of their original satiny luster.”

Unique copper 1794 dollar

Another impressive result was seen in a pattern 1794 Flowing Hair dollar struck in copper, Judd 18, graded Very Fine 25 by Professional Coin Grading Service that lacks the obverse stars seen on the silver dollars produced for circulation that year. The unique pattern realized $840,000, and Heritage stressed that it far exceeded the estimate of $350,000 to $500,000.

It was offered as part of the auctioneer’s continued offerings of the collection of Texas businessman Bob R. Simpson, which have totaled more than $54 million so far, with more sales scheduled.

Heritage cataloger Jacob Lipson said after the sale, “It’s all in the stars,” explaining, “Similar ‘starless coins,’ such as a copper half dime, are held in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Collection and this copper dollar is considered the companion piece to the half dime.”

The 1794 Flowing Hair dollar is a classic rarity with around 150 survivors of a delivered mintage of 1,758 coins.

Heritage wrote that the offered example lacking the obverse stars seen on circulation strikes and struck by a die that was not used to strike regular issue dollars, “has a strong claim to being the first dollar struck by the U.S. Mint.”

It was described as “good for the period” during its first auction appearance in 1890.

Heritage writes, “The coin is corroded, with areas of significant roughness at the upper obverse and along the left side of the reverse.” Some believe it was excavated from the site of the first Philadelphia Mint, perhaps providing justification for the corrosion, and Heritage reports Very Fine sharpness with deep brown surfaces, accented by reddish tones.

Heritage compared it to the previously discussed 1792 “Wright pattern” saying, “It represents an early vision for American silver coinage — its design closely resembles that of Judd-12, the 1792 Eagle-on-Globe pattern — and presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for specialists in the early American dollar series, or, more broadly, anyone interested in the development of United States coinage.”

Two 1878 gold patterns

Patterns for U.S. coins struck in gold are among the most coveted in the pattern series, and a duo of 1878-dated patterns from the Simpson Collection dazzled.

An 1878 gold $2.50 quarter eagle, Judd 1566, graded Proof 67 Cameo by PCGS sold for $384,000 while an 1878 pattern for a $5 gold half eagle, Judd-1570, graded Proof 65+ Cameo by PCGS with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker brought $456,000. Both are considered unique.

The quarter eagle has a design by George T. Morgan, with a profile of Liberty similar to that used on his famed Morgan silver dollar of the same year. It was struck on a wider, thinner planchet than contemporary regular issue quarter eagles, measuring 20.5 millimeters versus 18 millimeters, created as part of an anti-counterfeiting initiative to solve a “problem” of hollowing out gold coins and replacing the missing metal with then-cheaper platinum.

Heritage explained, “This fear, referred to in Mint reports as the ‘platinum menace,’ apparently gained at least mild support in the years following the Civil War, although it eventually proved to be unfounded as a widespread problem.”

The offered gold half eagle has a similar Morgan-designed obverse and is similarly enlarged, with a diameter of 25.4 millimeters versus the standard 21.6 millimeters.

Heritage noted that the strike was slightly weak at the highest points, but praised the eye appeal, writing, “The glittering surfaces of this unique gold pattern reveal the slightest blushes of reddish-orange patina overall that bespeak originality. Inspection with a glass is required to locate even the most insignificant blemish.”

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