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Early Quarter Eagles Catch Fire
By Doug Winter

I never give these blogs titles but if I were going to, I’d call this one “it’s my blog and I’ll brag if I want to.” The brag topic? Early quarter eagle values and how this area of numismatics, which I’ve been literally begging people to buy for years, seems to suddenly have caught fire.

In the recent Stack’s Husky Collection auction, there was a date run of early quarter eagles. In fact, with the exception of the ultra-rare 1804 13 Stars and the 1834, I believe that every major variety of quarter eagle produced between 1796 and 1834 was present. The prices realized for these coins was impressive and they represent further validation of my beseeching collectors of early gold to give this series the same attention that has been lavished on the half eagles and eagles of this era. Apparently, at least a few people listened.

Instead of boring you with a coin-by-coin dissertation, I thought it would be interesting to focus on four coins in the sale: an example of the Draped Bust Right type of 1796-1807, an example of the one-year type of 1808, and one example each of the 1821-1827 and 1829-1834 Capped Bust types.

My favorite Draped Bust Right quarter eagle in the Husky Sale was Lot 2036, a nice NGC AU58 1806/4 with pleasing original color and choice surfaces. This was the sort of coin that probably would have graded AU55 a few years ago but, even so, I liked it a lot and was willing to pay around $25,000 for it. Back around 2000, before early gold was on most collectors’ radar, a coin of this quality was worth around $13,000-15,000. Five years later, when early gold was starting its inexorable climb upwards, this same coin was worth around $17,500-20,000. In the Husky Sale it sold for $32,200; a level that exceeds the current Trends value of $30,000 or the CDN Bid of $23,000.

I’ve never been quite as enamored with the 1808 as other dealers but the fact that it is a one-year type coin (and a scarce issue in higher grades) has always made it extremely popular. Back around 2000, you could still buy a “slider” example for around $50,000 and even as recently as a few years ago, a nice Uncirculated piece could be obtained for $75,000 or so. The Husky: 2039 coin was graded MS60 by NGC and I liked the coin a lot for the grade; in fact, I thought it might upgrade to MS61 if resubmitted. It sold for $155,250 which seems to be the going rate these days for an MS61.

The 1821 quarter eagle in the Husky Sale was graded MS61 by NGC. I had mixed feelings about the coin. It was well struck and flashy but a bit on the bright side for my taste. Nonetheless, it is a highly important issue as the first quarter eagle of this type. Back in the late 1990’s, an MS61 example would have brought around $15,000-17,500 at auction. In 2005, an NGC MS61 was sold for $27,600 by Superior. The Husky: 2040 example brought $48,875 which I believe is a record for an 1821 quarter eagle in MS61.

The quality of the Fat Head quarter eagles (i.e., those produced from 1829 to 1834) in the Husky Sale varied greatly. There were two graded AU53 and two in MS64. I was interested in the 1833 which was graded MS64 by NGC and assumed it would bring around $42,500. It is interesting to look at auction records of this date. All the way back in 1998 the Heritage 1/98: 7517 coin graded MS64 by NGC brought $32,200 and in January 2007 a similarly graded piece (Heritage 1/07: 3400) realized $40,250. The coin in the Husky sale sold for $48,875.

So what do the results from the Husky Sale prove? What I learned is that, for the most part, early quarter eagles have probably doubled in value since 2005 and tripled since 2000. This is impressive but, more than any other type of early U.S. gold, I feel that early quarter eagles are still a good value - even at the new 2008 levels. I certainly don’t expect prices to double again in the next three years (although it isn’t totally out of whack to think that an 1833 in MS64 could be worth $95,000-100,000 in 2011 if the coin market doesn’t get whacked between now and then…) but I like the upside of these coins more than just about any other early gold denomination.



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