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P25C Quarter Master Die Impression
By Heritage

Undated (1840) P25C Quarter Dollar Master Die Impression, Judd-110, Pollock-123

Regarded in the past as a hub impression of the modified Gobrecht Seated Liberty design. However, a hub impression would have the design reversed. We believe this is a trial from the master die. This is the With Drapery design that is struck on an oversized planchet. This impression was struck, according to the Judd book, after Robert M. Patterson asked Robert Ball Hughes to prepare a plaster medallion of Gobrecht’s design for use as the basis for a new hub.

After closely examining this piece and even after John Dannreuther examined it, we still have more questions than answers about these two pieces. The Judd-110 appears to have been made on a lathe with fine lines on the blank areas outside the design. Also, each side shows a prominent centering dot. First, while the piece has consistently been termed as brass, it is really brass coated. Close examination shows areas of the central design that show flaking of the brass, notably on the extended arm and torso of Liberty.Undated (1840) P25C Quarter Dollar Master Die Impression, Judd-110, Pollock-123

The underlying core appears to be a base metal, darkish gray in color. Why was it brass coated if it was meant to simulate a quarter? The eagle on the reverse is notably soft around the outline of the eagle’s body. Why would a master die impression lack highpoint detail? Why are the peripheral design elements raised? It appears that a circular inner border was scored in the master die, then the letters were individually punched in–note the unevenness of QUAR. The reverse field is considerably lower and seems to have been polished away from the raised “track” for the peripheral lettering.

To help answer some of these questions, researcher extraordinaire John Dannreuther rendered an extensive opinion on these two pieces.

“When the Contamin portrait lathe was introduced in February 1837, the Mint had only hired engravers as Chief Engravers or as second or assistant engravers … Scot, Kneass, Gobrecht, Gardner, etc. were either plate engravers or other type engravers.

“In late 1839 or early 1840 (I have not pinned down the exact date), Robert Ball Hughes, a sculptor who was famous for the day, was hired to modify Gobrecht’s Liberty Seated design. Thus, we have Judd-110.

“It is a master die trial … a VERY unusual situation, as usually die trials are from working dies. I believe that Judd-110 was to show the Mint Director the new design for his approval.

“Hughes seems to have created ALL the dies from 1840-1843. I believe Gobrecht, who was promoted to Chief Engraver after the death of Kneass in 1840, was pushed upstairs because his skills were diminished … note the numerous large cents of 1839 that were rejected: Silly Head, Booby Head, etc. So Hughes was hired. Gobrecht died in 1844 and Longacre got the Chief Engraver position by political favor (Breen was correct, here).

“Hughes was the first sculptor hired by the Mint and the practice ended quickly, until Saint-Gaudens was employed in 1907. After that point, sculptors became common, as Saint-Gaudens pupils (Fraser, McNeil, etc.) were used.

“As for the unexplained center dot, my explanation is that Hughes used a compass on a positive at some point. Whether this was done on the model or a reduction is uncertain. Why it was done is easier to explain (create guidelines for stars, lettering, dentils) than explaining at what stage it was done. Why was the compass not used on the master die (a negative) like it normally would be, instead of using it on the model/hub (positives)?

“I have a feeling the concave fields were made in the reduction, as that would have allowed the model to have flat fields (easier to reduce AND another reduction could be made if the results were unsatisfactory, which they may have been, as the companion piece to Judd-110 has a different area of concavity). The model could be used numerous times, if necessary. If the sculpting of the fields was in the model, a second model would have been necessary to make the companion piece.

“After the reduction, the guidelines were cut in the reduction and then a master die was made from this sculpted reduction. In the master die, the dentils of the obverse were the only item added. No rim or stars were added to this master die.

“The reverse was prepared in the same way, a flat field model that was reduced. Guidelines were entered and a master die was raised from this reduction. I think the rim may have been in the model on the reverse, as it has a sculpted look. In the master die, the lettering on the reverse was added and the reverse master die was “complete.” At this point the dies were installed and Judd-110 was struck.

“I believe it was struck for this reason: There is die polish in the sculpted field area. After the graver tool made these fields, they needed smoothing. On Judd-110 there is evidence of both these features. The fields have fine, raised die polish mixed with graver lines, as the polishing did not remove all the graver lines. These dies were not lapped, but were polished in specific areas, likely with a emery cloth.

“As to why the front has dentils but no rim, while the reverse has a rim and no dentils … it may have just been a time-saving measure. He wanted to show Patterson he could do all the “coin things” necessary, so he did examples of each. Or there may be some other explanation for this anomaly.”

This item was sold by Heritage at the 2007 Milwaukee, WI (ANA) Signature Coin Auction #444 as lot 2176 and realized $69,000.00

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