**
The Proof 1878 Quarter Eagle**
by Doug Winter
When
viewing mintage figures, most numismatists
exclaim that a coin is “rare” because only
10,000 or so were produced. But this figure
seems almost laughable in comparison to the
mintages for Proof gold coins struck prior to
1900. In fact, many of these issues have
mintages that were lower than 100 coins.
Proof gold was struck for collectors every year
from 1858 until 1915. From the 1850’s until the
early 1880’s, mintages were incredibly low. In
fact, a few issues have mintages as low as
twenty coins. A number of these issues are
well-known and highly prized by collectors but a
few have fallen through the cracks and their
true rarity remains unknown even today. One of
these overlooked issues is the Proof 1878
quarter eagle.
I recently sold an NGC PR65 Ultra Cameo example
of this rarity to an Eastern collector. In
searching through my records I realized that
this was the first Proof 1878 quarter eagle that
I have handled. And the more I studied this
issue, the more I realized just how rare it
truly is.
With an original production figure of only 20
Proofs, the 1878 is tied with three other issues
(1874, 1875 and 1877) as the lowest mintage
Proof date of this denomination from 1859
onwards.
The rarity of this was known by numismatists as
early as the 1910’s/1920’s. As recently as 1975,
David Akers wrote the following about this date:
“Proofs are extremely rare and the 1878 is, in
fact, the rarest post-1859 quarter eagle in
Proof. At least I know of fewer examples of this
date than of any other Proof after 1859. I would
estimate that only a half dozen or so remain in
unimpaired condition, most of which are
impounded in museums or prominent collections.”
Despite this praise from Akers, the rarity of
the 1878 seems to have been forgotten by this
generation of collectors and other Proofs of
this type, namely the 1875, are more highly
regarded.
As a rule, Proof gold of this era has a survival
rate of approximately half of the original
mintage. This typically holds true in the
quarter eagle series but the 1878 appears to be
an exception. Akers believed that some of the
1878 Proof gold coinage may have been melted
after it went unsold and given the extreme
rarity of all Proof gold denominations from this
year, I feel that this may well be correct.
Unfortunately, the population reports for Proof
1878 quarter eagles include a number of
resubmissions and this has further obfuscated
the true rarity of this issue. PCGS has graded
three: one example each in PR64, PR64 Deep Cameo
and PR65 Deep Cameo. NGC shows ten submissions
but I can all but guarantee you this number is
severely inflated. These include one each in
PR63, PR64 and PR65 plus four (!) in PR64 Ultra
Cameo and three in PR65 Ultra Cameo.
In the last decade or so, I am aware of only two
distinct examples of this date being available
for sale at public auction. The most recent of
these was a PCGS PR65 that was offered as
Superior 8/06: 639. It brought $32,570.
My best estimate is that there are seven or
eight examples known. This includes at least two
that are impounded (ANS and Smithsonian). Breen
wrote that “at least three” are impaired but I
have never seen or heard of one of these.
As someone who has specialized in rare United
States gold for over two decades, it isn’t often
that I handle a coin that is so rare that it
causes me to write a blog about it. But this was
clearly the case with the Proof 1878 quarter
eagle that I just sold. It was an exciting piece
for me to handle and I greatly appreciate being
able to buy and sell it. |