Rare 1854-S Quarter Eagle in November 2013 Baltimore Auction

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California in January 1848 caused a dramatic change in the United States and in the history of the U.S. Mint. The large quantities of bullion discovered led in part to the Mint Act of March 3, 1849, which authorized two new gold denominations, the gold dollar and the $20 double eagle. But despite the bonanza of gold coming from California, there was still a shortage of circulating coins in that area. Some private gold coins were being made, but they were not enough. In order to alleviate the situation, in 1850 a United States Assay Office was established in San Francisco, and in December of that year, a few months after California had achieved statehood, President Millard Fillmore recommended that a branch mint be established in the state. On July 3, 1852 the bill became law.

It took nearly two years, but on April 3, 1854, the new San Francisco Mint began operations in a structure 60 feet square and three stories high, an enlargement of the facility owned by private coiners Curtis, Perry & Ward. On April 15, 1854, the first coins were struck there, $20 double eagles bearing the “S” mintmark. Many difficulties were encountered as the San Francisco Mint got up and running, but in 1854 $10 eagles and $20 double eagles were struck in quantities of 123,826 and 141,468 respectively. Over 14,000 1854-S gold dollars were struck, but the other small gold denominations that would have been useful in commerce — the quarter eagle and half eagle — were minted in extremely small quantities. The 1854-S half eagle had a mintage of only 268 pieces and ranks in the very top echelon of prime American numismatic rarities. Just 246 1854-S quarter eagles were struck and it has become a legendary rarity as well.

Stack’s Bowers Galleries is pleased to offer a rare 1854-S quarter eagle in our November auction to be held in conjunction with the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo. PCGS has graded the coin VF-30, but the overall definition is sharper than expected for the grade. This visually appealing example has attractive toning on both sides and exceptional surfaces for the issue and grade.

Of course, the rarity of this quarter eagle will create much excitement as it crosses the block as part of our Rarities Night offering on Thursday, November 7. As one of only a dozen or so known examples, the competition to own it should be fierce. The offered coin is pedigreed to our (Stack’s) 1954 Davis-Graves sale, our (Bowers and Merena’s) 1988 sale of the Norweb Collection, and David Lawrence Rare Coins’ sale of the Richmond Collection in 2004.

The known census of 1854-S quarter eagles includes:
1). Bass coin — AU-53 (NGC)
2). C.L. Lee Family coin from our (ANR) auction — EF-45 (NGC)
3). Rio Rancho coin, Superior, October 1974, lot 89; later Heritage 1/2007, lot 4325 — EF-45 (PCGS)
4). Smithsonian Institution coin. EF-45
5). The offered specimen. Davis-Graves; Norweb; Richmond — VF-35 (PCGS)
6). Heritage, February 2005, lot 7584 — VF-25 (NGC)
7). Auction ’86; Chicago Sale, Rarcoa, August 1991, lot 937 — VF-20 (NGC)
8). Grant Pierce Collection, Stack’s, May 1965, lot 1154, Fairfield, Bowers and Ruddy, October 1977, lot 1544 and other appearances — VF-20 (ANACS) damaged, cleaned
9). Wolfson Collection, Stack’s, November 1962, lot 165, Stack’s 400th Sale, January 1988, lot 366 – Fine
10). Ezra Cole Collection, Bowers and Merena, January 1986, lot 2456; Superior, October 1989, lot 4037; Superior, May 1990, lot 5431 — Fine-12 (NGC)
11). NERCG, ANA Sale, July 1979, lot 82; Auction ’81, July 1981, lot 1405; Stack’s, May 2000, lot 1194 – VG
12). The discovery specimen for the date and mint, H.O. Granberg; Elmer Sears; John H. Clapp; Louis E. Eliasberg Sr., Bowers and Ruddy, October 1982, lot 170; Stetson Collection, Bowers and Merena, May 1993,
lot 587 — VG/G.

Other appearances are believed to be included in those listed above.

Catalogs for the November Baltimore sale are now in production and the entire auction will be available on our website at For information on lot viewing, auction location and times visit our website or call 1-800-458-4646.

If you have coins or an entire collection that you would like to consign to one of our upcoming auction sales, contact one of our consignment directors. We are accepting consignments for our upcoming New York Americana Sale and March Baltimore Sale. Whether buying or selling, our team of experts and specialists look forward to working with you!

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