The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
The special nature of this coin has been recognized since at least 1941 when it appeared in Mehl's Dunham Sale. It has passed from one specialist to another since then, always remaining in strong hands and rarely offered to the numismatic market. The obvious reason for striking this piece, as well as the other known branch mint proof, was 'resumption of coinage of this denomination at New Orleans (interrupted 1860),' as stated in Breen (1977).
It is always interesting to compare and contrast branch mint proofs with those produced in Philadelphia. It appears that employees in the branch mints were not familiar with the day-to-day striking of proofs. Rather, when called upon to strike such coins, they produced pieces that they thought resembled the proofs that were regularly turned out of the mother mint in Philadelphia. And in most cases, they did an admirable job of emulating Philadelphia proofs.
It is interesting to note the differences between this New Orleans specimen and a proof from Philadelphia. Most obvious are the striking details. Some of the feather details on the eagle and the star radials lack complete high point definition. Some P-mint proofs, especially from the 1880s, also lack full detailing and this is not an absolute necessity for proof status. On this coin it appears it was only struck once. Perhaps New Orleans personnel were not familiar with the tradition of double striking proofs? It is also interesting to note that a scribe line is clearly evident just outside the denticles on each side. Indeed, die polishing goes up to the line on the obverse but not beyond. On the reverse much of the line is still evident and it has only been polished away between 1 and 3 o'clock. On Philadelphia proofs, part of the scribe line can still be seen on some issues, but die polishing was generally done carefully enough to either show the curve of each denticle or many times the individual denticles are fully outlined all the way to the rim. These are slight differences in the nature of branch mint proofs and Philadelphia proofs, and these differences can easily be explained by the quantities of proofs or specimens produced in each mint--one need not be quite as careful about the fine points if only two pieces are to be produced vs. the hundreds of pieces struck across all denominations in the Philadelphia facility. But the texture of this coin gives clear indication of the intent to produce a special coin most likely for presentation purposes.
The roster is brief for 1891-O specimen quarters as only two are known:
1. William Forrester Dunham (B. Max Mehl FPL, 6/1941), Gene Edwards, 1980 ANA Sale (Steve Ivy, 8/1980), lot 2024, Jascha Heifetz Collection (Superior, 10/1989), lot 3652, Silbermnzen Collection (Heritage, 5/2008, lot 334).
2. Private collection, ca. 1968, Ahwash Collection, current whereabouts unknown
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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