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 two and one half dollar gold piece or quarter eagle, one of 10 coins that Congress authorized via the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, made its debut four years later, in 1796. Its early production was quite small, accounting for slightly more than 22,000 pieces in just eight different years through 1808, after which time mintage of the denomination was suspended. The denomination reappeared in 1821. Nearly 6,500 examples were produced in that year, the second highest annual emission up to that point. Gold coins were seldom seen in commerce in the early United States. This resulted partly from the Founding Fathers' undervaluation of gold relative to silver, making gold coins worth more as bullion (intrinsic value) than as hard money (face value). Consequently, gold coins were hoarded in large numbers, and often exported and melted.
Another reason for the minuscule production of early quarter eagles was their face value: They were either too large, or too small, for most uses. Walter Breen, writing in his Complete Encyclopedia (1988), wonders not why so few quarter eagles were minted, but rather why they were minted at all, suggesting that they were ordered in small quantities by local banks and that survivors, based on their condition, 'spent most of their time in vaults.' Indeed, from 1796 until 1834, when the Classic Head quarter eagle premiered, only about 64,000 quarter eagles were coined, a figure that is but a tiny fraction of the half eagles and eagles produced during the Mint's early period.
As far as is known, the year 1821 represents the first quarter eagles that are identifiable as proof strikings. Perhaps as many as seven pieces are known today. The reason for the striking of these pieces remains a mystery. They may have been struck as part of the presidential inauguration of James Monroe in March 1821. Proof half eagles from this year also exist, and are equally rare. The recently published (and monumentally important) Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795-1933 by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth makes these cogent comments concerning the proof 1821 quarter eagles:
This was the first year that Proof quarter eagles were produced, all of which are extreme rarities. Proofs (and some of the circulation strikes) feature a depression on Liberty's cheek, presumably caused by something that adhered to the dies, and then later fell off.
Garrett and Guth also comment (under proof 1821 half eagles) that, 'The year 1821 appears to be the first time in which complete Proof sets of all denominations were made, but this may have been in response to collector demand rather than some undocumented 'special' occasion.' Of course, as Walter Breen conjectures in his proof Encyclopedia, perhaps the Mint merely struck a few proofs to commemorate the resumption of the quarter eagle denomination after its 13-year hiatus, although the existence of proof 1821 half eagles seems to bolster other theories.
Only a single die was used to produce the few proofs and 6,448 business strikes of the year. The Harry W. Bass Collection lacked a proof example of this issue, although it had a circulation strike. The Bass Museum Sylloge notes that, 'Many early die state circulation strikes still show finishing marks and reflective surfaces vestigial from the preparation of these dies to strike Proof pieces ... .' A second obverse die was produced, but it remained unused and was later overdated 1824/1.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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