A Record-Breaking Dahlonega Quarter Eagle
Lost in the post-sale chatter about the 1794 dollar was a record-breaking Dahlonega coin which became the highest-priced single quarter eagle from this mint ever sold at public auction. Stack’s Bowers was able to do something which no one else has ever done before: elicit a six-figure bid for an 1839-D quarter eagle.
The coin in question is an 1839-D quarter eagle graded MS64 by PCGS and approved by CAC. It was consigned by the owner of the Stellar collection and it was previously Lot 859 in Stack’s October 1994 sale of the famous James Stack collection where it brought $55,000. Nearly two decades later, it was offered as Lot 13291 in the Rarities Night session of the Stack’s Bowers January 2013 auction where it brought a sizzling $105,750.
The previous auction record for a Dahlonega quarter eagle of any date was $86,250, set by the Goldberg 2/12: 1209 coin; an 1855-D graded MS63 and approved by CAC, which I purchased and later blogged about.
I hadn’t seen this 1839-D in many years, and when I had a chance to view it again in person at the 2013 FUN show, I was suitably impressed. It was coin which had aged well; the color was as wonderful as I had remembered from before and it was very high end for the date and grade. But did I expect it to shatter the record for all Dahlonega quarter eagles? To be honest with you, I didn’t and now, a few days later, I finally understand why this coin was a record-setter.
Before I give some thought as to why it broke a record, I think a little background information about the 1839-D in particular and the D mint quarter eagle series in general is in order.
Of the 20 quarter eagles made at the Dahlonega mint between 1839 and 1859, the 1839-D is only the 13th rarest in terms of the number known in high grades. There are a few hundred known in total from an original mintage figure of 13,674 and as many as 8-11 exist in Uncirculated. I do not consider this to be an especially rare issue but I consider it to be very popular and very fundamentally desirable; two points that I will touch on in more detail in a minute.
Looked at as a series, the Dahlonega quarter eagles are the rarest of the three primary denominations struck at this mint. While there are a few common issues, virtually all Dahlonega quarter eagles are hard to find in AU55 and higher grades and very choice Uncirculated pieces, regardless of date, are very rare. The Dahlonega quarter eagle series doesn’t appear to be “hot” to me and I haven’t seen a flood of new collectors in this market but I have noted a strong level of demand for all very high end Dahlonega coins, regardless of date or denomination, in recent months. Noting this, I’m not surprised that the James Stack/Stellar 1839-D did well.
I don’t know who bought this coin but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the new owner was a type collector as opposed to a Dahlonega specialist. The 1839-D is a unique issue among Dahlonega quarter eagles in one regard and this is what gives it a far more broad level of appeal than a rarer issue like an 1855-D.
The 1839-D quarter eagle is a first year of issue coin AND it is a one-year type. It is the only quarter eagle from this mint that employs the short-lived Classic Head design and, as a result, it is the only quarter eagle from this mint with the mintmark placed on the obverse. It is one of the few Dahlonega quarters eagles (maybe the only one, in fact) that a collector who wasn’t a specialist would buy and in this regard, it is similar to issues like the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles.
There are some other interesting facts about this coin which were not discussed in the Stack’s Bowers description. It is regarded as the single finest known 1839-D quarter eagle (despite being tied with one other as the finest graded by PCGS) and it has been graded MS64 since it was first slabbed back in the mid-1990’s unlike so many other high grade Dahlonega quarter eagles which have “gradeflated” over the years. In looking back at my notes from the 1994 Stack sale which the coin first appeared in, I called it a “Gem” back then and I still think it deserves serious consideration today at the MS64+ to MS65 level. There is certainly the possibility it was bought by a dealer who will break it out, send it to NGC and hope for an MS65 grade; if there was ever an 1839-D that deserved consideration at this level, it is the James Stack/Stellar coin.
The new owner of this coin has added a very special 1839-D quarter eagle to his collection The purist in me can think of other Dahlonega quarter eagles which are more “valuable” but I totally understand why this coin is the current record holder. Branch mint collecting has changed dramatically in the last few years and “dates” aren’t always as important as “types.” The 1839-D is a coin which “checks all the boxes” for the new breed of Dahlonega collector and, ultimately, its record breaking sale at the January 2013 Stack’s sale is a great shot-in-the-arm for the Dahlonega market.