Quarter Dollar. Browning 1 and 2, point of curl respectively under left part or right part of B, the former extremely rare. Two B-l's and about seven B-2's exist showing earmarks of presentation-piece status. Many other B-2's are known on planchets showing some degree of polish before striking but they do not qualify as presentation pieces because striking is weak or uneven (breast feathers not up, claws weak, forelock weak, stars partly flat, etc.), there are adjustment marks of more than the faintest degree, centering is uneven, etc. The weakness at eagle's head is characteristic of the design and is not to be attributed to imperfect striking: the eagle's head was opposite Liberty's shoulder, the highest-relief part of obv. design, and only on coins struck more than once (I have seen three which might have qualified as such), or with dies aligned at a different angle, will the eagle's head show up plainly (eye as well as beak details). Occasion for presentation pieces: beginning of coinage, April 9, 1796. There were only four deliveries, 1800 on April 9 (believed to include the B-1's and possibly the earlier B-2's), 2530 on May 27, 1564 on June 14, and 252 on Feb. 28, 1797.
Half Dollars. Here is the major mystery. Most of the choice ones with 15 stars show evidence of polished dies and polished blanks or strip. The majority of these appear to have come from the Col. E.H. R. Green collection. But there is no evidence that any were actually coined in 1796; the delivery dates: 60, Feb. 28, 1797; 874, March 21; both deliveries sent to the Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. Later 2894 (believed to include all 97-dated coins), May 26.
If any were actually struck in 1796, they would have been presentation pieces. This is not impossible, and believe we need look no farther than the initiation of the new design (some time before June 1796 because of the obv. having 15 stars rather than 16) for the occasion for any such presentation. My guess is that the three most brilliantly proof-like examples tram uncracked dies, showing strong striking and good centering, including sharp curls and ribbon, sharp stars, strong claws, some details of breast feathers visible, were actually presentation pieces. There may be more than three of these around. The James A. Stack estate contained one so called (lot 313, ex Eliasberg, "H.R. Lee") but it was from the cracked die. As for the sixteen-star type, the occasion for presentation would have been the admission of Tennessee to the Union, June 1, 1796, as with the eagles of this year (see below); certainly there could have been no other logical reason for making an obverse die with 16 stars, when another 15-star obverse, complete except tor the last numeral at the date, was already on hand in the Engraving Department. (Proof of this is that the single obverse of 1797 has fifteen stars and is not an overdate. Had the die been made after June 1796 it would have had either 16 or 13 stars, as on other denominations.) It is not therefore surprising that a simon-pure presentation piece of this type should exist, and one is in fact known. Accordingly, we list:
- 15 stars. Overton 101= Beistle 2-A. Without die cracks. Possibly 3 presentation pieces known, and more may exist. Occasion: Introduction of the new design, probably early in the year. One ex James A. Stack estate, $29,000. One may have been the H.O. Granberg specimen, pictured on Plate 19, 1914 ANS Exposition, though I have not seen the actual coin (was it the one reappearing in the Baldenhofer sale? the illustration is not good enough for certainty) and an element of doubt exists in that two stars are partially flat, and adjustment marks show through IE and curls. Another is possibly ex Allenburger, Judd, Lichtenfels II: 1289. I know I have seen at least three during the past twenty-five years, on exhibits or in bourse tables at conventions, and I am reasonably sure (from the toning, among other things) that they were not all the same piece playing Musical Chairs. Warning: there are possibly 8 or 10 deceptive coins on polished blanks from a subsequent production run, probably included in the 60 struck Feb. 28, 1797; some of these show cracked dies, e.g. the Beistle Plate, Newcomer-Green-T.J. Clarke coin; all have more flat stars, breast feathers mostly not struck up, etc.
- 16 stars. Overton 102=Beistle 1-A.Without die cracks. Only one traced: the Beistle, Colonel Green coin, pictured (obv. 1) on Beistle's Plate 4. This piece was not known to exist prior to the turn of the century, and I have lost track of it in recent year. Probably struck for presention, about the beginning of June 1796, on the occasion of Tennessee's admission. Cf. also the Dr. Allenburger - Reed Hawn com, lot 7, at $32,000.
If this hypothesis is correct, we can say definitely that presentation pieces were not included in Mint accounting procedures, even as proofs prior to about 1860. The small amounts of bullion involved would have rendered this likely; at most Sundry Accounts orProfit and Loss would have gotten some kind of more or less noncommittal entry without specifying the nature of the bullion transferred.
Dollar. I have seen two specimens of the Bolender 4 variety (small date, large letters, dot above 1 in date) which might qualify at this level. If they actually prove to be presentation coins, the occasion might have been to make up some kind of group of silver coins around the beginning of June 1796. As the mint was primarily concerned with making silver dollars and large cents during the first ten months of 1796, there may not have been time to make up new dies while the old ones were still usable. The
characteristics, if memory serves, are much like those on the 1795 Bolender 14's earlier mentioned, but I would like to see these pieces again to verify that they have the quality of surface and striking characteristic of actual presentation pieces of the period.
Quarter Eagle. Without stars. Breen 1-A.Only one known in presentation-piece form, and I have long since lost track of it. Earliest die state, of course. Struck probably Sept. 22, 1796 when the denomination was begun, some 66 being made that day (regular business strikes) and 897 more coined Dec. 8 for the Bank of the United States. This particular piece can be identified by its proof surface and excellent striking characteristics - breast feathers above field sharp, stars and clouds all up, eagle's tail well struck up, curls well up.
With stars. Three seen in presentation-piece form. One of these was Earle: 2496; another went in the M.l. Cohen sale of 1875, and mayor may not be among the three seen by me. Cf. also Maris: 12 (1886); Winter sale (1974), $33,000. The production run began on Jan. 14, 1797, but the presentation pieces may have been made in December 1796. Occasion, presumably the new type.
Half Eagles. None definitely traced, though one or more might well exist from an issue in June 1796.
Eagles. Only one variety; sixteen stars, spaced 8 + 8, unlike any other die of the 1795-1804 series, this arrangement of stars matching the quarter eagle die and no other. There may be as many as a half dozen around in presentation piece state. These are almost indistinguishable from each other, having brilliant proof surfaces and unusually sharp striking on stars, central curls, breast feathers, etc. Occasion: admission of Tennessee to the Union, June 1, 1796. The obv. die was presumably completed on receipt of the news, date and stars being added. First production run was 2332 pieces, June 2; total dated 1796, 4146 pieces, the other two deliveries being 960 on June 21 and 854 on Dec. 22 during the emergency following the yellow fever epidemic.
Sets could have been made up from half disme through eagle, or comprising 3 or 4 different gold pieces alone; if the former, and made up in June 1796, they would have included 1796/5 half dismes, and may not have included half eagles (first coined June 28), nor is it likely that they would have included either, let alone both, of the quarter eagles. If the presentation was made at the end of the year, there would have been a greater range of available designs for choice.