If a commemorative involves the Declaration of Independence, then it requires something special. At least, that appears to have been the thinking back in 1926 as the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was approaching.
In the years prior to 1925, the idea of commemoratives had become much more regular. The one change over earlier years was that the commemoratives being issued were half dollars. For a time, almost all commemoratives had been gold dollars. There had still been a couple gold dollars, but it was the half dollar that was seen most often as the commemorative denomination.
There had been very little in terms of quarter eagles in the entire history of commemoratives. The one exception had been a Panama-Pacific Exposition quarter eagle back in 1915. It was included in a large program, where it was barely even noticed. In the same program was a half dollar, gold dollar, and round and octagonal $50 gold pieces. Under the circumstances, it is easy to understand why the quarter eagle would have had very little attention.
In fact, with the 1915-S quarter eagle sales of just 6,749 pieces, it is hard to imagine what might have prompted the idea of having a half dollar as well as a $2.50 quarter eagle. It was certainly out of character for commemorative programs at the time.
The idea for the commemoratives was to not only mark the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, but to also help raise funds for an international fair to be held in Philadelphia in 1926.
The obverse of the quarter eagle features a standing female figure symbolic of Liberty holding a torch of freedom in one hand and a scroll representing the Declaration of Independence in the other. For the reverse, designer John R. Sinnock depicted Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Based on the rather dismal sales of the Panama-Pacific quarter eagle, no one should have expected much from the new Sesquicentennial of American Independence quarter eagle. However, it appears that there were high hopes with 200,226 being struck at the Philadelphia Mint with 226 reserved for assay.
As it turned out, the Sesquicentennial Exposition proved to be a financial failure. Apparently the sales of the quarter eagle did not help as there were not many sales, at least if the goal was to sell 200,000. Eventually, a total of 154,207 were returned for melting.
Even with the heavy returns, sales of the quarter eagle stood at 46,019, which was an impressive total at the time. It was probably not good enough to please those involved, but it was many times higher than the Panama-Pacific sales.
Under the circumstances at the time, the number of coins not returned and the number actually sold could be very different things. Those doing the selling would sometimes keep large numbers to sell later. They were in a can’t-lose position since the coins only cost them the face value. As a result, many times a coin would be available for years.
It would seem likely in this instance with the high sales, but it does not appear to be the case. There are no reports of large hoards. A 1976 Parke-Bernet sale featured 71 examples that included 46 pieces in an original roll, but even such numbers are very low compared to other issues.
With the high number retained and not melted, it should come as no surprise that the Sesquicentennial quarter eagle of 1926 is relatively available. It lists for $500 in MS-60 and $3,450 in MS-65. In fact, the number that might be expected in top grades are not really there, which could explain why the Sesquicentennial quarter eagle, while still available, is perhaps a little pricier than would be expected.