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Big change for ‘Little Princess’

Professional Coin Grading Service will now attribute and grade 1841 quarter eagles both as proofs and circulation strikes. The big change involves one of the most famous United States gold coin rarities, the $2.50 gold piece nicknamed “The Little Princess.”
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Professional Coin Grading Service will now attribute and grade 1841 quarter eagles both as proofs and circulation strikes.


The big change involves one of the most famous United States gold coin rarities, the $2.50 gold piece nicknamed “The Little Princess.”

“This is a monumental decision on our part, and we have taken two years to reach the decision. The really interesting thing about the whole process is that this is not a unanimous point of view in the numismatic community,” said David Hall, co-founder of PCGS and president of Collectors Universe, Inc.

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Traditionally, it has been thought that only proof quarter eagles were struck by the Philadelphia Mint in 1841 and no circulation strikes were minted, Hall said. However, over the years, several experts questioned the “proof-only” status of the 1841 quarter eagle.

PCGS has determined that the most likely scenario is that both a small number of circulation strikes and an even smaller number of proofs were struck.

“There are world class U.S. coin experts on both sides of this issue. Some of the smartest numismatic minds of all-time feel very strongly that circulation strike 1841 Philadelphia Mint quarter eagles were indeed minted,” Hall said. “But there are also some of the best coin minds of all-time who believe only proofs were struck.”

The list of experts who feel that some 1841 Philadelphia quarter eagles are circulation strikes reads like a who’s who of numismatic experts, Hall said. They include David Akers, Q. David Bowers, Harvey and Lawrence Stack, Doug Winter, Jeff Garrett, Anthony Terranova, Jim Halperin, Fred Weinberg, Don Kagin, David McCarthy, Steve Contursi, Jason Carter and Gordon Wrubel.

“But equally illustrious experts feel just as strongly that only proofs were struck, including numismatic researcher extraordinaire and my friend and fellow PCGS founder John Dannreuther, PCGS CoinFacts President Ron Guth, and PCGS Director of Grading Mike Sargent,” Hall said.

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“I have never seen the coin expert community so divided over a technical numismatic issue and this is one of the few times in our nearly 40-year relationship that John Dannreuther and I have disagreed about a pure coin issue.”
Hall said it’s been a complicated dilemma.

“So after two years of research, after showing five different specimens to all of these experts and after trips to the Smithsonian Institution, the question became ‘What should we do about it?’ Our choices were to do nothing or to make a monumental change in the way we attribute some 1841 Philadelphia quarter eagles.”

The decision to change the way PCGS attributes one of the greatest U.S. gold coin rarities was not taken lightly, Hall said.

“But the experts who felt there were circulation strikes were too numerous to ignore. So, with some reservations and a lot of mixed emotions, PCGS will now recognize circulation strike 1841 Philadelphia quarter eagles.

“And this changes everything,” Hall said. “The Condition Census, the Population Report, auction records, the way most people will collect, even the value of all of the coins including the proofs – it all changes. And the circulation strikes now become one of the great circulation strike rarities of U.S. numismatics.”

Hall also added a word of caution: “While PCGS has made the decision to recognize circulation strike 1841 Philadelphia quarter eagles, it is a decision that could be subject to change. The majority of the experts involved feel this is the right thing to do, but it is possible that further research will show that this is not the case. If that happens, then PCGS would once again change the way it attributes 1841 quarter eagles.”

According to the PCGS CoinFacts condition census, there are now four known proof 1841 quarter eagles, the finest being the Gem proof in the Smithsonian Institution, and there are 12 or 13 circulation strikes, the finest (and only mint state example) being the coin PCGS has just graded MS-61, which is owned by a California collector. This coin, along with two other examples, was procured for our research by Steven L. Contursi of Rare Coin Wholesalers.

The first PCGS designated circulation strike 1841 Philadelphia Quarter Eagle will soon hit the auction block as Stack’s Bowers will be selling an EF-45 specimen during the “Rarities Night” Thursday, March 22, in their auction held in conjunction with the upcoming March Baltimore coin show.

PCGS has published a 35-page study of the 1841 Quarter Eagles including the case for circulation strikes written by Hall and others, the case for the proof-only status written by Dannreuther and Guth. It also includes a new registry of known specimens by Guth and P. Scott Rubin, along with images of 15 of the 16 or 17 known specimens.
Call PCGS customer service at 800-447-8848 for a copy of the study or go to the Professional Coin Grading Service home page at to view the study online.

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