The 1861 quarter eagle is one of the most
common Liberty quarter eagles of the series struck between
1840 and 1907. A grand total of 1,283,788 were struck, the
3rd highest of the whole series. Examples are plentiful
in high grades, although the majority of known examples
are in uncirculated grades. Circulation of this issue was
very limited following the outbreak of the Civil War, when
all gold and silver coinage was hoarded from circulation.
Breen, in his Encyclopedia, notes that “Much of the
bullion for business strikes came from melted “Type
I” gold dollars stored at the N.Y. sub treasury”.
This issue comes with two distinct reverses,
as do the 1859 and 1860 quarter eagle issues. The old reverse,
from a hub that was planned to be discontinued after 1859
has large letters and arrowheads. The new hub, which was
used for the majority of 1858 to 1861 quarter eagle dies,
has much smaller letters and arrowheads. The letters are
also wider spaced than the earlier issues. A reason for
the existence of these pieces has never been found in Mint
papers, although a sudden need of reverse dies for this
denomination might be the reason.
Although the overall mintage is very large,
the 1861 old reverse quarter eagle is a true rarity. First
publicized in 1976, a staggering 115 years after being first
minted, it is generally assumed that less than 100 pieces
are known to exist in modern times. A few high grade examples
exist, including one or two MS-66 pieces, of which one PCGS
graded example sold for nearly $ 15,000 in December of 2004.
Most example of this rarity are very well struck, although
they tend do be somewhat weaker in the central areas. Clash
marks are common, indicating that they might have been produced
in haste, when a large number of quarter eagles were needed.
Much more common are the 1861 quarter eagles
with a new reverse. Examples are easily found in all grades
up to MS-64. Gems are scarce, and anything higher than that
is very scarcely found. Less than a dozen MS-66 pieces have
been graded by the major grading companies, and these are
highly regarded as type coins. A single piece has been graded
by PCGS as MS-67, which is the finest known of both the
old and new reverse.
As the other quarter eagle issues from this
era, proofs are a true rarity. The commonly accepted number
of produced pieces is 90 proofs (made on April 5), although
only 10-12 are known in all grades according to Garret &
Guth. Dave Akers earlier counted a total of 9 pieces known
in all proof grades. A couple of these are permanently impounded
in museums, and examples rarely come up for auction in any
grade. All proof quarter eagle of the year the Civil War
commenced are from the new, small letters reverse die.
A few pieces have been graded as PR-66’s,
although the true number is hard to estimate due to resubmissions.
Two pieces, one by both PCGS and NGC have been graded as
PR-65DCAM pieces, of which one sold for $44,850 in September
2005. In fact, that was the only proof piece of this issue
that was sold publically since 2003. A proof Civil War quarter
eagle is a true rarity and can be one of the highlights
in a collection of Civil War proof coinage.