The Duphorne Bust Quarter Book

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by NSP, Aug 1, 2018.

  1. NSP

    NSP Well-Known Member


    Whenever you read recommendations for early quarter dollar reference books, you usually see recommendations for Early United States Quarters (2008) or Early Quarter Dollars of the United States Mint (2011). You will also sometimes see recommendations for Browning’s Early Quarter Dollars of the United States, the book that defined the die marriages for the series (and has been reprinted numerous times since it was originally published in 1925). However, you will NOT see any recommendations for The Early Quarter Dollars of the United States, written by R. Duphorne. In fact, you will often see recommendations to avoid this book. Since I am a fan of bust quarters, I decided to buy a cheap copy of this interesting numismatic curiosity and see if the book was really as bad as everyone claims.

    Before making my comments on the book, I would like to provide some background information. For 50 years, Browning’s 1925 book had been the standard reference for the series. In 1975, the Duphorne book appeared essentially out of nowhere, complete with a new numbering system for the die marriages. Browning numbers start each date with B-1, then B-2, then B-3, and so on, until the next date, which starts over at B-1. This is similar to how Overton numbers are assigned for early half dollars. The Duphorne numbering system starts at D-1 for the first 1796 die marriage and continues to D-94. This is similar to Sheldon numbers used for early large cents. The inherent problem with this type of numbering system is that newly discovered die marriages cannot be neatly added. In fact, D-89 through D-94 are actually rare varieties that were fairly new in 1975 but were not properly assimilated into the rest of the numbering system. The new numbering system is the primary reason for which the Duphorne book receives a significant amount of criticism.

    Not much was known about Duphorne when the book came out in 1975, and it fell into obscurity as time went on. While investigating the book, I found a very interesting article in the John Reich Collectors Society Journal (2007 Issue 2; see link below). The author of the article managed to locate Duphorne in Albuquerque and actually completed an interview with him. What I found most interesting about the article was a discussion about some of the rarer varieties (D-89 through D-94) mentioned in the book’s appendix. Four of these varieties are recognized varieties with Browning numbers, but two of them are not. One of them, an alleged new 1835 variety, was debunked as being an 1835 B-2. The other alleged new variety, an 1831, has not been proven or disproven- so there could be an eighth die marriage out there for 1831. Duphorne lists its obverse as being the same used to strike B-5 and B-7 and its reverse as being the same used to strike B-2. The author of the article mentions that Duphorne owned the possible 1831 B-8 and was fairly adamant that it was in fact a new variety. Unfortunately the coin was sold and went off the radar.

    Now for my personal thoughts regarding the Duphorne book. My expectations were set pretty low, but I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously the biggest issue with the book is the renumbering of the die marriages, which greatly complicates using the book in the present day. Back in 1975, I suppose it may have been easier to convince early quarter specialists to change their preferred die marriage numbering system, but it was evidently a poor idea to try even in 1975. I also did not like how the newly discovered die marriages were not assimilated into the numbering system properly and were instead relegated to an appendix. Other than these flaws, I personally thought that the book was fairly okay. Some parts of the die marriage descriptions are confusing, and some of the images are bad and difficult to use. The highlights of this book are the charts and tables that are intended to facilitate attribution of the four bust quarter subseries. These charts have all of the key pickup points listed in one place, which I wish other early US coin reference books did more often. For example, one chart lists positions of key parts of the scroll relative to “United States of America” for all of the reverse dies used to strike quarters between 1815 and 1828. Another table lists the positions of stars 1, 7, 8, and 13 relative to key points on the bust of Liberty for the 1804-1807 quarters. From what I have read elsewhere, these types of tables were not very common during the era that this book was published. Overall, I would describe the book as “ambitious;” in some ways this helped the book and in other ways it significantly hurt the book.

    Would I recommend this book? Not really, unless you are a big fan of bust quarters and appreciate the history of collecting the series. The different numbering system really hinders the utility of the book in the present day. That said, I believe that I got my money’s worth because I finally got to form my own opinions of the book after reading so many negative comments about it.

    Link to the JRCS article:
    longshot, CircCam and -jeffB like this.
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