The gold quarter eagle, worth $2.50 face value,
was authorized by the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, although the first
coins of this denomination
did not appear until 1796. In a bit of an odd twist, nowhere on the
coin is the face value denoted.
The first gold quarter eagle was the Capped Bust to Right type of
1796-1807. The obverse shows Liberty wearing a head turban fashionable
with women of the late 18th century. For a long time, the turban was
incorrectly thought by many to be a liberty cap derived from ancient
Rome, as was the case with other United States coinage.
Research later uncovered the 1825 writings of
Mint Director Samuel
Moore, who verified the true nature of Liberty’s head attire. For this
reason, numismatists also call this the Turban Head type. An example is
seen directly below.
Less than 20,000 Turban Head Quarter Eagles were minted. Tensions
between the U.S. and Europe throughout the 1790s and early 1800s drove
European gold prices higher. Bullion dealers exploited this situation
by obtaining American gold coinage in exchange for relatively cheap
Mexican silver and exporting it to overseas melting pots at a
considerable profit. The risk of immediate doom greatly curtailed
production of all U.S. gold coins during the earliest years under the
The Mint hired John Reich as Assistant Engraver
in 1807. Reich was a highly reputed German die sinker who arrived in
the United States as an indentured servant in 1801. After six years of
failing to secure permanent employment at the Mint because of internal
politics (apparently, no one wanted to offend the sensibilities of
Chief Engraver Robert Scot), Reich began making plans to return to
Germany. Through the intervention of President Thomas Jefferson, the
assistant’s position was created for Reich to retain his talent.
While This Coin Was Minted...
The death of George Washington occurred on Dec 14, 1799. On
the evening of the 13th, he suddenly developed difficulty in breathing,
and in less than 24 hours, he was gone. His last words were "'tis
well". Washington was the foremost political figure of his time,
leading the Americans to victory in the Revolutionary War, oversaw the
drafting of the US Constitution, and served two terms as the first
president of the new nation. As fate would have it, Washington
was a man for his time only, bidding farewell just 17 days shy of the
dawn of the 19th century.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Reich immediately set out to upgrade the
appearance of United States
coinage, including a new gold quarter eagle,
in 1808. Reich depicted Miss Liberty facing left, wearing a mobcap
decorated with the word LIBERTY. The Capped Bust to Left, sometimes
known as the Capped Draped type, featured a somewhat realistic eagle
extending its wings sitting atop an olive branch, while holding arrows
suggesting force, if necessary, to defend itself. Reich’s eagle reverse
would remain a fixture on U.S. coinage for the next 100 years.
The Capped Bust to Left Quarter Eagle was in production for the year
1808 only. A single set of 1808 dies were made, and numismatists
theorize it broke after only 2710 pieces were made. Thereafter, quarter
eagle gold coinage was suspended due to the continued threat posed by
international bullion dealers.
Quarter eagle production resumed in 1821. Although gold coinage still
had trouble remaining in circulation because of its high intrinsic
metal value, several banks deposited gold bullion from Mexico and
requested quarter eagles in return under the Mint’s “Free Coinage”
policy. Reich resigned from the Mint in 1817 in disgust over his
stagnated salary of $50/month, so the duty of resurrecting the quarter
eagle fell to Robert Scot.
Scot’s Capped Head to Left type was nothing more
than a slightly modified version of Reich’s 1808 design. At age 77 and
with failing eyesight, Scot was probably not up to the task of
originating a new design from scratch. The most noticeable difference
was a 1.5 mm (.059 inches) decrease in diameter. The weight remained
consistent, so the 1821 quarter eagle edition was thicker than its
predecessors. In 1829, the diameter was reduced by another .3 mm. The
Capped Head to Left was minted in small numbers nearly every year until
1834, but never gained a foothold in American society because its gold
content was worth more than its face value, making it subject to
exportation and melting.
The gold quarter eagle types of 1796-1834 are often referred to as
Early Quarter Eagles. Even in their time, they were considered quite
rare. By today’s standards, an Early Quarter Eagle is truly one of the
greatest prizes a collector can ever hope to attain. Any genuine
example put up for sale will attract attention, but only lookers with
lots of cash can make a serious bid. Based on past value trends, new
buyers of these incredible coins have every reason to expect a good
return on their outlay, should they decide to sell in a few years.
Of special interest is the 1808 date. It is considered a type unto
itself, because its diameter is larger than other Capped Head Quarter
Eagles. Only about 50 examples are known to exist, all subject to
unrelenting pressure from collectors. The 1808 Quarter Eagle is one of
the most significant coins in all of American numismatics. An MS-63
(PCGS) gem sold for $517,500 in November 2008.
All Early Quarter Eagles are viewed as key date coins, and are safe
suggestions for collectors seeking coins sure to forever inspire awe
amongst peers. Some members of this august class have phenomenal rates
of appreciation over a very long period of time:
It is strongly recommended to buy Early Quarter
Eagles that have been
certified by one of the four leading grading service companies: PCGS,
NGC, ICG, or ANACS. If not, then the seller had better be someone
trustworthy. These rarities have been frequent targets of
counterfeiters for a long time. Grading is critical too, since a one or
two point swindle on the 70
point grading scale can cost you thousands, so be careful who
you're dealing with.
The links below take you to pre-selected eBay gold coin auctions. The
link on the right hand side of the first box is coded to bring up all
auctions for Turban Head Quarter Eagles. The 1796 "No Stars" historic
value trends are shown on the left hand side to represent the type. The
second box represents the Capped Draped type of 1808. There is a link
to eBay, but a genuine specimen is very unlikely to come up for sale,
but it's still fascinating to study the skyrocket record of this
incredibly rare gold coin. Finally, the third box locates all Capped
Head to Left Quarter Eagles, with the 1826 highlighted to speak for the
|1796 No Stars
Turban Head QE
Cap Draped QE
|% Annual Increase Since
|% Annual Increase Since
Cap Hd Left QE
|% Annual Increase Since