Quarter Eagles 1796-1834

Certified Early Gold (1795-1834) and Why They Are Scarce, Part II

By Silvano DiGenova

Quarter eagles, or two-and-one-half-dollar gold pieces as they are also called, come in six different styles or basic types, those being Draped Bust No Stars, Draped Bust with Stars, Capped Bust Left, Capped Head Left Large Size, and Capped Head Left Small Size. Liberty obverse and Large or Heraldic Eagle reverse all have the same manufacturing characteristics, in that they are all 25 millimeters in diameter, weigh 135 grains of .9167 fine gold and are alloyed with copper, and were struck in a screw press with a reeded collar at the Philadelphia mint. By and large they are mostly softly struck; a well struck coin is always a prize in any grade.

Draped Bust No Stars 1796
1796 Draped Bust No Stars: This type was designed by Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint Robert Scot and struck in Philadelphia. The obverse is Liberty facing right, the reverse is the Heraldic Eagle seal of the United States. There are two die varieties of the one year type with an estimated mintage of fewer than 1,000. Most show some weakness from a rusted die at the E in “Liberty” and they commonly come partially prooflike, which is not surprising, considering the short mintage. There is no denomination of value on this early gold coin, and there are no known proofs made or rumored (Akers).

There are total of 97 of these coins certified in all grades, of which only 17 are uncirculated, at least two of which are gems, which makes all the coins in all grades either very scarce or rare. While Akers estimated 40 known over 30 years ago, with David Halls estimates of a 20 percent margin of error on both Akers’ estimates (conservative) and the number of certified (aggressive), Akers is pretty close to accurate, a fairly amazing feat, if one puts aside the fact that it is statistically very unlikely that 10 percent of the total mintage of any early gold coin has survived over 200 years. DiGenova recommends this coin in all grades so long as there is even wear on the circulated examples, no problems of any kind and good eye appeal.

Draped Bust With Stars 1796-1807

1796-1807 Draped Bust with Stars: Also designed by Robert Scot and made in Philadelphia, starts in 1796 and runs until 1807. There is an estimated mintage of eighteen and a half thousand for the type in 11 date varieties. Even the common dates are not really common because of the short mintages. There are 750 certified examples of all dates, of which 181 are uncirculated, with just four known gems. There is no denomination on these coins. The 1807, 1802/1 and the 1804 14 stars are the most “common” of these uncommon coins. There are also at least two dozen examples that have been made into jewelry, cleaned harshly or damaged in some other fashion which would make them uncollectible to all but a few numismatists.

1796 With Stars: This variety was created with an entirely new hub, the letters in Liberty being spaced differently than on the No Stars type, and there are eight stars on each side of the head of Liberty (Breen). A total mintage of 432 and only 38 certified examples in all grades, of which 12 are uncirculated. I have seen only one gem and have heard of no others. This date is the fourth rarest early quarter eagle. Akers was right on the money with survival rates on this date as well. Rare.

1797: Just about the same mintage as the 1796 With Stars but three times as rare in Uncirculated. The stars are seven to the left and six to the right of Liberty and a 16 star reverse. Only 26 examples certified, of which four are Uncirculated, Survival rare of about five percent. Rare.

1798: Wide Date, Five Berries: With a mintage estimated at only 800-plus (Dannruther). There are five stars to the right of Liberty and seven to the left. This type has 35 certified examples in all grades, and only 13 uncirculated examples currently known. With a survival rate of four-and-a-half percent, there is one gem known reported but I have never seen it. Rare.

1798 Close Date, Four Berries: While missing from Yeoman’s Guide Book, Akers noted this unusual variety in 1975, and it does appear recently in Dannruther’s notes, so the Red Book should be corrected at some point to include the Close Date. Same stars arrangement as on the Wide Date variety. Estimated mintage of just over about 250 (Dannruther), only one example has been certified in any grade, making this variety a contender for rarest early draped bust quarter eagle. Very Rare and not collectable.

1802/1: With a mintage of over 3,000, this overdate is in the running for the second most “common” of the early draped bust quarter eagles. There are eight stars to the left of Liberty and five to the right. There are 143 certified examples, of which 33 are Uncirculated, making an overall survival rate of one-and-three-quarters. There are two reported Gems. Rare.

1804 14 Stars: With eight stars to the right of Liberty and five to the right. Akers estimates a mintage of three thousand; Dannruther cites a mintage of about 2,800, while Breen estimated 2,300, and one of which will make this the third-most “common” early draped bust quarter eagle, for a total survival rate of three-and-a-half percent. There are 100 certified examples of which nineteen are Uncirculated. Rare.