The 1808 quarter eagle is a transcendent rarity that is well known outside collectors of 19th century gold type coins. John Reich’s design was struck in just this one year, and only 2,710 pieces were minted. Of that number it has been estimated that fewer than 2% exist today in all grades, with 35-40 pieces being a reasonable estimate of the surviving specimens. Breen speculates that the low survival rate may be due to the weak borders on all known coins which exposed them to undue wear. Every 1808 quarter eagle we have seen has had rim problems of some sort, probably due to the lack of raised detail evident around the margins.
The 1808 quarter eagle is the only issue of this denomination to display Reich’s handiwork. All 2,710 pieces were minted during the year, and it is likely that all were from this single pair of dies. Only one variety is known with approximately 150 surviving pieces. The combination of a low survival and high demand from type, date, and variety collectors ensures that examples are infrequently offered and hotly contested when they are made available. In Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia, the author states: “No archives documentation explains the small mintage, abandonment of the design, or noncoinage of quarter eagles for the dozen years to follow. All we have is conjectures
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Stacks
” Essentially, Breen suggested that the banks, who made regular deposits of gold to be converted to coin, preferred the half eagle coins: “over 90% of the time they wanted most or all their gold deposits coined into half eagles.” This same reason is usually quoted for large production of half eagles throughout the early 19th century, but it fails to explain why the largest gold coin of that time, the eagle, had not been produced since 1804, not to appear again until 1838.
Johann Matthias (John) Reich joined the Mint engraving staff on April 1, 1807, and served a 10-year tenure until March 31, 1817. He was responsible for the Capped Bust coinage so familiar today. Reich set about redesigning every denomination from the half cent through the half eagle. In 1807, his Capped Bust design appeared for the first time on half dollars, and a similar design also appeared on the half eagles in 1807. Early the next year, a modification of this design, known today as the Classic Head, appeared on large cents and followed on the half cents in 1809. For silver coins, the Capped Bust design was utilized for dimes in 1809, quarter dollars in 1815, and half dimes in 1829. Silver dollars and eagles were not in production, thus the Reich designs never appeared on those denominations. Perhaps the single most important entry in the Reich parade of designs is the quarter eagle of 1808.
John Reich was a native of Bavaria who learned the engraving trade from his father, Johann Christian Reich. According to L. Forrer in the Biographical Dictionary of Medalists: the elder Reich was “born at Eisenberg (Saxe-Altenburg) about 1740, settled at Furth in 1758, and died in 1814. He probably began as an assistant to a Counter-manufacturer, but started business on his own account about 1770, as shown by various counters bearing his name, some of which refer to the famine of 1771/1772. He had a factory of organs, clocks, mathematical instruments, musical boxes, and other objects. Of that period is a series of medals by him dated 1771 and 1772, and commemorating also that famine.” The younger Reich, according to Forrer, collaborated with his father from about 1789 to 1800.
Johann Matthias was born in Furth in 1768. Many of the medals issued during those years with the signature of Reich were the work of both father and son together. John Reich immigrated to America in 1800, settling in Philadelphia. Apparently he came at the suggestion of Henry Voigt, and quickly gained the attention of Mint Director Elias Boudinot. In a June 16, 1801 letter to President Thomas Jefferson, Boudinot commented that “I have been waited on by Mr. Reich and was much pleased with his work.” Jefferson, in turn, agreed to have Reich prepare the design for his own Indian Peace medal.
Robert Patterson replaced Boudinot as director of the Mint, and then hired John Reich as assistant engraver. A short time later, another engraver arrived from Europe. Moritz Furst came to Philadelphia and “was firmly convinced that he was to assume the office of chief engraver, according to representations which had been made to him by Thomas Appleton, the American consul at Leghorn,” according to Georgia S. Chamberlain in the March 1955 issue of The Numismatist. Eventually, both Reich and Furst worked on designs for various medals at the Mint. Reich left his post at the Mint in 1817, and spent his remaining 16 years in Albany, New York.
Designer: John Reich
Diameter: ±20 millimeters
Metal content: Gold – 91.7% Silver and Copper – 8.3%
Weight: ±67.5 grains (±4.37 grams)