After the 1808 quarter eagle issue there was a 12-year hiatus in the production of the denomination. An uncertain world political scene combined with rising gold prices caused gold coins to vanish from circulation. Because of a fixed 15-to-1 silver-to-gold ratio in this country, speculators and brokers could exchange one ounce of U.S. gold for 16 ounces of silver overseas, more or less, use 15 of those silver ounces to buy another ounce of gold here, send that gold overseas for 16 more ounces of silver, and so on. The main impediment to this profit of one ounce of silver per transaction (minus any shipping fees) was the inability to secure enough gold. Banks were the main depositors of gold at the Mint, and per the Mint’s policy, a depositor could request coinage of certain specific denominations. Those who requested gold coins usually chose half eagles, likely for the same reason that most of us today would rather receive a dime in change instead of two nickels: fewer pieces to handle for the same amount of money. Eagle mintage had ended in 1804, by order of President Thomas Jefferson, not to be reintroduced for another decade, and the double eagle would not be produced until the mid-1850s.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
However, in 1821 several banks requested quarter eagles, for reasons unknown though perhaps as presentation awards, at the same time gold bullion was coming to the Mint from Mexico and mines in the southeastern states. Chief Engraver Robert Scot was responsible for designing the revitalized issue but, likely because of his advanced age and failing health, he adapted designs from earlier John Reich motifs rather than creating new ones. Scot had modified John Reich’s half eagle obverse design for the 1813 issue of that denomination, and he adapted that portrait for the 1821 quarter eagle. Liberty and her mobcap are smaller than on the 1808 pieces, giving room for the stars to encircle all but the bottom of the portrait, but the reverse from that version was continued with only slight modifications (refinement of the lower wing feathers most noticeable). Scot, who had been Chief Engraver of the Mint since 1793, died in 1823 and the quarter eagle was to receive further modifications from his successor William Kneass, including a reduction in the diameter of the coin in 1829. No quarter eagles were minted in either 1822 or 1823.
The obverse displays a somewhat mature and stout version of Liberty, who faces left, head covered with a mobcap (an early 19th century woman’s headdress) under which curls of long hair drape over the forehead and down the back of the neck. The cap displays LIBERTY along a ribbon banner at the cap’s base. Thirteen six-point stars encircle the portrait inside a dentilled rim, the ring broken by an opening for the date at the bottom, below the truncation of the neck. The center of the reverse displays a left-facing eagle, wings outstretched nearly to the dentilled rim, body covered by a Union shield, an olive branch in the right claw (left to the observer), and three arrows in the left claw. Above the eagle is a concentric banner below STATES OF, folded back at the ends, displaying E PLURIBUS UNUM. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles inside the rim, separated into three parts by the eagle’s wing tips, and the denomination of 2 1/2 D. (the fractional separator horizontal) is at the bottom.
All business strike Capped Head Left, Large Diameter quarter eagles are scare to rare; census/ population totals are greater than 100 coins for only one year, 1825. Prooflike coins have been certified for several of the dates. Though the most expensive coin is the 1826/5 (or 1826/6; opinions differ) issue, even lower grade coins are expensive, and Mint State examples are rare and very expensive, extremely so as Gem or finer. The only certified proof date is the 1821 issue, represented by fewer than 10 coins, and including cameo examples. All proof coins of the type are very expensive to extremely expensive.
Designer: Robert Scot, based on a John Reich design
Circulation Mintage: high 6,448 (1821), low 760 (1826)
Proof Mintage: 5, for each production year (estimated)
Denomintion: $2.50 Quarter Eagle
Diameter: ±20 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 91.67% gold, 8.33% copper
Weight: ±4.37 grams
Varieties:Very few varieties have been identified. Though the 1824/1 and the 1826/5 issues are overdates, all known examples from both of those years are overdates. Some believe the 1826 issue is actually an 1826/6 overpunch.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795-1933, Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, Whitman Publishing.
Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, A Study of Die States. 1795-1834. John Dannreuther and Harry W. Bass Jr. Whitman Publishing.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.