Though quarter eagles were an authorized gold coin denomination, few were produced by the Mint in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Mintage levels remained fairly constant for the Capped Head, Reduced Diameter type produced from 1829 through 1834, but the highest number of coins produced never exceeded 4,600 pieces in any of the six years of the design. Few gold coins of any denomination circulated, and those that did traded at more than face value because of the gold content, gold coins being preferred over paper money. Half eagles went mostly to export trade because that denomination was the largest gold coin being produced; eagles had not been minted since 1804. Some federal legislators were able to receive their pay in gold coins, and some today believe this circumstance, along with coins set aside as gifts (a popular use for the denomination), accounts for many of the quarter eagle survivors. William Kneass, who succeeded Robert Scot as Chief Engraver after the latter died in 1823, had a mandate to improve existing designs rather than create new ones. Kneass modified ("cleaned up" in the opinion of some) Scot's design for the quarter eagle, including reducing the size of the letters, dates, and stars, and modifying Liberty's portrait.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The most significant change was technical rather than artistic, that being the introduction of the collar die in 1828 (no quarter eagles were produced in 1828). This third die not only added reeding to the edge of the planchet, previously a separate step, but also ensured a uniformity of coin diameter by restricting outward movement of the metal during striking. An additional benefit was the ability to have a higher rim on the finished coins, which protected the surface text and designs. Though the final-year 1834 mintage of the Capped Head quarter eagle was not significantly lower than that of previous years, few of that date survived. To stop the melting of gold coins, the weight of the quarter eagle was reduced in 1834 so that bullion value was less than face value. Of the 4,000 1834-dated heavier-weight pieces coined early that year, most remained at the Mint, melted after the new law became effective. Mint records are silent on whether any business strike 1834 quarter eagles were released for circulation, and some believe all survivors are proofs.
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, around the ear, 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 or beaded border which itself is inside a raised rim, the star ring broken by an opening for the date at the bottom. The center of the reverse displays a left-facing eagle, wings outstretched nearly to the dentils, 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. No mintmark appears on the coin; all were produced at Philadelphia.
All business strike Capped Head Left, Reduced Diameter quarter eagles are scare to rare; census/ population totals for any one year never exceed 150 coins, and those totals likely including resubmissions. Prooflike coins have been certified for half of the dates. All issues are expensive in all conditions, and are very to extremely expensive as Select Uncirculated and finer. The classic 1834 rarity is more than twice as expensive as all other dates in grades through Select Uncirculated, the finest grade known; however, Gem and finer coins of the other dates list at higher prices. All proofs are rare, with no more than 10 examples known for any date, and all are very to extremely expensive. Some Cameo examples have been certified.
Designer: William Kneass, based on previous designs by Robert Scot and John Reich; some modifications may have been the work of Christian Gobrecht.
Circulation Mintage: high 4,540 (1830), low 3,403 (1829)
Proof Mintage: high 15 (1834), low 5 (1829, 1830)
Diameter: 18.2 mm, reeded edge
Metal Content: 91.67% gold, 8.33% copper
Weight: 4.37 grams
Varieties: Because of the low mintages, only one obverse die for each year and two reverse dies for all dates are known to have been used. Other than date changes, no varieties are known; a previously reported 1834 variety is now doubted.
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.