In contrast to the situation today, where quarters are probably the most commonly used coin for transactions, in the early 1800s few were used. It was one of the last U.S. coins to be produced following the Mint Act of 1792, and after a modest production in 1796 no more were struck until 1804. In part this was due to the fact that the Spanish two-reales piece, a familiar and widely circulated coin, had the same value of 25 cents. When quarter coinage was resumed the small eagle on the reverse was replaced by a heraldic eagle, after the design of the Great Seal of the United States. The obverse Liberty portrait remained essentially the same, based on a sketch by artist Gilbert Stuart of a socialite variously attributed to either Newport, Rhode Island, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though today many collectors favor this classic portrayal, it is reported that Stuart was displeased with the resultant engraving and subsequently claimed no connection to the likeness.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Though first year mintage numbers were low, approximately the same as the 1796 issue, production increased in each of the last three years, culminating in nearly a quarter million pieces in 1807. All coins were produced in Philadelphia and no proof coins are known. In spite of increased production in latter years the coins still did not circulate extensively. Many were hoarded because the U.S. coin contained more silver than its Spanish counterpart, so two-reales coins were spent and quarters saved. Quarter production again stopped after 1807, not resuming until the Capped Bust design appeared in 1815. It was not until 1835 that total yearly mintage of quarters surpassed one million coins.
The obverse features a right-facing classical portrait of Liberty with long flowing hair tied at the back with a multi-part ribbon. Loosely folded clothing drapes over her shoulders and across the accented bust. Inside a dentilled rim is a concentric ring comprised of the word LIBERTY at the top, the date at the bottom, and thirteen six-point stars split seven to the left and six to the right. The reverse displays a centered eagle with outstretched wings, head turned to the right (viewer's left), clutching a sheaf of arrows in the dexter claw (viewers left) and an olive branch in the sinister claw. A shield covers most of the eagle's body, and a flowing banner looped around the eagle's lower beak displays E PLURIBUS UNUM. The banner extends past the eagle's wings in front of the right wing and behind the left wing. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles inside a dentilled rim, with the 25 C. denomination at the bottom, 25 to the left of the eagle's tail, C. to the right. The tips of the eagle's wings extend nearly to the rim, separating the words of the legend. Above the eagle are thirteen small six-point stars, generally arranged in three arcing rows, with six in the top row. Between the stars and STATES OF are stylistic clouds, said to represent divine protection. No mintmark is shown on the coin.
Heraldic Eagle quarters are somewhat affordable up to low VF grades, strongly advancing in price above that into Mint State classifications. Mint State coins are generally rare, particularly as Gem and finer. Census/ population reports show several hundred certified coins for each year, with the lowest number for the low mintage 1804 year. Reflecting mintage totals, coins dated 1804 are expensive in all grades. The 1806 six-over-five overdate is the best known variety, maintaining price parity with regular issues until Mint State where it sells for steadily advancing premiums.
Designer: Robert Scot, from a sketch by artist Gilbert Stuart and assistance from John Eckstein.
Circulation Mintage:high 220,643 (1807), low 6,738 (1804)
Proof Mintage: None
Denomintion: $0.25, Twenty-five cents (25/100)
Diameter: ±27.5 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: ±6.74 grams
Varieties:The best known are an 1806 six-over-five overdate and an 1806 with the C of Ò25 C.Ó punched over an A, but other minor die variations have been identified.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
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.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. 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.