Prompted by the desire to reduce dependence on the Spanish silver coins, the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, authorized the production of coins in gold, silver and copper spanning the denominations from half disme through the $10 eagle. While select patterns and federally issued coins were struck shortly after this authorization, it wasn’t until 1796 that the dime, quarter and quarter eagle were minted.
Exhibiting the Draped Bust portrait of Liberty sketched by Gilbert Stuart and engraved by Robert Scot, the quarter was issued as a direct competitor to the Spanish fractional denomination of “two bits,” or two reales that limited the demand for a federally-issued substitute. In addition, the lack of a stated denomination on the quarter caused unnecessary confusion and further apprehension toward adopting this new currency.
Consequentially, the mintage figure for the first year of quarter production was only 6,146 coins, and this would be the only year of production until demand marginally increased in 1804. Even during this sophomore generation of production from 1804 through 1807, mintages remained minuscule in comparison to more popular denominations like the half cent, cent and half dollar, though the addition of the 25 C. value on the reverse helped to encourage use in commerce. Even still, it was increasingly apparent that silver depositors favored the half dollar over smaller denominations, and enthusiasm for the quarter dollar continued to wane and production was halted once again after 1807.
The quarter dollar seemed condemned to extinction over the following years, as our entanglement with the British in the War of 1812 curbed both currency production and currency demand. However, an unlikely source soon proved to be a beacon of hope for the twenty five cent issue.
In 1815, the Planters Bank of New Orleans, known for their counterstamped Spanish fractionals, deposited silver valued at nearly $15,000 for coinage purposes and requested to receive the sum in only quarter dollars. With a vacuum of quarters available in the U.S. Mint vaults, Mint Director Robert Patterson began the process of resurrecting the denomination. With no existing dies, the new quarters depicted assistant engraver John Reich’s Capped Bust portrait of Liberty that was found on the contemporary denominations. In addition, the diameter was slightly reduced by .5 millimeters to an overall measurement of 27 millimeters, encouraging a more consistent diameter throughout the production run. Like a numismatic Lazarus, a single pairing of these new dies would resurrect this ill-fated denomination and go on to strike nearly 90,000 coins over the production year. This 1815 mintage was still relatively sparse, but with the economic recovery after the War of 1812, coinage demands increased and provided a lifeline to continued production. While a short hiatus of two years was prompted by a fire at one of the Mint buildings in Philadelphia, the quarter dollar was once again struck in 1818 and has been a staple of the U.S. economy ever since, barring a few trivial interruptions.
The 1815 Capped Bust quarter remains one of the most popular and sought after issues for both quarter specialists and 19th century type collectors. Generally well-preserved overall, though most examples are lightly to moderately circulated. In higher About Uncirculated condition, examples are scarce, and become even more so through Choice Mint State. This piece represents a significant opportunity for collectors and will surely generate much excitement on the bidding floor. Pristine Gem survivors, like the present offering, are decidedly rare and are seldom offered on the public market.
This delightful example offers attractive champagne-gold iridescence, accented by olive and teal. The strike is expertly executed, with sharpness to Liberty’s most intricate features and a pleasing delineation to the eagle’s feather on the reverse. The luster is satiny and uninterrupted, over smooth and pristine surfaces. Delicate evidence of clashing (as made) is visible around the central elements on both sides. This piece shares the MS-65 grade with only three additional examples at PCGS, with only three coins certified finer at MS-66. It is a thoroughly gorgeous Gem that is sure to please the most fastidious connoisseurs.
To consign your exceptional coins to our October 2015 Rarities Auction alongside this lovely quarter, please visit StacksBowers.com or call us at 1-800-458-4091 for more information.