The quarter denomination saw the resumption of production following an eight year hiatus with the Capped Bust Quarter series. The design was notably different from the early quarter dollars, which had been struck in limited quantities. Although mintages for the new series were more plentiful, it can still be a challenge for collectors to find examples in mint state grades. In 1831, the diameter of the denomination was reduced and the design was slightly altered, creating two subtypes for the series.
The quarter dollar denomination, first struck in 1796, was one which had fallen out of order in the early 19th century. For everyday use, it was considered to be too large, as most business was conducted with cents and half cents. For financial transactions, banks preferred to request half dollars from the Mint, which represented the largest denomination in production during the 1810’s. The final issue of the previous quarter dollar series was struck in 1807, and the denomination was not produced again until after the conclusion of the War of 1812, which had created a great shortage of coinage in the country.
The design for the Capped Bust Quarter was created by German immigrant John Reich, who had been hired as an assistant to Robert Scot. It was Reich’s first task in 1807 to redesign circulating coinage, however the quarter would have to wait 1815 for the new design to be introduced. The obverse features a familiar bust of Liberty, facing left. She is wearing a cap, often referred to as a Phrygian or Freedom Cap, with a band inscribed with the word LIBERTY. On both sides are stars, seven left and six right, representing the original thirteen states. The date appears below, slightly curved.
The reverse features a design which would be found on circulating coins into the late 19th century. A bald eagle with wings spread is seen at the center, with a bundle of arrows and an olive branch in its claws. On the eagle’s breast is a large shield, with horizontal and vertical lines. A scroll is included above with the inscription E PLURIBUS UNUM. Starting closely above the eagle’s right wing is the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which ends next to the other wing. The denomination is found below, expressed as 25 C. This represented the first time the value was indicated on the quarter dollar denomination.
The Capped Bust Quarter featuring the original design was struck from 1815 to 1828. After a hiatus in production of three years, a modified design would be introduced in 1831. The coins were smaller in diameter, with details more finely executed and smaller dentils around the edge of the coin. The most notable change was the removal of the scroll bearing the E PLURIBUS UNUM motto on the reverse of the coin. These design changes were made by William Kneass, successor to Scot as the Chief Engraver at the Mint. The design changes also coincided with the relocation of the Mint to a new building and the acquisition of improved machinery.
Without doubt, the earlier type represents the scarcer of the two, and all rarities are within that date range. Uncirculated examples of the earlier type are very scarce, while examples from the 1830’s can be found with some searching.
Proof versions of the coins exist, with the first examples struck in 1820. Production of proofs was irregular, often not recorded, and they are now of the greatest rarity. Offerings are seldom and the status of some are disputed, so careful examination is recommended.