Bust Quarters (1796-1838)
The quarter has been struck with few interruptions from the beginning of U.S. coinage to the present day. These were sanctioned originally in the Coinage Act of 1792, and the quarter has been one of the foundational coins of the U.S. monetary system ever since. They were first minted in 1796 and can still be found in pockets and purses today.
Bust Quarter Design
Quarters are a quarter of a dollar and were one of the several denominations authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792. Early quarters, as with all other U.S. Silver coinage of the time, used a 89.24% Silver and 10.76% Copper composition, an alloy that was slightly modified in future releases.
The Draped Bust design was created by Robert Scot, the chief engraver of the U.S. Mint at the time, and ran from 1796 to 1807. As part of a redesign of current circulating U.S. coinage, Scot changed the reverse wreath to an olive wreath symbolizing peace while keeping the eagle. He also updated Liberty’s design to remove the cap and replace it with a ribbon as well as adding a drape-like garment to the bust (which gives this design its name). These ran with two different reverses and minor changes, including variable numbers of stars. There are also overstrikes that can be found in some years.
The Capped Bust came next, a John Reich design engraved by William Kneass. After the quarter began to be struck again in 1815, the portrait changed to a Liberty with a cap on her head. This type ran through 1838 before being succeeded by the Liberty Seated design.
Errors, overstrikes and varieties of these coins are more common in the earlier years than they are in later coinage. That is because of the crude nature of the process by which they were made. Coin-making technology has come a long way since those strikes and later coins were changed less than these earlier varieties.
Early U.S. coins were not the only coins the post-colonial America had. French, Spanish and English coins circulated freely and were accepted as legal tender, and the mintage of new U.S. money did not stop these from circulating. The quarter circulated but competed against these coins, particularly these early Bust quarters. These were important because they were among the first U.S. coins minted, but in terms of day-to-day living at the time of their mintage their impact was muted. It was not till far later that foreign coinage was banned from use as legal tender and U.S. coins became the standard.
Early quarters are very hard to find, but later years are more common. Some early specimens in the Capped Bust series are available for a reasonable price in lower grades. Higher grades can get prohibitively expensive very fast. Draped Bust examples in higher grades are out of range of all but the most dedicated and well-heeled collectors, and even low-grade examples cost hundreds of dollars. Some Capped Bust overstrikes are extremely hard to find and command a massive premium at auction.
The higher mintages of later series like the Liberty Seated make them a much easier prospect for intermediate collectors. Early examples of U.S. coinage including the quarter are not easy to get one’s hands on.
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