Let me first welcome you to my collection of Capped Bust quarters. I hope that you enjoy viewing and reading about this collection as I have had in attempting to put this set together.
SELECTING MY SERIES OF CHOICE
Starting around the year 2000, I finally have some means to attempt a much more challenging set and therefore I chose the Capped Bust quarter series for its beautiful design and relative rarity. There are many issues in this series with very low published mintages for the day (many of these figures have been called into question based on current population reports) and I believe the series is just awaking to collector demand as people begin to realize this fact. My set is not intended to be coins of the absolute highest grade that simply brings more registry points just for the sake of more points. Instead, I have been constantly searching on a daily basis, without exception, magazines, the internet, eBay, area coin shows, online auction houses and calling dealers across the country in my attempt to locate the “right” examples.
What is the right example you ask? I have been trying to balance the collection with expertly struck, beautifully toned, original examples with eye appeal that makes you stop and look twice and then not want to put the coin down. For those are the coins that should be purchased immediately or face the fact that you may never have the chance again. Needless to say that this has not been an easy task and there are still many a coin in this collection that need to find a new home once a suitable upgrade has been located. For those of you who already collect these quarters you know exactly what I am talking about. It is already very difficult to locate this series to begin with and then competition for eye appealing coins if often fierce. You can throw ANY price guide out the window and expect to pay a substantial premium for many issues in this series.
SOME CAPPED BUST QUARTER HISTORY
I have decided to split some of the series history below and throughout the registry with pertinent information for a specific year with that individual coin’s description. Please forgive the repetition on issues such as the 1819, 1820, 1825 and 1831 where specific varieties of each coin exist in the registry.
DESIGNER: John Reich
FACE VALUE: 25 cents, With Motto
Commonly referred to as the Large Size Quarter
PRECIOUS METAL CONTENT: .8924 silver, .1076 copper
DIAMETER: 27 mm
DESIGNER: William Kneass
FACE VALUE: 25 cents, Without Motto
Commonly referred to as the Reduced Size Quarter
PRECIOUS METAL CONTENT: 1831-1836, .8924 silver, .1076 copper
1837-1838, .900 silver, .100 copper
DIAMETER: 24.3 mm
Today the quarter is, quite possibly, the most popular and widely used coin denomination in the United States, particularly with the recent advent of the Statehood series, scheduled to end in 2008. Non-collectors might find it shocking to read that such was not always the case. The early U.S. quarter series is rife with gaps, as the U.S. Mint produced no coins of the denomination from 1797 to 1803 and from 1808 to 1814, 1816 to 1817, 1826, 1829, or 1830. In the 1830s the denomination apparently gained widespread popularity among financial institutions and the general public.
REICH’S LARGE SIZED CAPPED BUST WITH MOTTO (1815-1828)
Mint Engraver and designer John Reich was a German immigrant who, eager to escape the Napoleonic wars, sold himself into indentured service to reach the United States. Although he applied to the Philadelphia Mint in 1801, it was not until 1807 that he was hired. Many believe this was due to then Chief Engraver Robert Scot’s intolerance of outsiders fearing his own replacement. Mint officials concern over Scot’s age and health- probably his eyesight – were the force behind the search for assistant engravers and on April 1, 1807 hired Reich for $600/year.
Reich’s first assignment was quite daunting – redesign all denominations. This Capped Bust design first appeared on the half dollar and half eagle of 1807. It next appeared on the quarter eagle, dimes, and finally the quarter of 1815.The mintage figures for this date includes 20,003 delivered January 10, 1816, from the 1815-dated dies. The small quantity is believed to be due to bullion scarcity during the War of 1812. Less than 12 hours after this 1816 delivery, a fire broke out in one of the Mint’s out-buildings, ruining the rolling mills and blank cutters so that no more gold or silver could be coined until extensive repairs were completed in late 1817 accounting for the fact that no coins were issued in 1816 or 1817. The majority of the 1815 mintage went to Planter’s Bank of New Orleans. The issue is very popular with type collectors but a complete set is almost impossible to build because there are two major rarities, the 1823/2 and the proof only 1827. The sporadic mintages for the issue reflected the public’s preference for Mexican and Spanish two-reales coins that were legal tender but had less silver than the quarter, proving Gresham’s law that “bad” money drives out “good”.
KNEASS’S REDUCED SIZED CAPPED BUST WITHOUT MOTTO (1831-1838)
After a generation of warfare ended in Europe in 1815, it can be said that the Western world truly entered the 19th century, a century that stands in retrospect as the most remarkable period of material progress in the history of the human race. From the beginning of history until about 1800, the work of the world was largely done by hand tools. Since then, it has been done by machines of increasing sophistication.
In the first three decades of production at the Philadelphia Mint, there was very little change in the methods used to strike coins. While steam presses had been discussed by Mint officials since the 1790s, coins continued to be produced by the old screw presses that were powered by either human or animal muscle. Then, in 1829, several mechanical improvements were made in the striking of half dimes, but it would not be until 1831 that these same procedures could be incorporated into the production of quarter dollars. At that time, a device known as a "close collar," or more precisely a "collar die" was used, which confined the planchets at the time of striking and at the same instant reeded the edge of the coin. This "close collar" imparted what Mint Director Samuel Moore called "a mathematical equality" to the quarters so produced. A higher, beaded border was also incorporated around the rims which served to protect the interior surfaces of the coin.
Director Moore used these mechanical improvements to also make several changes in the previous Capped Bust design. The first change Moore ordered Mint Engraver William Kneass to make was to eliminate the scroll above the eagle with the traditional motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. It was Moore's belief that the motto, which translates from Latin as "One made up from many," was redundant; the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was already on the coin, and this signified the same concept. The elimination of the motto was somewhat controversial in government circles, and Treasury officials sought to restore it, but Moore traveled to Washington to press his case for its elimination. Moore prevailed and the motto was not restored to quarters until 1892, with Charles Barber's redesign of that year.
Kneass reworked the entire coin. He retained the "sandwich board" eagle of John Reich's previous design, with its union shield displayed on the bird's breast. The obverse kept the same figure of Liberty facing left and wearing a mob cap, but Kneass tightened the design, giving the coin a more cameo-like appearance. He also deepened the devices, resulting in better striking qualities.
Small size Capped Bust quarters were struck in only eight years, with a total of 4,202,400 pieces produced. All were struck in the Philadelphia Mint between 1831 and 1838. There are no major rarities in the series, but the 1832 and 1836 issues are considerably scarcer than other dates in mint condition, while 1831 and 1834 are the dates most often seen. The 1831 issue comes in Small and Large Letters varieties, but each is of approximately equal rarity.
Because these quarters were made for such a short time, the series is one of the few of the 19th century that is completable by the average collector. However, relatively few complete date sets have been assembled over the years, perhaps because Bust quarters in general are largely overlooked and under-appreciated by collectors.
The series can also be collected by die variety. While there have been several references published over the past fifty years that list the die varieties on quarters from 1831 through 1838, collecting the series in this manner has not caught on as it has with other denominations such as half dollars, dimes and cents. In general, small size Capped Bust quarters are sought out as type coins. In problem-free AU and mint condition, they are surprisingly scarce, with most survivors grading XF or less.
Proofs are known from each of the eight years in this series, but they are great rarities. These coins were struck decades before proof coinage was made available to the general collecting public, and proofs were minted either on demand for favored collectors or for presentation purposes. Only two or three proofs are known in certain years, and all are significant numismatic items.
Small size Capped Bust quarters wore evenly as a result of Kneass' redesign, and the raised rim assured minimal loss from circulation. On the obverse, friction first begins to show on the highest points of the hair above the eye, at the top of the cap and on the stars. On the reverse, the eagle's talons and the arrowheads will show wear first.
The Kneass-designed quarter dollars of 1831-38 can be viewed as a great success from the viewpoint of the mechanical advances they incorporated, and they are certainly one of the best example of the U.S. Mint's entrance into the "modern" era. While the design was a reworking of John Reich's previous edition, its revised elements gave the coin a slickness that is certainly an artistic improvement over the original concept from 1815. The technical merits of the coin are especially noteworthy, with the innovative close collar giving the quarters a precise, uniform appearance that would (with the advent of the steam press) be later imparted to all U.S. coins struck after 1836. Although almost "state of the art," the series would end abruptly in mid-1838 to begin preparation of dies for Christian Gobrecht's new Seated Liberty design, which would go on to be issued for the next half century.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bowers, Q. David, United States Coins by Design Types, An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor, Bowers and Merena, Wolfeboro, NH, 1986. Bowers, Q. David, United States Dimes, Quarters and Half Dollars, Bowers and Merena, Wolfeboro, NH, 1986. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Browning, A.W., The Early Quarter Dollars of the United States, 1796-1838, Bowers and Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1992. Palmer, R.R. and Colton, Joel, A History of the Modern World, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1969. Vermeule, Cornelius, Numismatic Art in America, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971. Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.