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EARLY GOLD 1795 TO 1834

Posted on: 2016-01-07
 

 Early Money before United States Gold Coins

The first attempts at producing currency inside North America were issued by the Continental Congress, the original Thirteen Colonies individually, and later the brand new United States of America. Because these were for the most part paper or copper money, what little acceptance they received was on the faith of our early patriots and did not readily translate into serious use for international commerce. The paper money devalued into fiat currency, as paper money almost always does, and the need for hard currency became apparent immediately following the American Revolution.  Production was planned as soon as the new government was able, which was no small undertaking. This was authorized by the new US Government by the Mint Act of 1792. 

This new coinage appears to have begun in March,1793 with the production of what we now call chain cents, the design of which the public was not pleased with. The first gold coins, the coins that we are particularly interested in, half eagles, were not manufactured until 1795.

Early gold coins come in three denominations, those being quarter eagles, half eagles, and eagles, or ten dollar gold pieces, as the gold coins were all divisions or multiplications of the eagle ten dollar denomination. There were no denominations displayed on the coins because it really did not matter to the merchants and governments of the time who used the coins in commerce, as the coins were only worth their weight and fineness in gold, and no more. They were distributed from the mint in the following order. First, the Half Eagles, 744 of them, were struck on July 31, 1795. Next came the Eagles, 1,097 units of the highest denomination coin, on September 22, 1795. Last came the lowest denomination gold coins, quarter eagles, and they were first delivered on September 21, 1796.

A quick note is warranted on the mintage figures. All mintage figures at the early US Mint are more or less educated guesses, as there was no law governing the use of coin minting dies like there is today. Dies were time consuming and expensive to make and so the dies were used almost indiscriminately until they were no longer serviceable, and sometimes even past then, as coins struck from cracked and rusted dies are not uncommon. The date on the gold coin is not necessarily the date that the coin was made at that first American mint, and in some cases, has no relationship at all to the date of manufacture.

All the early gold coin types of all denominations are rare for several reasons.

First, the very limited mintages made them hard to come by even when they had just been freshly minted. Then they were removed from circulation for all of the usual reasons including loss and wear. The grand final, so to speak, was the change in the weight of all gold coins by Act of Congress on June 28th, 1834 which restated the ratio of the value of gold to silver. With the increase in the relative gold value, the coins were worth more as metal than coins, so they were melted by the thousands. Survivors that are left today were saved as souvenirs by the new Americans, shipped overseas, saved as bank reserves both in the States and abroad, or were closely kept in the hands of early collectors.

Quarter Eagles 1796-1834

Quarter eagles, or $2.50 gold pieces as they are also called, come in six different styles or basic types:

• Draped Bust No Stars

• Draped Bust With Stars

• Capped Bust Left

• Capped Head Left Large Size

• Capped Head Left Small Size

• Liberty obverse and Large or Heraldic Eagle reverse

They all have the same manufacturing characteristics, in that they are all 25 millimeters in diameter, weigh 135 grains of .9167 fine gold, are alloyed with copper, and were struck in a screw press with a reeded collar at the Philadelphia mint. By and large they are mostly softly struck; a well stuck coin is always a prize in any grade. 

Draped Bust No Stars 1796

This type was designed by Chief Engraver of the US Mint Robert Scot and struck in Philadelphia. The obverse is Liberty facing right, the reverse is the Heraldic Eagle seal of the United States. There are two die varieties of the one-year type with an estimated mintage of fewer than 1,000. Most show some weakness from a rusted die at the “E” in “LIBERTY” and they commonly come partially prooflike, which is not surprising considering the short mintage. There is no denomination of value on this early gold coin, and there are no known proofs made or rumored.

There are total of 97 coins certified in all grades, of which only 17 are uncirculated, at least 2 of which are gems, which makes all the coins in all grades either very scarce or rare. While Akers estimated forty known over thirty years ago, with David Hall’s estimate of a twenty percent margin of error on both Akers’ estimates (conservative) and the number certified (aggressive), Akers is pretty close to accurate, a fairly amazing feat, if one puts aside the fact that it is statically very unlikely that ten percent of the total mintage of any early gold coin has survived over two hundred years. We recommend this coin in all grades so long as there is even wear on the circulated examples, no problems of any kind and good eye appeal.

Draped Bust With Stars 1796-1807 

The Draped Bust With Stars type, also designed by Robert Scot and made in Philadelphia, starts in 1796 and runs until 1807. There is an estimated mintage of 18,500 for the type in 11 date varieties.  Even the common dates are not really common because of the short mintages.  There are 750 certified examples of all dates, of which 181 are uncirculated, with just 4 known gems. There is no denomination on these coins. The 1807, 1802/1 and the 1804 fourteen stars are the most “common” of these uncommon coins. There are also at least two dozen examples that have been made into jewelry, cleaned harshly or damaged in some other fashion which would make them uncollectible to all but a very few numismatists.

1796 With Stars. This variety was created with an entirely new hub, the letters in “LIBERTY” being spaced differently than on the No Stars type, and there are 8 stars on each side of the head of Miss Liberty. A total mintage of 432 and only 38 certified examples in all grades, of which 12 are uncirculated. This date is the fourth rarest early quarter eagle.

1797. Just about the same mintage as the 1796 With Stars but 3 times as rare in Uncirculated condition. The stars are 7 to the left and 6 to the right of Miss Liberty and a 16 star reverse. Only 26 examples are certified of which 4 are Uncirculated. Survival rate is about 5 percent. Rare.

1798 Wide Date, Five Berries. With a mintage estimated at only 800. There are 5 stars to the right of Miss Liberty and 7 to the left. This type has 35 certified examples in all grades, and only 13 uncirculated examples currently known. With a survival rate of 4.5 percent, there is one gem known reported.

1798 Close Date, Four Berries. While missing from Yeoman’s Guide Book, Akers noted this unusual variety in 1975, and it does appear recently in Dannreuthers notes, so the Red Book should be corrected at some point to include the Close Date. Same stars arrangement as on the Wide Date variety. Estimated mintage of just over about 250, only one example has been certified in any grade, making this variety a contender for rarest early draped bust quarter eagle.

1802/1. With a mintage of over 3,000, this overdate is in the running for the second most “common” of the early draped bust quarter eagles. There are eight stars to the left of Miss Liberty and five to the right.  There are 143 certified examples, of which 33 are Uncirculated, making an overall survival rate of 1.75%. There are 2 reported Gems.

1804 14 Stars. With eight stars to the right of Miss Liberty and five to the right, this issue had a mintage of 3,000; some experts cite a mintage of ranging from 2,300 to 2,800, any one of which will make this the third most “common” early draped bust quarter eagle, for a total survival rate of 3.5%. There are 100 certified examples of which 19 are Uncirculated.  

1804 13 Stars. With eight stars to the left of Miss Liberty and five to the right. Mintage estimates range from 400 to 1000 any one of which makes this date variety a contender for rarest or second rarest early draped bust quarter eagle. There are 5 certified in all grades, with a survival rate of only 1%. There are no uncirculated examples currently known. 

1805. With seven stars to the left of Miss Liberty and six to the right. With a mintage of just under 2,000 and 69 examples certified in all grades, the 1805 is the fourth most “common” of the early draped bust quarter eagles. Just 16 specimens in Uncirculated and none of them are gems. A survival rate of 4.5 percent.

1806/4. Overdate with eight stars left of Miss Liberty and five on the right, and almost always weakly struck. With a mintage of about 1,100, of which there are 51 examples certified in all grades, there are 13 Uncirculated coins currently known. A survival rate of 5 percent.

1806/5. Overdate with seven stars left of Miss Liberty and six on the right. With a mintage of just under 500 and only 24 examples certified in all grades, this is the third rarest early draped bust quarter eagle by survival rate. There are only 7 Uncirculated examples certified to date, making a survival rate of just over 3 percent.

1807.  With seven stars to the left of Miss Liberty and six to the right. With a mintage of nearly 7,000 and 230 examples certified in all grades, the 1807 is the most “common” of all the early draped bust quarter eagles, with a strong survival rate of 3.5 percent. There are 70 Uncirculated pieces certified.

Capped Bust Left 1808

With seven stars to the left of Miss Liberty and six to the right, also the first quarter eagle with the denomination “2 1/2D” for two and one half dollars and the legend “E Pluribus Unum” or “one out of many” in Latin. This desirable type quarter eagle is a famous one-year type and is always in demand by type collectors way out of proportion for the already short one year mintage, and the strong survival rate of 3.5 percent. Designed by Assistant Engraver John Reich and made in Philadelphia, this coveted date/type has a total mintage of only 2,700, with just 96 pieces certified in all grades, only 26 in uncirculated and perhaps one gem known. This type always has a die crack in the obverse and nearly always come weakly struck.

Capped Head Left Large Size 1821-1827

Quarter Eagle production resumed in 1821 after a thirteen-year hiatus with the Capped Head Left Large Size Type. John Reich had left the mint, so the dies were prepared again by Robert Scot, who modified the design. The diameter changed to 18.5 millimeters so the planchets are proportionally thicker, but the weight and fineness stayed the same as the previous Capped Bust Type. The mint seems to have resolved the striking problems and well struck coins are available more regularly than the earlier types. The type has a total mintage of 17,000 with 236 certified examples in all grades, or only a 1.3% survival rate, and only 100 Uncirculated. This also is the first quarter eagle with genuine proof mintages. 

1821. All with very small stars and a mintage of 6,400 and 36 certified in all grades, this is a coin with a “high” survival rate of 5.5 percent. Generally this date comes well struck, and has 18 Uncirculated and 7 Proofs known.

1824/1. Overdate all with very small stars and a short mintage of only 2,600 with 38 certified in all grades, and only 18 in Uncirculated and 3 in Proof, which makes this date the second rarest of the type, with a small 1.5 percent survival rate to prove it.

1825. All with very small stars and a mintage of over 4,400, the 1825 is the “common” date of the Capped Head Left Large Size Type. There are 90 examples certified in all grades, and 42 in Uncirculated and 2 in Proof, although an average survival rate of 2 percent. This date is a popular type coin because it often comes well struck.

1826/5. Overdate all with large stars, the classically rare 1826 may have the lowest mintage of the type at only 760 pieces. There are 20 certified in all grades and only 2 in Uncirculated and 1 in Proof which makes this the rarest coin of the type. If the mintage is correct then the date has a 2.5 percent survival rate, otherwise it does not.

1827. All with large stars, and a mintage of 2,800. Surprisingly, 52 certified in all grades and 33 Uncirculated examples, with no Proofs known, but some have speculated that they do exist or have existed. Just fewer than 2 percent survive.

Capped Head Left Small Size 1829-1834

Robert Scot in left the mint in 1824, so the dies for the Capped Head Left Small Size quarter eagles were ostensibly prepared by William Kneass, the new Chief Engraver of the US Mint. The diameter has again been reduced, this time to eighteen and a fifth millimeters and the thickness again increased proportionally, all coins have a reeded edge, were made at the Philadelphia Mint, and tend to come more boldly struck than their predecessors. The entire type is scarce and Uncirculated coins are almost as hard to come by as the rarer earlier issues.

1829. With a mintage of 3,400 and 94 certified examples in all grades, the first year of type 1829 in the second most “common” date of the type. There are 46 Uncirculated and six Proof examples known, for an average survival rate of just under 3 percent.

1830. With a total mintage of over 4,500, this date is the most “common” of the type with 112 examples certified in all grades and 58 in Uncirculated. This is the first American quarter eagle with a collectable number of gems, 14, and 3 Proofs, so it can only be called Very Scarce. 2.5 percent survive. 

1831. Another with a mintage over 4,500, and the fourth most “common” date of the type, with 1.5 percent survivors. There are 69 examples certified in all grades, of which 66 are Uncirculated, 13 of which are gem, and 6 proofs. Strangely, almost 60 percent of the known gem early quarter eagles are either 1830 or 1831. Very Scarce.

1832. With an newly hubbed high relief head, mintage of 4,400, the third most “common” date of the type, with 80 certified examples in all grades, of which 27 are Uncirculated and one is Proof. Scarce. Fewer than 2 percent survive.

1833. Also with the “higher” relief head, and a mintage of just over 4,100, and often considered rarer than all but the 1834 of this type. 77 examples certified in all grades, of which 38 are Uncirculated, 5 are Gem and 5 are Proof. Again fewer than 2 percent survive.

1834. Also with the “higher” relief head, and a mintage of 4,000, the scarcity of which indicates that most of which must have never been released and found there way into the melting pot at the mint, and .4 percent survival rate just makes the point again. Only 17 certified in all grades, of which 2 are Uncirculated and 5 are Proof. 

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