Artist Gilbert Stuart, who is perhaps best known today for his portrait of George Washington on the one-dollar bill, was hired to create a likeness of Lady Liberty for use on a variety of coins, including the quarter. His model was a busty Philadelphia socialite named Ann Willing Bingham, and she appeared first on the Draped Bust dollar that was issued in 1795. It replaced the widely ridiculed Flowing Hair dollar of 1794.
Robert Scot, the mint’s chief engraver, was tasked to transfer Stuart’s sketch onto quarters and other coins. By all accounts, Scot did a poor job and Stuart was disappointed with the result. But in 1796, the nation had its first 25-cent piece. Only 6,146 quarters were minted that year, making this one of the most prized U.S. coins for collectors.
The so-called Draped Bust Quarters featured basically the same Lady Liberty on its obverse as the silver dollars, dimes, and half dimes from the period. Like those dimes and half dimes, these early quarters carried no mark stating their value—it was not until 1804 that "25c" was added to the coin’s reverse...
Demand for the coin was low because Spanish two-reale coins circulated widely and were worth the same as a quarter, even though they were lighter and contained less silver.
After that first 1796 minting, no quarters were struck again until 1804, when 6,738 quarters with a new Heraldic Eagle reverse were coined. This quarter typo featured 13 stars on its obverse, one for each of the original 13 colonies (the 1796 quarter had 15 stars, one for each state in the union at that time).
Greater numbers of Draped Bust Quarters were minted from 1805 to 1807. The 1806 quarters in which the "6" in 1806 has been struck on top of a "5" in 1805 is particularly prized. But people in the U.S. at the dawn of the 19th century still preferred two-reale coins for commerce—quarters were actually hoarded because of their higher silver content.
Production of quarters ceased until 1815, when the Capped Bust Quarter was coined. John Reich took over the quarter’s design. For the obverse, he created a new Lady Liberty wearing a cap. Reich also made the coin larger in diameter by several millimeters (although its weight remained the same), revised the appearance of the Heraldic Eagle, and added a banner with "E Pluribus Unum" (which means "out of many, one") above the bird’s head. Certain coins minted in 1822, 1823, and 1827 are especially rare.
This Capped Bust design lasted until 1831 (although coins were not minted every year), when William Kneass reduced the coin’s diameter to 24.3 millimeters, the size of the quarters we use today. At the behest of mint director Samuel Moore, Kneass also removed the motto on its reverse—Moore believed "E Pluribus Unum" was redundant to the words "United States," an opinion that prevailed until the Barber quarters were introduced in 1892.
Through 1838, hundreds of thousands of Capped Bust coins were struck, with almost 2 million coined in 1835. That’s one reason why prices for these quarters are modest compared to the ones that preceded them.
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