Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions
CAPPED HEAD $2-1/2 DOLLARS OR QUARTER EAGLES 1821-1834

Scot's matronly, thick-necked Liberty on the new 1821 quarter eagle wears a headdress in the guise of a Phrygian or Liberty cap, really a mobcap, typically worn by women around the turn of the 19th century. Thirteen widely spaced stars surround the bust, with the date below. An eagle with outstretched wings graces the reverse, and the motto, E PLURIBUS UNUM appears above. Both are surrounded by the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and 2 D.

The Capped Head quarter eagle maintained the legal weight standard, but was slightly smaller and thicker than the previous quarter eagle, Reich's 1808 Capped Bust design, which had lasted only one year. In 1829, William Kneass, who had replaced Scot after his death in 1823, modified the coin by reducing the diameter further, punching in smaller stars on the obverse and redrawing the Liberty head and eagle. Kneass created a beaded border surrounded by a high, plain rim, taking advantage of a recent Mint innovation, the "close collar." Essentially a steel doughnut with a hole the size of the coin and grooves to impart a reeded edge, the close collar gave an even, finished look to the coin.

From 1821 through 1834, 42,065 business strikes and fewer than 150 proof Capped Head quarter eagles were made. Although numismatists recognize the 1821 through 1827 issues as a separate type from the later, smaller coins, the rarity of the entire series generally limits type collectors to just one example of this design. Collecting the eleven issues by date is a formidable challenge not attempted by many, as every issue is rare in any grade and some, like the low mintage 1826 and the 1834 are particularly so. The 1834 coin is almost legendary in its rarity, as the bulk of the mintage of 4000 pieces was never released, but melted at the Mint.

When grading this design, look for wear on the hair above Liberty's forehead, on the top of her cap, and on her cheek. On the reverse, check the eagle's wing tips and claws.

Some information courtesy of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation
CAPPED HEAD $2-1/2 DOLLARS OR QUARTER EAGLES 1821-1834
1821-1828 $2-1/2 DOLLARS
OR QUARTER EAGLE

Designer: Robert Scot

Diameter: 18.5 millimeters

Metal content:
Gold - 91.7%
Other - 8.3%

Weight: 67.5 grains (4.37 grams)

Edge: Reeded

Mint mark: None (all examples of this date and type were struck at the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Mint)
1829-1834 $2-1/2 DOLLARS
OR QUARTER EAGLE

Designer: William Kneass

Diameter: 18.2 millimeters

Metal content:
Gold - 91.7%
Other - 8.3%

Weight: 67.5 grains (4.37 grams)

Edge: Reeded

Mint mark: None (all examples of this date and type were struck at the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Mint)


Heritage Auctions' Commentary, "William Kneass modified the quarter eagle design this year, perhaps specifically to mark introduction of the close collar among coins of this denomination. The diameter of the quarter eagles was reduced slightly, to 18.2 mm., and it was this slight reduction that drove the design modification. Smaller stars were employed on the obverse, and the rims were changed to use a beaded border with a high plain rim, an advancement that protected much of the surface of the coin from wear and nicks. The stars and date were each punched into the die by hand, one at a time, thus exhibit slight variance in their relative position.

In the date, for example, the digit 8 is slightly low in relation to the other numerals. The three stars at the top, trapped between the top of Liberty's cap and the border, appear to be slightly closer in relation to each other than the remaining stars. The reverse was similarly modified, especially in the treatment of the border. Individual letters in the statutory legend appear to be entered by hand, again, one at a time. This reverse die was only used in 1829, with further modifications for the 1830 reverse, which remained in use through the end of the series.

Today these coins, struck from 1829 through 1834, are among the rarest of U.S. coin types. During this period, just over 25,000 coins were struck. Many if not most were melted, some in the year of issue, as their bullion value was higher than their face value. Beginning after the War of 1812, effectively starting in 1815, and continuing until implementation of the Act of June 28, 1834, gold coins were only available at a premium. Thus, the few collectors of those days could not pull examples from circulation, but had to buy them from bullion dealers.

These were the first quarter eagles struck with the new "close collar" technology. The close collar, sometimes incorrectly called a closed collar, was essentially a ring of steel the same diameter as the finished coin, containing grooves to impart the reeded edge. Planchets were cut minutely smaller than the final diameter, expanding slightly when struck. Mint Director Samuel Moore stated that this technology would furnish mathematical equality to the diameter of struck coins. These early quarter eagles were not in great demand at the time, as the bulk of transactions involved half eagles or half dollars or smaller silver or copper coins."
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