1808 QUARTER EAGLE
- 1808 QUARTER EAGLE, CAPPED BUST TO LEFT
Quarter Eagle - The 1808 Quarter Eagle
was a one-year type coin with a tiny mintage of 2,710. The
coin is particularly rare today because it is estimated that
only about 75 pieces have survived in all conditions, and
every type collector needs one for a complete set.
The coin was designed by John Reich, a German
immigrant who sold himself into indentured service to escape
the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The obverse portrays Liberty
facing left in profile. She is wearing a large, cloth cap
the head band of which is inscribed LIBERTY. Her hair flows
down her neck below the truncation. On the drapery is a clasp
with the JR monogram, for the designer. Seven stars are to
the left and six to the right with the date below. The reverse
has a heraldic eagle facing left with its mouth slightly open.
It wings are upright, unlike on Reich’s Capped Bust
half dollar, which has the wings bent down. The eagle is perched
on an olive branch and holds arrows in its left talon, correcting
the error in heraldry in use from 1796 to 1807, which had
the arrows in the right talon symbolizing aggressive militarism.
The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is on a banner above the eagle’s
head, and the required inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
is around the edge of the coin with the denomination written
as 2 ½ D. below. Around the edge on both sides of the
coin are dentils; however, because of the weakness of strike,
they are often incomplete.
Because so few coins were struck, and it
is a one-year type coin, it is rare in all conditions. Most
that survived are in higher circulated grades. Because there
is such demand for this coin from both series and type collectors
as well as investors, the coin is one of the premier rarities
in United States numismatics.
The coin is rare because of its small mintage.
The die cracks on all but one specimen indicate that the die
was deteriorating because the cracks progress from Liberty’s
cap through the stars at the right. Most likely, the die broke
and production stopped. Since there was little demand for
the denomination, there was no reason to make a new die. Only
one had been made to begin with so obviously the Mint did
not intend to have a large run of this denomination. Half
eagles were much more popular at the time. The denomination
was determined by the wishes of the depositor who would bring
in bullion for conversion to coin. Demand remained virtually
nonexistent until 1821 when a few small orders were received.
The 1808 coins are all weakly struck on the
peripheries. Because of this it is important to differentiate
between weakness and wear when grading. The high points of
the design are Liberty’s hair above her eye and the
top of her cap as well as the eagle’s talons and wingtips.
Johann Reich, a skilled engraver, was born
it Bavaria and came to the United States around 1800. In order
to finance his passage, he sold himself into servitude. President
Thomas Jefferson recommended that Reich be hired as an engraver
at the Mint in 1801. While serving in Washington’s Cabinet,
Jefferson had been in charge of the Mint as Secretary of State.
While in France, Jefferson developed good judgment and a working
knowledge of the minting process. Reich was hired for other
duties, but he eventually became an assistant engraver at
the Mint. He had a superb eye for the complicated aesthetics
of coin engraving. At this time his freedom was purchased
by an unknown mint official. Although Chief Engraver Robert
Scot designed most of the coins at the mint since 1794, it
was said that Reich had much more talent and ability than
In 1807, Reich was promoted to the position
of Assistant or Second Engraver by Robert Patterson, the new
Mint Director. Jefferson had urged Patterson to make this
promotion because Scot’s eyesight was failing him. The
promotion was timely because Reich was considering returning
to Europe out of boredom with the menial tasks he had been
assigned. Immediately Patterson assigned Reich the task of
redesigning the nation’s coinage. He began with the
half eagle and the half dollar, the two most important coins
Reich made a similar design for the quarter
eagle that was issued the next year. He also designed a new
cent, a dime and a half cent in 1809, and a quarter in 1815
all of which used the capped bust motif.
Reich put the denomination of the gold and
silver coins. This innovation had not been done previously
because coins, especially in Europe, were valued for their
metallic content and weight. By 1815 Reich had created a set
of circulating coins with the common capped liberty obverse.
In 1813 Reich modified the half eagle to become what is called
the Capped Head design. Some contemporary critic called the
bust of Liberty “Reich’s fat German mistress.”
After working for ten years as Assistant
Engraver at the mint, Reich resigned in 1817. He had received
no pay raise or promotion and little praise from Robert Scot.
Scot remained the Chief Engraver until his death in 1823.
Scot, who was jealous of Reich, replaced his design with a
new quarter eagle in 1821.
Specifications: Weight: 4.37 grams Composition: .9167 gold, .0833 silver
and copper Diameter: approximately 20 millimeters Edge: reeded