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1808 QUARTER EAGLE - 1808 QUARTER EAGLE, CAPPED BUST TO LEFT
1808 Quarter Eagle
Gold Coins1808 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 Scot.

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 for commerce.

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

 

Early  Quarter Eagles


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