1846 Quarter Eagle. Even Christian Gobrecht probably never suspected that his final version of the Quarter Eagle design would outlive him by over 60 years, becoming one of the most familiar and unchanging national concepts since the Spanish Pillar Dollar. Ever since late 1834, first William Kneass and then Gobrecht had been experimenting with designs of all U.S. Coin denominations, trying to reach a version of each which remain satisfactory for ensuing decades.
The head Gobrecht adopted for eagles in 1839 was reduced and modified for Half Eagles and Quarter Eagles, in the latter requiring no noticable changes. Not even the adoption of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST (1866) was affect Quarter Eagle, which looked in 1907 very much as1840. The reverse may have been by Robert Ball Hughes.
To minimize variation, as an anticounterfeiting device, Quarter Eagle dies were completely hubbed-comparable to portraits and border elements on current dollar bills, which are mechanically reproduced for the same reason. The only exceptions were dates and mintmarks. First Gobrecht, then Longrace (or, sometime, workmen in the Engraving Dept.) entered dates by hand, using four digit logotypes; variations occur by erroneous choice or misplacement of a logotype. Dates were very small 1840 - 1843, changing later that year to a larger size; some later dates would be larger or smaller, but only in 1873 did another change occur within the year. This followed the Chief Coiner's complaint, Januarry 18, 1873, about the "closed 3's" readily mistaken for 8's; William Barber, Longrace's successor in the engravership, had vary markedly in size and shape through 1878; 1880 - 1907 coins are all from Philadelphia, without mintmarks.
In 1848, some 230oz. of native bullion from the new California bonanzas came to the Philadelphia Mint from Secretary of War William L. Marcy, who had received them from Col. R. B. Mason, then Military Governor of California. Marcy instructed Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson to have the gold coined into specially marked Quarter Eagles, over and above the amount needed for the Congressional medals just authorized for Gens. Zachary Taylor and Winfield "Old Fuss and Feathers" Scott. These orders yielded some [1,389], December 1848, each one counterstamped CAL. above eagle; survivors have become highly coveted rarities.
However, rarities in this denomination are mostly either low mintage Charlotte or Dahlonega coins before the Civil War, or low mintage Philadelphia coins 1863 - 1872, 1874 - 1877, while specie payments were still suspended and little gold bullion reached the Mint. Several of these dates have become very famous; possibly the most famous of all is the 1841, of which no mintage record survives. No specimen was known to exist outside the Mint Cabinet Collection until 1909; at present possibly a dozen proofs and ex-proofs are traced, mostly impaired. Only a single pair of dies was used; all specimens have fine narrow edge reeding, entirely unlike the 1841 C and 1841 D coins from which mintmarks have been removed to make fraudulent imitations. Aside from their edges, 1841 C's tend to be weak on ERTY, adjacent hair, bun, locks below LIBE, stars, claws, and lower feathers; the tiny mintmark "c" overlaps end of arrow feather, and removal affects feather even aside from leaving telltale evidence of monkey business below it; most show a kniferim at upper "r." obverse and "l" reverse. On the other hand, 1841 D's tend to be weak on locks just above and below ear, and on bun, claws, and neck feathers. The slightest doubt is grounds for authentication of any alleged 1841 Philadelphia Quarter Eagle.
The following roster is the most nearly complete ever attempted; doubts remain owing to quality of illustrations in some auction catalogs.
1846 Quarter Eagle [All kinds 21,598 + ?P] Normal date.
Usually in low grades; prohibitively rare UNC. Date as on dime. Proofs:
1- Mint, SI.
3- Cased proof set.
4- Wetmore, Jenks, Clapp, Elisaberg: 136, $28,600
Traces of repunching on all 4 digits, triple outlines on 4; 6 apparently over 4. First brought to my attention about 1965 by Sam Jillette.