Draped Bust Gold, 1795-1807
The first design in the quarter eagle series is distinguished from the later motif by having no stars on the obverse. Designated as the Capped Bust to the Right style, the first quarter eagle of 1796, believed to have been minted to the extent of 963 pieces, features the head and shoulder portrait of Miss Liberty facing right, wearing a cloth cap, with LIBERTY above and the date below. There are no stars in this field. The reverse is of the Heraldic Eagle design similar to that used on gold and silver denominations of the 1800 era. Adapted from the Great Seal of the United States, the center motif depicts an eagle with a shield on its breast, holding an olive branch and arrows in its talons, and in its beak a ribbon inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM. A galaxy of stars is above, with a group of clouds in an arc extending from one wing to the other. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds. There is no mark indicating the denomination.
Of the 963 pieces believed to have been minted, it has been estimated that perhaps as many as 30 to 40 survive today, although other estimates have been in the range of 15 to 20 pieces. Most of these are in grades from Very Fine to Extremely Fine, although a few higher condition examples exist.
Following a brief emission of 1796 quarter eagles without obverse stars, the design was modified to add stars to the left and right of the head. The number of stars and their placement vary from issue to issue, but these have not been collected as separate types, perhaps due to the general rarity of quarter eagles in this span. 1796 quarter eagles with stars have eight stars to the left and eight to the right, for a total of 16, while quarter eagles of the years 1797 through 1807 have 13 stars arranged in various ways. 1797 quarter eagles have seven stars to the left and six to the right, while 1798 quarter eagle have six to the left and seven to the right. 1802/1 quarter eagles have eight left and five right. The year 1806 comes in two varieties, eight left and five right as well as seven left and six right. All quarter eagles within this span are rare. Apart from the addition of stars to the obverse, the motifs are the same as on the previous issue.
While a few Uncirculated examples are known of scattered dates, most quarter eagles known within this date span grade from Very Fine to Extremely Fine, with Very Fine being the norm. In keeping with other gold coins, mint-caused planchet adjustment marks are often seen as are areas of light striking.
Five-Dollar Gold Pieces were the first gold coins struck at the United States Mint. Authorized by the Act of April 2, 1792, they were struck in six different Varieties between 1795 and 1838. These Varieties include:
1795-1798 Small Eagle Reverse Type
1795-1807 Heraldic Eagle Reverse Type
Believed to have been designed by Robert Scot, the first half eagle, representing the first United States gold coin actually put in circulation, is of the design designated by collectors today as the Capped Bust to Right obverse with Small Eagle reverse. The obverse depicts Miss Liberty, wearing a cloth cap, facing right, with LIBERTY to the right above and the date below. The star count arrangement is typically 10 to the left and five to the right, but one variety of 1797 has 16 stars arranged 11 to the left and five to the right. The reverse, believed to have been copied from an ancient cameo, shows an eagle perched on a palm branch holding a wreath aloft in its beak. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds. There is no mark or indication of value on the piece. At the time, gold coins were valued in the channels of commerce by their weight and metallic content. Examples were produced from 1795 through 1798, with the last year being a major rarity in the series-a coin of which fewer than a dozen are known to exist.
Several hundred examples survive of various 1795-1798 half eagles with the Small Eagle reverse. Most of these bear the date of the first year of issue, 1795. Most surviving specimens are in grades from Very Fine through AU, but over the years a number have been designated as Uncirculated. Among 1795 half eagles, AU and Uncirculated coins often possess prooflike surfaces.