HomeUS Coins1796 Draped Bust Quarter, Small Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1796 Draped Bust Quarter, Small Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar, B-2. Image: Stack's Bowers.
1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar, B-2. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

The United States Mint issued its first copper coins in 1793, its first silver coins in 1794, and its first gold coins in 1795. It wasn’t until 1796 that the Mint would produce the first quarter dollar. That same year, the dime and quarter eagle also debuted.

Starting in 1795, the Mint began the process of standardizing its silver and minor coins by adopting Robert Scot’s Draped Bust design. For the silver denominations, Scot’s Draped Bust obverse was married with a Small Eagle reverse. Beginning in 1798, the reverse design was changed to a more sophisticated Heraldic Eagle design.

As the 1796 Draped Bust quarter was the only quarter dollar issue produced in the 18th century, it would be the only quarter to be struck with the Small Eagle reverse, making it an important one-year type coin.

The first delivery of the Draped Bust quarter dollar took place on April 9, 1796, with 1,800 pieces delivered under warrant #61. Over the course of the next two months, the coiners at the Philadelphia Mint would strike a modest number of the 25-cent coin before production was put on a hiatus. By year’s end, 5,894 coins were delivered. Coinage of the 1796-dated quarter continued in early 1797, with a small emission of 252 pieces reported on February 28. After this point, no quarter dollars would be produced until 1804.

Deliveries of 1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollars
April 9, 1796 1,800 delivered May 27, 1796 2,530 delivered
June 14, 1796 1,564 delivered February 28, 1797 252 delivered
Total: 6,146 coins

Despite this low mintage, two obverse dies and one reverse die were utilized. Typical for the issue, the eagle’s head usually comes weakly struck. Numismatist Ard W. Browning, whose classification system is still used to identify Draped Bust quarter die varieties, numbered the 1796 quarter varieties Browning-1 and Browning-2. In his excellent 2008 book, Early United States Quarters: 1796-1838, researcher Steve M. Tompkins posits that the emission sequence was likely flipped, basing this opinion on the delivery dates and estimating die order by surviving coin populations.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

In his 1964 writings, Walter Breen estimated that 125 to 150 examples of the 1796 Draped Bust quarter survive. More recent scholarship shows that this estimate was far too low. Tompkins estimated a survival rate of “as much as 10%” of the total mintage. This would put the total number of coins extant as high as 615.

In Mint State, the 1796 quarter is rare. Grading standards for all United States coins have shifted over the years, but as of March 2024, CAC, NGC, and PCGS report a combined total of 78 (CAC 0 + NGC 39 + PCGS 39).

Top Population: PCGS MS67 (1, 3/2024). NGC MS67+ (1, 3/2024). CAC MS67 (1:0 stickered:graded, 3/2024).

1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar, Browning-1

B-1. Image: Heritage Auctions (visit www.ha.com).
1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar, B-1. Image: Heritage Auctions (visit www.ha.com).

Rarity-4+. Low 6 Variety. Same reverse die as Browning-2. Typically weakly struck at the eagle’s head area. The scarcer of the two varieties.

  • PCGS SP66 #4714887: “The Matthew Stickney Collection”, Henry Chapman, June 1907, Lot 1116; John H. Clapp; Clapp Estate; “The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection”, Bowers and Merena, April 1997, Lot 1356. As PCGS SP66 #4714887. Heritage Auctions, August 7, 2014, Lot 5565 – $881,250. Old Green Holder. ELIASBERG on insert.
  • NGC MS64+ CAC #2064031-045: “Colonel” E.H.R. Green; Green Estate; Partnership of Eric P. Newman / B.G. Johnson d.b.a. St. Louis Stamp and Coin Co.; Eric P. Newman – $125.00; Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. As NGC MS64+ CAC #2064031-045. Heritage Auctions, November 1, 2017, Lot 15083 – $264,000.Pedigree research assisted by Heritage Auctions. Dark Olive, Gold, and purple toning. Adjustment marks on the reverse over eagle’s head and legs.
  • NGC MS63 #1973166-002: “The George H. Earle Collection”, S.H. and H. Chapman, June 1912, Lot 3035; Stack’s, acquired March 1990; “The Haig A. Koshkarian Type Set”, American Numismatic Rarities, March 2004, Lot 60; Pinnacle Rarities; Heritage Auctions, April 2011, Lot 5079 – $138,000. Stack’s Bowers, Rarities Night Auction, August 11, 2016, Lot 3089 – $105,750. Darkly toned with gold, orange, and blue toning. Well struck eagle. 

1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar, Browning-2

1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar, B-2. Image: Stack's Bowers.
1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar, B-2. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

High 6 Variety. Rarity-3. Jules Reiver thought the variety was much scarcer. Same reverse die as Browning-1. Typically weakly struck at the eagle’s head area. Slightly the more prevalent of the two die marriages. (NGC MS67+*, 12/20).

Stack's May 31, 1975, Lot 824. This is the Ten Eyck-Pogue coin. Image: CoinWeek.
1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar. Stack’s May 31, 1975, Lot 824. This is the Ten Eyck-Pogue coin. Image: CoinWeek.
  • NGC MS67+* CAC #2037631-001: “Colonel” E.H.R. Green; Green Estate; Partnership of Eric P. Newman / B.G. Johnson d.b.a. St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co. As “Brilliant Proof”. Eric P. Newman – $100.00; Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. As NGC MS67+* #2037631-001. “Selections from the Eric P. Newman Collection, Part II”, Heritage Auctions, November 15, 2013, Lot 33327 – $1,527,700. Newman novelty insert. Ex: “Col.” E.H.R. Green on insert. Fully struck, target toning.Pedigree research assisted by Heritage Auctions.
  • PCGS MS66 #44161266: Waldo Newcomer; Col. E.H.R. Green; J.G. MacAllister; “The T. James Clarke Collection”, New Netherlands, April 1956, Lot 1557. As NGC MS66 #957212-062. Claude E. Davis, M.D. (Foxfire Collection), October 1995. Foxfire Collection sold, en bloc, to the D. Brent Pogue Family; Bob R. Simpson. As PCGS MS66 #44161266. “The Bob R. Simpson Collection, Part VII”, Heritage Auctions, January 13, 2022, Lot 3755 – $1,740,000. Crossed over to PCGS at same grade. Simpson novelty insert. Foxfire – Simpson on insert. Blue and violent iridescent toning on obverse and reverse. Fully struck eagle.Pedigree research assisted by Heritage Auctions.
  • PCGS MS66 #09006459: James Ten Eyck; “The James Ten Eyck Collection”, B. Max Mehl, May 1922, Lot 507; Milton A. Holmes; “The Milton A. Holmes Collection”, Stack’s, October 1960, Lot 2918. As “Perfect Brilliant Proof”. Stack’s, May 31, 1975, Lot 824 – $27,000; L.A. Collection of U.S. Type Coins; Stack’s, October 1990, Lot 1634. D. Brent Pogue Family. As PCGS MS66 #09006459. “The D. Brent Pogue Family Collection, Part I”, Stack’s Bowers / Sotheby’s, May 2015, Lot 1051 – $1,527,500. Pedigree research assisted by Stack’s Bowers.
  • NGC MS65 #273521-001: Heritage Auctions, January 2007, Lot 903; Heritage Auctions, January 2011, Lot 5505 – $207,000; Heritage Auctions, January 21, 2021, Lot 4012 – $210,000. Dark violet toning on the obverse. Diagonal adjustment marks across chest. Dark blue toning on the reverse. Weakly struck eagle.
  • PCGS MS65 #13154977: “The Norweb Collection”, Bowers and Merena, March 1988, Lot 1512. As PCGS MS65 #13154977. Heritage Auctions, August 2010, Lot 3107 – $322,000. Norweb on insert; “The Pannonia Collection, Part I”, Heritage Auctions, September 4, 2014, Lot 3116 – $411,250.
  • NGC MS65: “The Reed Hawn Collection”, Stack’s, March 1977, Lot 259; “The James A. Stack Collection”, Stack’s, October 1994, Lot 342. As NGC MS65. “The Oliver Jung Collection”, American Numismatic Rarities, July 23, 2004, Lot 46 – $230,000. Brilliant. Weakly struck eagle.
  • NGC MS64 #335172-014: “The Larry H. Miller Collection”, Stack’s Bowers, December 17, 2020, Lot 1059 – $114,000. Dark steel toning throughout. Small depression on the back of the eagle’s neck.
  • NGC MS64 #686280-001: “The Music City Collection”, Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2015, Lot 5012 – $141,000. Cobalt toning around periphery. Weak eagle’s head.
  • PCGS MS64 #60193695: “The Pannonia Collection, Part II”, Heritage Auctions, October 9, 2014, Lot 4713 – $164,500. Mottled champagne, steel, orange, and blue toning. Weak eagle’s head.
  • PCGS MS64 CAC #4172952: Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2012, Lot 3167 – $253,000. Weakly struck eagle chest and head. Lightly toned.
  • NGC MS64 #1891217-004: Heritage Auctions, March 17, 2011, Lot 3485 – $80,500. Dark cobalt crescent toning at the lower hemisphere of the obverse.  Streaky cobalt toning on the reverse, largely present over UNITED and STATES.
  • NGC MS64 #1828383-001: “The Scott Rudolph Collection”, Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2009, Lot 3708 – $86,250; Heritage Auctions, April 30, 2009, Lot 2310 – $80,500. Darkly toned.
  • NGC MS64: “The J.B. Worthington Collection”, American Numismatic Rarities, May 24, 2005, Lot 199 – $143,750. Mostly brilliant with streaks of brown in hair, on neck, and in the right field of the obverse.

1796 Draped Bust Quarter Dollar, Browning-2a

Shattered obverse die. First discovered at Glendining sale in early 1935.

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Design

Obverse:

The obverse prominently displays Liberty in the center of the coin, long flowing hair swept backward and down her neck, and tied at the back with a ribbon. Folded drapery is placed across the bust and over her shoulder. Eight six-point stars to the left of LIBERTY, seven to the right. The date at the bottom of the design. A denticled rim surrounds the design.

Reverse:

The reverse has in the center a right-facing eagle, perched on clouds. Around the eagle is a circle formed by two branches, laurel on the left and palm on the right, tied at the bottom with a bow. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA forms nearly a complete circle just inside the denticled rim. All coins were produced at Philadelphia and have no mintmark.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1796
Denomination: Quarter Dollar (USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 6,146
Alloy: .892 Silver, .108 Copper
Weight: 6.74 g
Diameter: 27.50 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Robert Scot
REV Designer: Robert Scot
Quality: Business Strike

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of United States Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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