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1808 Capped Bust Quarter Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1808 Capped Bust Quarter Eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
The Parmelee-Pogue 1808 Capped Bust Quarter Eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker …..
 

The 1808 quarter eagle $2.50 gold coin is a bonafide rarity that is well known outside collectors of 19th-century gold type coins. The United States Mint at Philadelphia struck the entire mintage of 2,710 coins on February 26, 1808. Over the course of the next 10 months, no more quarter eagles would be struck.

Of that number it has been estimated that fewer than 2% exist today in all grades, with 35 to 40 pieces being a reasonable estimate of the surviving specimens – though there could be more.

Collector Harry W. Bass, Jr. and numismatist John Dannreuther studied the issue in-depth and determined that only one die marriage was deployed for the date.

All known examples exhibit a long thin die crack from the top of Liberty’s cap that extends to the stars on the right. A lack of well-defined borders is the key characteristic for which all 1808 Capped Bust quarter eagles are known. These weak borders, as numismatist Walter Breen speculated, may account for the issue’s low survival rate, as it exposed the coins to undue wear. In fact, every known 1808 quarter eagle has rim problems of some sort, probably due to the lack of raised detail evident around the margins.

Another interesting feature of the coin is an Easter egg. If you look closely, you will notice that the 13th star point closest to the rim is hooked. This detail was probably purposefully added by engraver John Reich.

John Reich’s Influence on American Coin Design

Johann Matthias Reich, better known to numismatists as John Reich, joined the Mint’s engraving staff on April 1, 1807, where he served a 10-year tenure through March 31, 1817. Reich was a native of Bavaria, Germany, where he learned the engraving trade from his father, Johann Christian Reich.

As a Mint engraver, Reich set about redesigning every coin denomination from the half cent to the half eagle. In 1807, Reich’s Capped Bust design appeared for the first time on half dollars, and a similar design also appeared on the half eagles in 1807. Early the next year, a modification of this design, known today as the Classic Head, appeared on large cents and followed on the half cents in 1809.

For silver coins, the Capped Bust design was utilized for dimes in 1809, quarter dollars in 1815, and half dimes in 1829. Silver dollars and eagles were not in production, thus the Reich designs never appeared on those denominations.

Perhaps the single most important entry in the Reich parade of designs is the quarter eagle of 1808.

How Rare Is the 1808 Capped Bust Quarter Eagle and What Is It Worth?

The three major third-party grading services CAC, NGC, and PCGS have combined to report 29 grading events in Mint State and 112 grading events overall. Some published estimates suggest that between 125 and 150 examples likely survive. Accounting for the remaining pieces, are a small number of damaged “Net Graded” coins that have been authenticated by the grading services over the course of the past several decades.

Of the 29 purported Mint State examples, veteran numismatist John Kraljevich, Jr., in his catalog writings for the Pogue Collection, put forth his belief that not all of these coins would have been considered Mint State a generation or two ago. This is reinforced by the cluster of coins graded MS60 and MS61, two grades that we find to be of dubious merit.

For the past 30-odd years, 1808 Capped Bust quarter eagles have appeared at auction at an average rate of five examples per year. In some years, multiple Mint State examples may sell. In other years, only circulated or damaged pieces are offered. The best examples are typically purchased and held in important collections.

Details coins sell for significant discounts over coins without impairments. In 2023, Heritage Auctions sold a repaired and polished AU Details coin for $28,800, when just four months earlier, the firm sold an XF-40 examples for $120,000. In Choice Mint State, the 1808 Capped Bust quarter eagle can bring over $300,000 at auction. The finest known example sold for $2,350,000 in 2015.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS MS65 (1, 3/2024). NGC MS63 (5, 3/2024). CAC MS63 (1:0 stickered:graded, 3/2024).

  • PCGS MS65 #31385747: Lorin G. Parmelee, acquired before 1890; “Lorin G. Parmelee Collection”, New York Coin and Stamp Company, June 1890, Lot 856; John Story Jenks; “John Story Jenks Collection”, Henry Chapman, December 1921, Lot 5792; Col. E.H.R. Green Collection; Col. E.H.R. Green estate to Burdette G. Johnson, via Eric P. Newman; B. Max Mehl, May 1950, Lot 11; Dr. J. Hewitt Judd to Dr. Herbert Ketterman; Dr. Ketterman to Jimmy Hayes in Kansas City, Missouri, via sale, 1982; Stack’s, July 1984, Lot 1372; David W. Akers, July 1989, Lot 1361. Purchased by D. Brent Pogue. “The D. Brent Pogue Collection, Part I”, Stack’s Bowers / Sotheby’s, May 19, 2015, Lot 1128 – $2,350,000. Pogue novelty insert. Pedigree research by Stack’s Bowers, used with permission. 
  • NGC MS63 #389410-001: “The Larry H. Miller Collection”, Stack’s Bowers, December 17, 2020, Lot 1115 – $276,000. Nick behind Liberty’s lower hair curl.
  • PCGS MS63 CAC #40323808: Heritage Auctions, August 2001, Lot 7585 – $73,600; As PCGS MS63 CAC. “Oliver Jung Collection”, American Numismatic Rarities, July 2004, Lot 84 – $322,000; Stack’s, March 2007, Lot 1441 – $425,500; Stack’s, November 18, 2008, Lot 4176 – $517,500. As PCGS MS63 CAC #40323808. Heritage Auctions, September 17, 2020, Lot 10122 – $576,000. Regraded. Simpson novelty insert.
  • NGC MS63 #1515456-005: Heritage Auctions, August 3, 2012, Lot 5286 – $223,250. Cluster of hits on Liberty’s neck. Three hits between stars 2 and 3. Diagonal scratch from the second 8 in the date to star 13.
  • NGC MS63: “The Springdale Collection”, Superior, May 2006, lot 992 – $218,500; Stack’s Bowers, November 4, 2010, Lot 4781 – $316,250. Adjustment marks on the left and right rims. 
  • PCGS MS62 #46092657: Abner Kreisberg, March 1972, Lot 1163; “The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Core Collection, Part II” Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2023, Lot 9006 – $372,000. Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection novelty insert.
  • NGC MS62 #4192183-005: As NGC MS61 #289313-001. Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2015, Lot 4237 – $123,375. As NGC MS62 #4192183-005. Stack’s Bowers, November 14, 2019, Lot 3134 – $174,000. Regraded and upgraded by one point. No radials on stars 2, 8-13, adjustment marks on right rim, die gouge above M in UNUM. Certification number no longer active.
  • PCGS MS62 #14468068: As NGC MS63 #1776966-006. “The Freedom Collection”, Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2007, Lot 3392 – $287,500. Freedom Collection on insert. “The Madison Collection”, Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2008, Lot 3069 – $322,000. Freedom Collection on insert. Since this sale, the coin has crossed down to PCGS at MS62 (minus one point), and now has the certification number #14468068. Radials on star 1, 3-7, 11-13. Tick to the right of star 1. Tick to the left of T of LIBERTY. On the reverse, adjustment marks at 12 o’clock. Splotchy dark toning from star 1 around the base of the coin to star 12.
  • NGC MS61 #5746683-001: As NGC MS61 #1846194-002. “The Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis Collection”, Heritage Auctions, August 11, 2010, Lot 3408 – $138,000; Heritage Auctions, April 28, 2011, Lot 5325 – $126,500; As NGC MS61 #5746683-001. Heritage Auctions, June 4, 2020, Lot 3153 – $138,000. Hit above bust. Hit from second 8 of the date to rim. Gouge in star 12. Thin scratch from rim down to the right side of star 6.
  • PCGS MS61 #25653608: Stack’s Bowers, March 31, 2016, Lot 13156 – $223,250.
  • NGC MS61 #1846194-002: Heritage Auctions, August 2010, Lot 3408; Heritage Auctions, April 2011, Lot 5325; Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2015, Lot 5247 – $123,375.
  • NGC MS61: Stack’s Bowers, November 16, 2012, Lot 2341 – $129,250.
  • NGC MS61: Heritage Auctions, May 31, 2001, Lot 8829; “The Rich Uhrich Collection”, Stack’s, February 26, 2008, Lot 2033 – $169,625.
  • NGC MS61 #1275966-001: “The Guadalupe Collection”, Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2006, Lot 3409 – $143,750. Thin scratch from hair to cheek. Radials on stars 1, 3-7, 9, and 13.
  • PCGS MS61 #3134884: Heritage Auctions, August 10, 2001, Lot 7585 – $73,600.
  • NGC MS60 #1649039-001: “The Husky Collection”, Stack’s, June 2008, Lot 2039 – $140,000; Stack’s, January 2013, Lot 13287 – $126,900; “The Murray Hill Collection”, Stack’s Bowers, November 9, 2017, Lot 10116 – $144,000. Radials only present on stars 3 through 6. Scratch behind Liberty’s hair. Thin hit through the bottom of Liberty’s cap.

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Design

Obverse:

As with most early U.S. coinage, the obverse of the 1808 quarter eagle is dominated by the bust of Lady Liberty. Reich’s version of Liberty adheres to classical beauty standards and has heavily lidded eyes and a prominent nose. Liberty’s face is framed nicely by flowing locks of hair that curl over her shoulder and reveal a broach holding together her robe. She also wears the French liberty cap, also known as a Phrygian cap, with the word LIBERTY written prominently on its band. The date (1808) can be seen below the bust’s truncation, and Liberty is ringed by 13 five-pointed stars: seven to her left and six to her right. While most early U.S. coins were not signed by their engravers, Reich placed a small notch in the bottom right star that can be seen on all authentic examples.

Reverse:

The reverse design focuses on the American heraldic eagle. This bald eagle has its wings outstretched, a shield across its breast feathers, and is clutching an olive branch in the left talon and three arrows in its right. A scrolling banner proclaiming E PLURIBUS UNUM is unfurled above the eagle, between its wing tips. The denomination (2 ½ D.) is below the bird’s talons and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA runs around the denticled border, ringing the entire design.

Edge:

The edge of the 1808 quarter eagle is reeded.

Designer

John Reich, born Johann Matthias Reich, is a little known yet highly influential figure in early U.S. coinage. Born in Bavaria, Germany in 1768, Reich moved to the fledgling United States after the Revolutionary War in 1800 as an indentured servant. By 1801, Reich was recommended for a job at the United States Mint by President Thomas Jefferson. He began his tenure as a menial laborer, and it wasn’t until 1807 that Reich was released from his indentured servitude and promoted to the position of Assistant Engraver (mainly due to Chief Engraver Robert Scot’s failing eyesight). Tasked by Mint Director Robert M. Patterson, Reich created the Capped Liberty Bust motif and redesigned many U.S. coins. His most famous pieces include the Capped Bust silver half dollar and the gold quarter eagle.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1808
Denomination: Quarter Eagle ($2.50 USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 2,710
Alloy: 91.7% Gold, 8.3% Copper
Weight: 4.37 g
Diameter: 20.00 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: John Reich
REV Designer: John Reich
Quality: Business Strike

 

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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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