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Classic U.S. Coin for Less Than $500 Each, Part 26: Capped Bust Quarters


Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #360

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
This series of articles is aimed at collectors who do not wish to spend more than $500 for any one coin yet seek to build meaningful, enjoyable and noteworthy collections of classic U.S. coins – especially sets that are consistent with collecting traditions. And while there are quite a few sets of classic U.S. coins that may be truly completed for less than $500 USD per coin, a set of Capped Bust quarters is not one of them. A set of business strikes, however, can almost be completed, including a truly complete run of the second design type of Capped Bust quarters.

Capped Bust quarters of the first type (Reich) date from 1815 to 1828, and those of the second type (Kneass) date from 1831 to ’38. It is easier to collect those of the second type, and 1831 to 1838 quarters are suitable for absolute beginners who feel drawn to circulated coins.

Coins of each date of the second type in a grade of Good-04 typically retail for $50 to $90 each. VF-20 to VF-30 grade quarters of this second type (1831-38) retail for less than $250 each, frequently for considerably less than $200.

Public sales of 1831 to ’38 Capped Bust quarters in Extremely Fine-40 to -45 grades will be cited herein for reference purposes, as Extremely Fine grade, 1831 to ’38 quarters in general are being recommended.

Specific coins, however, are not being endorsed.

It should not be assumed that any one auction result or public Internet sale is a market value. There are many variables that relate to individual coins and particular auctions.

The first type of Capped Bust quarters (1815-28) was designed by John Reich. Although Capped Bust quarters of the second type are similar, these have notably different design elements. An unambiguous difference is that a banner with a national slogan, ‘E. Pluribus Unum,’ is part of the reverse design of Capped Bust quarters of the first type, and is not part of the design of the second type.

“It is fair to credit the design of 1831-38 quarters to William Kneass. The phrase ‘E. Pluribus Unum,’ though, was removed by Mint Director Moore as he felt it merely repeated United States in Latin. This removal was approved by President Andrew Jackson,” states R. W. Julian, in response to my inquiry.

An oft-repeated simplistic translation of ‘E. Pluribus Unum’ is ‘From Many, One.’ An alternate translation and an explanation is put forth in a past discussion, ‘From Many Emerged One.’ The removal of this phrase, however, is just one of several differences between the two design types of Capped Bust quarters.

Reich quarters (1815-28) are often named “Large Size” or “Large Letters.” Kneass quarters (1831-38) are often called “Small Size” or “Small Letters.” Reich Capped Bust quarters (1815-28) were specified to each be 17/16 of an inch (1.0625) in diameter, about 27 millimeters. Kneass Capped Bust quarters (1831-38) each have a diameter of 0.95 inch, approximately 24.1 millimeters.

181825cvf30This difference (0.1125 inch) is less than one-eighth of an inch, and would not be noticed by most collectors if the designs were artistically the same. Indeed, the two types of Capped Bust Quarters are characterized by distinctly different artistry that should be attributed to different artisans.

The letters and numerals are not just smaller; they are stylistically different. More importantly, the female personifications of Miss Liberty are different characters, with obviously different facial features.

The two Capped Busts are concepts of different artists, John Reich and William Kneass, who held the title of chief engraver of the U.S. Mint from 1824 to 1840. Kneass was very active in the 1830s until Christian Gobrecht became the primary, active engraver late in 1835.

Reich Capped Bust Quarters (1815-28)

It is not difficult to buy Reich Capped Bust quarters for less than $500 each. A challenge is to find relatively original, Fine-12 to VF-25 grade coins that have pleasant natural toning and no really annoying contact marks. These are very rare. Collectors, however, should not spend the rest of their respective lives seeking to acquire only wonderful Reich quarters for modest prices.

It is rational to acquire some excellent coins and to accept a few sub-optimal pieces to almost-complete a set, and then proceed to another collecting project. Besides, it is important to learn while collecting and to enjoy building sets. All 19th-century coins have noticeable imperfections.

A complete set “by date” of business strike Reich quarters requires the following “dates”: 1815, 1818, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823/2, 1824/2, 1825/4/2, and 1828. Quarters were not minted during every year. Evidently, there are no “normal date” 1823, 1824, 1825 and 1827 quarters.

The 1827/3/2 overdate quarters are not business strikes, and should be ignored by beginning to intermediate-level collectors. This discussion is limited to business strikes, coins made by ordinary or routine methods.

Some 1822 quarters and some 1828 quarters were made with a reverse die on which a U.S. Mint employee accidentally punched “50 C.” and then corrected this error by punching ‘25’ over the ‘50’ that was already sunk into the die. An overdenomination is indicative of a die variety, not of an additional ‘date’ that is needed for a set ‘by date.’ For a date set, just one 1822 and just one 1828 quarter are required for completion.

Collecting by die varieties is a complex topic. As there are a significant number of very rare varieties, only a small number of people can effectively collect bust quarters by die variety. Besides, only a small percentage of coin collectors focus upon die varieties, though they tend to be very active, dedicated and enthusiastic collectors. This impressive and vocal minority notwithstanding, most coin collectors do not have the interest or time to study die varieties.

An overdate is a distinct date if it is readily apparent without magnification. For Capped Bust quarters, there are no overdates that are second dates of the same year.

The 1818/5 overdate is too subtle to qualify as a distinct date in addition to an 1818 normal date. Careful study with magnification is needed by most quarter collectors to discern an underlying numeral ‘5’ in an 1818/5 overdate. Therefore, only one quarter from the year 1818, a normal date or an overdate, is needed for a complete set “by date”.

It would be impossible to legitimately acquire an 1823/2 quarter for less than $500. It might not be practical to acquire an 1824/2 either, though it would be realistic to seek a sub-$500 1824/2. The rest of the series can be completed without much difficulty.

Public Sales for Less than $500

A VG-08 to Fine-12 grade 1815 could be obtained for less than $500. For example, in August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded VG-10 1815 sold for $329.

Though a ‘better date,’ it is easy to find an 1818 for less than $500. On May 29, 2016, the firm GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-20 1818, with a CAC sticker, for $451. In March 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded VG-08 1818, also CAC-approved, for $152.75.

There are ‘Large 9’ and ‘Medium 9‘ varieties of 1819 quarters. Just one is needed for a set ‘by date,’ though it is easy to obtain representatives of both these major varieties.

In June 2014, the Goldbergs auctioned an NGC-graded VF-20 ‘Large 9’ 1819 for $494. In August 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-graded VG-08 ‘Large 9’ 1819 for $129.25. On November 25, 2014, GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded Fine-12 ‘Small 9’ 1819, with a CAC sticker, for $310.

There are three different variations of the zero in 1820 quarters, ‘Small 0,’ so called ‘Medium 0,’ and ‘Large 0.’ The distinctions are not tremendous. All three varieties of zeroes are normal enough. For a set ‘by date,’ just one 1820 quarter is sufficient.

In September 2016, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded VF-20 1820-‘Small 0’ for $423. In May 2015, GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded Fine-12 1820-‘Large 0,’ with a CAC sticker, for $297. In September 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded VG-10 1820-‘Small 0’ for $203.28.

Although scarcer than 1820 quarters, obtaining an 1821 for less than $500 should not be difficult. On July 5, 2016, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded VF-20 1821 for $470. In January 2015, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS-graded Fine-12 1821, with a CAC sticker, for $247.

eaglecutoutThe 1822 is notably scarcer than the 1821. In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold two different, PCGS graded Fine-12 1822 quarters. They each brought $446.50. Generally, Good-04 to VG-10 grade 1822 quarters would be expected to retail in the range of $200 to $400.

All quarters from the years 1823, 1824, 1825 and 1827 are overdates. Evidently, 1822 obverse dies were available during those years, and, in each case, the last numeral ‘2’ was over-punched. As already stated, the 1823/2 and the 1827/3/2 are to be excluded.

An 1824/2 can be found for less than $500. On July 12, 2015, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded AG-03 1824/2 for $385. Earlier, in March 2014, this same firm sold a different PCGS-graded AG-03 1824/2, this coin with a CAC sticker, for $409.42.

According to Rory Rea, a co-author and the publisher of the Rea-Patterson reference book in 2010, all 1825 quarters are 1825/4/2 overdates. Presumably, a numeral ‘4’ was punched over the last ‘2’ in 1824 and then, in 1825, a numeral ‘5’ was punched over the ‘4,’ which had earlier been punched over a ‘2’.

The 1825/4/2 is relatively expensive. In January 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded Fine-15 1825/4/2 for $316.25. GreatCollections has sold two different PCGS-graded VG-10 1825/4/2 quarters. In December 2015, one brought $270. The other, which had a CAC sticker, went for $231 in August 2013.

After the 1825/4/2, the next business strike quarter is the 1828, which is the last year of the first type of Capped Bust quarters. The site provides the impression that this is the least valuable and thus presumably the least scarce of all dates of the first type. Regarding circulated grades, the PCGS Price Guide assigns the same values to the 1828 as to the 1818 normal date, all 1819 quarters, all 1820 quarters, and the 1821. This is certainly not accurate. For coins of approximately the same level of quality and eye appeal, the 1821 is definitely scarcer and more valuable than 1818, 1819 and 1820 quarters, except rare die varieties.

Though not nearly as scarce as the 1821, the 1828 is generally scarcer than 1818, 1819 and 1820 quarters. Months of waiting may be required before obtaining a naturally toned and generally pleasing, VG-08 to Fine-15 grade 1828.

Earlier this month, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-graded VF-25 1828 for $423. In April 2014, GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded Fine-15 1828 for $247.50.

Kneass Capped Bust Quarters (1831-38)

Among surviving Kneass Capped Bust quarters that grade at least VF-30 and as high as EF-45, representatives of all dates may be obtained for less than $500 each. A challenge is to find VF-30 to EF-45 grade coins that are very much original and are particularly attractive. Many have naturally retoned awkwardly after dipping or have weirdly toned after some kind of chemical cleaning.

Such concerns notwithstanding, it is important not to regard originality in “all or nothing” terms. Almost all circulated bust quarters have been subject to accidental or deliberate mistreatment of some sort or unfortunate environmental factors. Originality should be perceived via a scale, conceptually. Relatively original coins are more stable, are more likely to have traceable pedigrees to collections in the past, and are more likely to be appreciated in the present by sophisticated collectors.

Bust quarters frequently tone with dominant gray and green blends, or with russet, tan and brown mixes. On circulated coins, wisps or small patches of blue and/or orange-russet will sometimes be present, though it is unlikely that tones of these colors will naturally dominate a circulated bust quarter.

A circulated bust quarter that is very much yellowish, deep orange or is mostly blue is likely to have been deliberately modified. It is impossible, however, to draw responsible conclusions about artificial toning by way of descriptions or “rules of thumb”. A point for example, while most russet tones are natural, some russet tones are artificial.

Fortunately, circulated Kneass (1821-38) quarters are not valuable enough to interest many coin doctoring experts. The percentage of these that have been doctored by experts is very low and is not a major cause for concern. For each date, pleasing, naturally toned coins can be found in a matter of weeks or days.

183325cngcThere are no key dates in the second type (Kneass) of Capped Bust quarters. Except relatively rare die varieties, all the dates of this type are worth about the same, though some price guides attach premiums to the 1833. For a Fine-12 to EF-40 grade 1833, a collector should not pay much of a premium over the corresponding value for a commensurable 1834 or 1835 quarter.

Regarding 1831 quarters, there are two often recognized varieties relating to the reverse design. On the ‘Small Letters’ variety, the letters in the legend, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” are smaller than and are positioned differently from the respective letters in the ‘Large Letters’ variety. Although two 1831 quarters are not required for a set ‘by date,’ neither is expensive and each interested collector might as well acquire representatives of both these varieties.
In January 2015, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-40 1831-‘Small Letters’ quarter for $306. In May 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-45, 1831-‘Large Letters’ quarter for $376.

In August 2014, a the ANA Convention, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-graded VF-35 1832 for $205.63. On May 17, 2015, GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded EF-45 1833 for $407.

The 1834 and the 1835 are the least scarce dates of the whole series. Coins of these two dates are often selected for type sets. Quite a few, PCGS- or NGC-certified EF-40 grade, 1834 and 1835 quarters have been recently selling for less than $375 each.

While 1836 to 1838 Capped Bust quarters are not offered as often as 1834 and 1835 quarters, these can be found in Extremely Fine grades without waiting for years. On April 17, 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1836 for $343.20. Earlier this month (November 2016), Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1837 for $329.

On April 24, 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1837 for $338.80. Within the last couple of weeks, Stack’s-Bowers sold this exact same coin for $329.

Earlier this month, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-45 1838 for $493.50. In September 2016, GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded EF-45 1838 for $401.50. On May 1, 2016, a fresh, PCGS-graded EF-45 1838, “from the Yosemite Collection,” brought $473. In March 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded VF-35 1838 for $282.

Concluding Thoughts

If respective scarcity is weighed heavily in calculations of desirability, then market levels for Capped Bust quarters are not high. These are much scarcer than Capped Bust half dimes or half dollars. Capped Bust quarters are more elusive than Capped Bust dimes, too.

For all Reich Capped Bust quarters, PCGS and NGC together count a total of almost 6,400 grading events, 3,750 of which are perhaps different coins. Some of these have problems, despite having received numerical grades. Accepted grading criteria for the Reich (1815-28) pieces is more liberal than standards for Kneass (1831-38) quarters.

For all Kneass Capped Bust quarters, PCGS and NGC together have graded a total of nearly 8,000, with at most 5,200 of being different coins. There are probably less than 9,000 PCGS- or NGC-graded Capped Bust quarters around, from Poor-01 to MS-67.

In contrast, PCGS and NGC have graded more than six million Morgan silver dollars in total, a number which is likely to amount to more than four million different coins. Would a more applicable comparison involve Barber quarters? As for different coins that have been PCGS- or NGC-graded, I estimate that there are 30,000 to 40,000 Barber quarters. Also, the number of uncertified Barber quarters extant is at last five times higher than the number of uncertified Capped Bust quarters.

In sum, Capped Bust quarters are very scarce and very exciting. These are historically important and attractive, early U.S. coins. With just one or two missing, a set of all business strike Capped Bust quarters “by date”, with PCGS- or NGC-assigned numerical grades, may be assembled in a few years, or even in a matter of months, without spending as much as $500 on any one coin.

© 2016 Greg Reynolds


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Recent Articles in This Series on Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each:

Liberty Head Nickels | Barber Dimes | Proof Shield Nickels | Braided Hair Half Cents | Matron Head Large Cents | Classic Head Half Cents | Draped Bust Half Cents | Classic Head Large Cents | Gem Early Lincoln Cents | Indian Head Half Eagles | Two Cent Pieces | Three Cent Nickels | Indian Head Quarter Eagles | Copper-Nickel Indian Cents | Standing Liberty Quarters | Walking Liberty Half Dollars | Bust Half Dollars

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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