In his 1807 conversations with President Thomas Jefferson, Mint Director Robert Patterson pushed for a complete redesign of the new nation’s coinage. The question was, however: Who was capable of undertaking the task? Neither man had confidence in the current Chief Engraver, Robert Scot. In John Reich, Patterson thought he had his man and, in his March 25, 1807, letter, Patterson claimed that the “beauty of our coins would be greatly improved by his [Reich’s] masterly hand”. Thus, Scot’s Turban Head quarter eagle design was replaced with Reich’s new Capped Bust type.
Unfortunately, there was little to no demand for such a coin. Instead, people preferred either the silver dollar or the gold half eagle ($10) for both domestic and international trade. As a result, the United States Mint struck a total of only 2,710 pieces between January 1 and February 26, 1808. Since the mintage was so small, the moneyers only had to use one die pairing (known as BD-1). A die crack can be seen on all known examples above Liberty’s cap and through the first several stars to her right. Additionally, towards the end of the run, the dies show an additional crack developing that runs through the date.
It is also common for 1808 quarter eagles to have adjustment marks, a trait not found on later issuances. This is because the U.S. Mint installed newer and more precise machinery, including new rolling mills ordered from the English firm of Belles and Harrold. This design was struck for one year, undergoing another redesign when production resumed in 1821. Presumably, Robert Scot had the last laugh, since it is thought that he was responsible for this new design as Reich had left the Mint by 1821.
The 1808 Quarter Eagle in Today’s Market
With a very limited mintage (and even smaller surviving population), this one-year type is extremely popular and expensive. While some estimates put the surviving population at between 50 and 60 coins, it is likely that 125 to 150 pieces survive. That being said, NGC and PCGS’s combined certified and graded population of 110 pieces certainly includes more than a few resubmissions. Since all of these coins were intended for circulation and most people could not afford to collect coins of any kind, let alone gold, most extant examples have at least some level of wear. This may take the form of general circulation wear or contact marks. Additionally, many examples have been cleaned at some point in the past 214 years.
As such, this limited population can never meet market demand, and when high-quality examples come to auction, they tend to be expensive and cause a stir. A collector should expect to pay between $20,000 and $40,000 USD for a low-grade or even cleaned example. It is also not uncommon for AU-58s, the most common grade, to fetch upwards of $200,000.
It is rare for mid- to high-Mint-State examples to come to auction, and when the last MS-63 was sold in 2020, it fetched a whopping $576,000! This coin, owned by Oliver Jung, is considered to be the second finest example. However, the Pogue example is in a whole different league. Graded by PCGS as MS-65, the coin is simply spectacular. It sold for an astounding $2,350,000 at auction in 2015 ($2,942,821.82 adjusted for inflation).
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.
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.
The edge of the 1808 quarter eagle is reeded.
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.
|Year Of Issue:||1808|
|Denomination:||Quarter Eagle ($2.50)|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||91.7% Gold, 8.3% Copper|
|OBV Designer||John Reich|
|REV Designer||John Reich|
* * *