Early quarters are just plain tough. In fact, if you are living on an average income, you could have a real problem trying to afford any early quarter.
It appears to have been a matter of priorities. Apparently, the quarter was simply wasn’t one. The first quarter was not produced until 1796, or two full years after the first dollar. Other denominations were also slow to be made.
At the time, things were more than a little busy and confusing at the U.S. Mint. There was a coin shortage, and the Mint’s job was to make enough coins to solve the problem. That was much easier in theory than it was in actual practice.
Today, making coins looks easy, but back in 1794, it was not. It required people who could do all the technical work (such as creating designs and making dies), obtaining metal, and a host of other things that were in short supply.
Things were not made any easier by the requirement for officials to post surety bonds they did not have. Silver and gold coins had to wait until that matter could be settled. Even when it was, there was still the question of finding the silver, after which the coins could be designed. Then, as long as machines did not break and employees did not die from one of the many epidemics, a few coins might be struck.
Under these circumstances, there certainly needed to be priorities. Not being overly aggressive, however, Mint employees basically allowed those bringing in silver and gold to order what coins they wanted, and apparently the quarter was not at the top of many wish lists. The favored denomination was the dollar, which was often cheerfully exported for profit (and so did not help at all with the coin shortage).
Mintage for the 1796 Draped Bust quarter was 6,146 pieces. This rather small amount most likely scattered far and wide very quickly. Since there are not very many of them today, it’s not surprising that an example in G4 condition is priced at $12,000.
What may be surprising, however, is that the next quarter was not produced until 1804. Had silver dollar and gold eagle production not been suspended, there might have been no quarter production either, but officials finally took steps to get lower denominations into circulation.
The 1804 mintage of 6,738 was not a major step toward an adequate quarter supply, but it was a start. And again, the mintage also helps explain its current price tag of $4,500 in G4.
In 1805, there was finally a serious effort at quarter production. A total of 121,394 pieces were struck with the Draped Bust obverse and Heraldic Eagle reverse. This signaled the first significant production of the denomination.
For collectors today, the 1805 is the first U.S. quarter that many can afford. Priced at $470 in G4, it rises to $1,650 in VF20, $11,000 in MS60, and $84,000 in MS65.
There may not be much demand for the 1805, as not many people collect Draped Bust quarters. It is one of a few dates sought by type collectors, but the other dates are priced either similarly or exactly the same in the grades listed above.
Even with possibly weak demand, you have to like these prices. This coin is over 200 years old, with a mintage that would command higher prices if it were a 20th century issue.
Moreover, the severe coin shortage at the time of its release strongly suggests that it would have received very heavy circulation.
Combine all these factors, and you can get a historic coin with a mintage under 125,000 for less than $500 in G4. Even if the price were unlikely to move substantially, it makes a very solid purchase.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• More than 600 issuing locations are represented in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1701-1800 .
• The 1800s were a time of change for many, including in coin production. See how coin designs grew during the time period in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900 .