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August 08, 2014


Click on Coin Image to enlarge

1798 Quarter Eagle

Rare and Beautiful 1798 $2.50 NGC AU55 - $39,500.00

All early quarter eagles are rare. You would need very deep pockets and go long on patience and time if you were to set your goals on assembling an early quarter eagle collection. Yours truly helped a client in South Carolina several years ago take on the challenge which only got 75% of the way to completion and was still a multi-million dollar collection when sold at ANR auctions. It was called The Charleston Collection for any of you researchers. The earlies are quite challenging which brings us tothe present specimen which is a dandy and looks even better in hand then it does in the pictures. In its population report, NGC shows only 3 1798 quarter eagles certified at the Choice AU55 grade level. They do not distinguish quarter eagles by die variety. This would also make a great coin individually, as part of an early gold type set, a quarter eagle type set as an investment, an heirloom of numismatic importance.

The sun is shining on this eye-appealing early date 1798 Choice AU quarter eagle. Like the sun, the obverse is bright yellow-gold. The reverse is a mixture of yellow gold with a light greenish-gold patina. Clearly both sides are completely original. The few abrasion marks are in keeping with the grade, and none requires individual description. There is sufficient separation in the lines of Liberty’s hair, cap, and drapery to warrant the grade. The devices are strongly impressed, especially the horizontal stripes of the shield, the eagle’s wings, and the dentils on both sides of the coin. If you want to be dazzled by a quarter eagle, this is the piece for you.

The BD-2 variety has the date widely spaced with the 8 touching the drapery. Star 7 is far from the Y in LIBERTY. The reverse has 5 berries on the olive branch. The other variety for this date, BD-1, has a close date and 4 berries on the olive branch.

Please contact me by email or telephone 1-800-624-1870 to reserve this great coin.

The quarter eagle was designed by Robert Scot. The obverse shows a profile of Liberty facing right. Below her is the date which is off center to the left. Between the date and the word LIBERTY on the left side of the coin are ­­­6 stars. Another 7 stars follow LIBERTY down to the bust. Liberty wears a large, soft cap. Her hair flows down and also shows on her forehead. The design was probably taken from a Roman engraving of a Greek goddess. Liberty’s cap was certainly not a Phrygian or liberty cap. The liberty cap, emblematic of freedom, was worn by freed slaves and freed gladiators in Roman times. It was a close fitting cap used to cover a shorn head, which was one of the ways slaves were identified. Because of the way Liberty’s hair strands wrap around it, the oversized cap has been called a turban, and the design has been called the Turban Head because of it.

The reverse shows a heraldic eagle. However, Scot mixed up the positions of the arrows and olive branch. The arrows held in the wrong claw signify defiant militarism. Either Scot made an error copying the image of the Great Seal, or he deliberately changed the symbolism in keeping with very warlike stance. Considering that the United States at this time was engaged in a naval war with France (the undeclared Franco-American War of 1798 to 1800, which took place on the East coast of North America and the Caribbean and resulted in the end of French privateer attacks on U.S. shipping), the latter is probably more likely. The French would be especially sensitive to a message within the heraldry, and the young United States was brash in that they had just defeated the super power, England in gaining independence. In the field above the eagle are thirteen stars and above them, an arc of clouds. A banner from wing to wing has the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM.

Thomas Jefferson chose Scot to be the first Chief Engraver of the United States Mint on November 23, 1793. Scot was born in 1744 in Edinburgh, Scotland or England. (Documentary evidence is lacking as to where he was born.) He was trained as a watchmaker in England and learned engraving afterwards. He moved to the United States in 1777, where he worked as an engraver of plates, bills of exchange, and office scales. During the Revolution, he was an engraver of paper money. In 1780 he was made the State Engraver of Virginia. He moved to Philadelphia the next year. He was appointed Chief Engraver of the United States Mint on November 23, 1793 by David Rittenhouse, Mint Director. His salary in 1795 was $1,200 per year. The Mint Director received only $800 dollars per year more. Scot’s ability to make dies was limited, and in his advanced years he had failing eyesight. His work was somewhat less than that done in Europe at the time, and Scot was criticized for its poor quality. He was responsible for designs of most of America’s first coins. These include the Flowing Hair and the Draped Bust motifs used on early silver coins and the Capped Bust gold coins. Scot also designed the 1794-1797 half-cent, the 1800-1808 draped bust half-cent, and the Thomas Jefferson Indian Peace Medal. He died on November 1, 1823 and was succeeded by William Kneass as Chief Engraver.

The early Mint in Philadelphia had many challenges. Each of the specialists, the designers, engravers, and press operators were men who had previously worked in other fields. Coin manufacturing was a new trade for them. Production was sporadic. For the new Mint to coin each of the mandated denominations, it took four years. This delay was partly because of inexperience and governmental obstacles. Bonds that were unrealistically high were impediments to engravers working with precious metals. Congress was not united on the need for a government mint since private and foreign coinage seemed to work. Because of the non-existent or low production numbers in the early years of the Mint, foreign copper, silver and gold circulated along with American made coins for many years until they were later demonetized.

Record keeping in the Mint’s early years was fairly inaccurate. At the end of the eighteenth century Philadelphia had recovered from the British occupation and Revolutionary War. It was the second largest city in the English-speaking world, but it could do nothing to protect its citizens from the mosquito-borne epidemic of yellow fever. Its wealthy citizens went to the countryside to escape, and the poor grimly waited their fate. Of course these annual epidemics caused havoc with all manufacturing that required continuity, such as a coinage sequence. In addition to yellow fever, chaos at the Mint was also caused by chronic bullion shortages, coin dies that would wear out and had to be re-engraved because they were not taken out of production until they failed completely, and a Chief Engraver, Robert Scot, who was in his seventies and had failing eyesight.


Very Truly Yours,

Tom Pilitowski
Toll Free:
Email: TomPilitowski@yahoo.com

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