When the US system of coinage was designed, plans for a gold dollar coin were not included, but after two U.S. gold rushes,
Congress wanted to expand the use of gold.
A North Carolina jeweler named Christoph Bechtler was capitalizing on the gold rush, by offering to turn raw gold into coins.
Bechtler's success caught the attention of the Congress and several members suggested the US Mint take part in this new,
profitable venture by minting gold dollars of their own.
The gold dollar was authorized (making it the smallest coin in the history of US coinage). Because of larger quantities,
new mints were opened at Charlotte and Dahlonega.
Because it was so small (13mm), it was easily lost making many critical of the new coin. So, the Mint began experimentation
with new designs. Since the weight could not be changed, they tested wider, thinner, with a hole in the center, etc.
Minor Variations of Type 1
Mint Director Robert M. Patterson opposed the idea vehemently and limited his compliance to striking a handful of patterns.
The gold dollar didn't really take its place in the U.S. coinage lineup until 1849 when yet another gold rush (this one in
California) energized Congress to expand uses of the metal and find some new uses.
The gold dollar and double eagle, the smallest and largest regular-issue gold coins in U.S. history. Both coins were intended to
comply with the coinage act of March 3, 1849. Objections arose almost at once to the original dollar's tiny size: at 13 millimeters in diameter, it was more than
one fourth smaller than a Roosevelt dime, and critics complained that this made it easy to lose. While under consideration, coins
with holes seemed the most likely alternative. But, the process took a different turn in 1853, when Snowden became the new
director of the Mint. Snowden agreed that the gold dollar should be larger, but, he advocated making the coin thinner. The task
fell to Chief Engraver Longacre and, at the same time, create a new design.
In 1854 the US Mint increased the diameter to 15 mm. Its weight and composition was not changed. Longacre's new obverse design
was based on the three-dollar piece. The coin is commonly called Indian princess. Historians suggest the design is based on a
Roman statue with a headdress.
The reverse of the gold dollar was modified and the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was moved to the obverse.
Basically, the wreath design remained unchanged. But the height of the relief prevented many coins from being fully struck,
therefore the design was not sturdy enough for circulation and the Mint began to redesign the coin again.
In 1856, a redesigned gold dollar was released by the Mint. Often called the Large Head type, Longacre's new design
was similar to the earlier type. The size of the Indian head was made larger, flatter, the headdress moved, and the face was
In 1889, production of the gold dollar was discontinued, but the coin remained popular in some areas until the country
abandoned the gold standard in the 1930s.
Liberty Head Type 1 Specs.
Designer: James Barton Longacre Content: 90% gold 10% other Diameter: 12.7 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 1.7 grams Mint Mark Legend: Just below the wreath on the reverse.
Type 2 Indian Princess Specs.
Designer: James Barton Longacre Content: 90% gold 10% silver and copper Diameter: 14.3 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 1.7 grams Mint Mark Location: Just below the wreath on the reverse.
At the turn of the 19th century, two and a half dollars represented a considerable sum of money (five days wages
for the average U.S. Mint employee). It was unlikely however, that anyone outside the Philadelphia Mint would see that amount
in the form of the new quarter eagle coin (so few were made), and even fewer were circulated. That denomination of coins
may as well not even existed. Occasionally a large Northeastern banks ordered a few quarter eagles, but this was apparently
more on a whim and usually not out of necessity. Most stayed in their vaults.
The first delivery of the quarter eagle, or $2½, was not made until the autumn of 1796, making them the last of the three
gold denominations to be coined in gold.
These coins bear Robert Scot's bust of Liberty facing right, clad in a loose-fitting gown and tall cap which is often
mistakenly refered to as a "turban". A total of just 963 pieces was recorded for the year. This first emission lacked stars on
the obverse, making it unique among coins of that design. This first quarter eagles may have been a test of a proposed starless
The Heraldic Eagle reverse of this type is an adaptation of the Great Seal of the United States of America. Starless Draped
Bust quarter eagles were poorly made, when judged by the standards usually applied to gold coins. Low mintage and poor quality
place the Starless Quarter Eagles among the most expensive and highly sought coins in the United States series.
Sixteen Stars were added, one for each state in the United States at that time. It soon became obvious that as the number of
States grew, placing enough stars on a coins to represent each State was increasingly difficult. The total number of stars had
to be limited at some point.
Even after the Mint was ready for production of gold coins, few quarter eagles were produced. Depositors preferred the
larger half eagles and eagles. These coins bear Robert Scot's original bust of Liberty facing right, clad in a loose-
fitting gown and tall cap. It was decided that the proper number of stars should be thirteen, and thereby represent each
of the original colonies that came together and formed the United States.
Bearing the large Heraldic eagle patterned, after the Great Seal of the United States, the ribbon in the eagle's
beak extends left and right and bears the inscription E PLURIBUS UNUM. The eagle holds a bundle of arrows (eight
are visible) in its dexter claw and an olive branch in its sinister claw.
Eventually, the same logic was used to determine the number of stars on the reverse of the coin, and was reduced to thirteen.
Liberty facing right Quarter Eagle Specs. & Mintage
All 3 Types
Type 3 Only
Designer: Robert Scot Content: 90% gold 10% other Diameter: 18 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 4.18 grams Mintmarks: None (Philadelphia)
John Reich's design was struck in just 1808, and of the 2,710 pieces minted fewer than 2% exist today (35-40 pieces). It
is suggested the low survival rate may be due to the weak borders which exposed the coin to heavy wear. Since only one set of
dies was prepared for quarter eagles in 1808, it seems obvious the Mint did not intend to strike a large quantities of the coin,
but early die failure probably limited production to far fewer quarter eagles than officials had intended.
Walter Breen suggested banks simply preferred half eagles to quarter eagles and this was why such a small mintage in 1808 and a
twelve year gap before being issued again. This would explain the high mintage of the half eagle in the 19th century, but raises
question about production of the eagle.
After the 12-year halt in the production, uncertain world political events combined with higher gold prices to caused gold
coins to disappear from circulation. For unknown reasons, several Banks requested quarter eagle coins in 1821.
Chief Engraver Robert Scot was responsible for designing the issue, he adapted a design from a earlier John Reich motif
instead of making a new one. On the obverse, Liberty faces left and her mobcap is smaller than the one on the 1808 pieces, this
made room for the stars along with the date at the bottom to form a circle. The reverse received only slight modifications
(lower wing feathers).
All business strike Capped Head Left, Large Diameter quarter eagles are scare to rare; census/ population totals are 100+
for only 1825. The only certified proof date is the 1821 (fewer than 10 coins).
After the death of Robert Scot in 1823, William Kneass (appointed his successor) received a mandate to improve existing designs
instead of creating new designs. Kneass "cleaned up" Scot's design of the quarter eagle, he reduced the size of the letters,
dates, stars, and modified Liberty's portrait.
The most significant change was the introduction of the "collar die" in 1828. This new process added reeding to the edge of the
planchet (previously a separate operation) and ensured uniformity of a coins diameter. Collar dies also produce higher rims on the
coins protecting the surface features.
Because of the melting of gold coins, their weight was reduced in 1834. This made bullion prices less than face value.
Business strikes of the Capped Head Left, Small Diameter quarter eagles are scare to rare; census/ population totals never
exceed 150 coins for any given year (totals likely including resubmission).
These coins are invariably weak at the rims and softly struck on the peripheral stars. Because of this, care must be taken to
differentiate actual wear from the effects of a weak strike. On the obverse, friction first begins to show above the eye and on
top of the cap. Wear on the reverse is first evident on the eagle's wing tips and talons.
Capped Bust Quarter Eagle Specs. & Mintage
Designer: John Reich Content: 91.7% gold 8.3% other Diameter: 18.2 mm Weight: 4.37 grams Edge: Reeded Mint Mark: None (all were struck in Philadelphia)
Gold quarter eagle production remained low for as long as they were produced. The quarter eagle was less than popular,
partially because they were worth more than $2.50 for the gold content.
In 1831, according to National Archive records, some 40,000 US half eagles were melted down in Paris for their gold content.
Congress responded to this by passing the Act of June 28, 1834 which reduced the gold content of the quarter eagle by 0.19 grams.
This was enough to make it unprofitable to melt down gold coins.
When William Kneass redesigned the quarter eagle, he opted for a earlier design that had been used on the cent and half cent
in the early part of the century. The design was heavily criticized saying the new design was "neither as complex in detail nor
as refined in execution" as the preceding design. The new design was also described as being genderless, the hairdo and fillet
(the narrow headband) were more appropriate for ancient Greek male athletes.
Prices are reasonably uniform for all dates. The price for most dates up to AU55 are modest, up to near-Gem they are
expensive, and very expensive at Gem and higher. Quarter eagles minted at Charlotte and Dahlonega are usually priced higher
than Philadelphia and, to a lesser extent, New Orleans. All proofs are very expensive to PR62, and extremely expensive as
PR63 and finer.
Classic Head "Quarter Eagle" Specs.
Designer: William Kneass Content: 90% gold 10% other Diameter: 17.5 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 4.18 grams Mint Mark Location: On the obverse above the date.
Christian Gobrecht's redesign goal was "to both standardize the design and find an acceptable representation that could be
used for a long period of time." The change in the reverse design was small. On the obverse, the depiction of Liberty and the
earlier rendering of Liberty are quite different, but the general presentation is very similar.
The "Coronet Liberty", often said to have made her first appearance on the 1838 gold eagle, actually made a couple of
appearances before that, the "Braided Hair" half cent, and the "Matron Head" large cent. Therefore, this was more of an
adaptation of an older design.
The heraldic eagle on the reverse has its wings spread from rim to rim and the union shield covering its breast. It holds a olive
branch in its right claw which represents the country's peaceful intentions. In the eagle's left claw are three arrows representing
America's military preparedness.
An unusual development took place in 1848, the military governor of California sent 230 ounces of gold to the Secretary of War
who had it coined at the Philadelphia mint, but with CAL on the reverse.
To this day, a controversy still looms over the coins: was this the first commemorative coin (many years before the 1892
Columbian half dollar), or is this simply another variation of the quarter eagle?
Because of the recovery of many coins of those dates from European caches some low mintage quarter eagles from the 1880's are
more available than you may have expected. Tens of thousands of business strike Liberty Head quarter eagles have been certified,
including a number of proof like pieces.
Between 1840 and 1907, a total of 11,921,171 Coronet quarter eagles were struck at five mints: Philadelphia (no mint mark),
Charlotte (C), Dahlonega (D), New Orleans (O), and San Francisco (S). Mintmarks can be found on the lower reverse beneath
Liberty Head (Coronet) Specs.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht Content: 90% gold 10% other Diameter: 18 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 4.18 grams Mint Mark Location: On the reverse below the eagle.
Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow, a physician, close friend of President Roosevelt, art collector from Boston and an admirer of
Egyptian reliefs convinced President Roosevelt that the use of sunken designs on American Coins was a good idea. Since the Liberty
Head quarter eagle had been minted since 1840 and the Liberty Head half eagle since 1839, they seemed good candidates for redesign.
Saint-Gaudens died in 1907, so Bigelow apparently contacted and persuaded Bela Lyon Pratt, a fellow Bostonian and former
student of Saint-Gaudens to create a design for the gold coins. Pratt used Smillie's portrait of a Sioux Chief on the 1899 $5
silver certificate. The reverse displayed a standing eagle which was a virtual copy of the design Saint-Gaudens had used on
both a Roosevelt inaugural medal and the Indian Head eagle.
In spite of the fact that the sunken design (with devices and legends below the fields) promised to reduce wear on the
features, Philadelphia coin dealer Samuel H. Chapman and others vigorously opposed the design. Their argument was that the
recessed areas would collect dirt and thus become a disease source. Still others found fault with both the portrait and the
eagle. They also claimed that the coins were easy to counterfeited. Some even argued the (rimless and flat) coins would not
stack properly. They did not sway the President, and the new design was implemented.
Thousands of business strikes of the Indian Head quarter eagles have been certified, however, counts are much higher for the
examples produced in the 1920s. Prices are modest for most dates through MS62, expensive to Gem, and very expensive at higher
grades; 1914 pieces are very expensive at MS62 and higher.
Matte proofs were made from 1908 through 1915, but only a few hundred examples have been certified. The reason for this is
that the matte finish was not popular with collectors at the time, and many unsold pieces were melted at the Mint.
Indian Head "Quarter Eagle" Specs.
Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt Content: 90% gold 10% copper Diameter: 18 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 4.18 grams Mint Mark Legend: Left of the arrowheads on the reverse.
The prevailing theory on the origin of the Three Dollar coin is that it was intended to make it convenient to purchase three
cent stamps (which in 1851 had just dropped from five cents) in bulk by allowed the public to buy sheets of the new stamps without
having to carry Large Copper Cents or the tiny silver Three Cent pieces.
James Barton Longacre (Chief Engraver for the mint) chose an Indian Princess for the obverse of the coin,
actually the profile modeled after the Greco-Roman Venus Accroupie statue then in a Philadelphia museum and not a actual
Native American. Longacre used this distinctive profile for his gold dollar of 1849, he also would employ it again on the
Indian Head cent beginning in 1859.
The reverse depicts a wreath of tobacco, wheat, cotton and corn with a plant at top bearing two seed masses.
The denomination 3 DOLLARS and the date is encircled by the wreath. There are two different reverse types,
the first was the small "DOLLARS" which appeared only in 1854. The second was the large
"DOLLARS" which appeared throughout the life of the issue. Many dates have a bold "outlining" of letters and other devices,
which is often mistaken for a double strike. More likely, this is the result of excessive forcing of the design punches,
causing a slight appearance of sloping "shoulders". Sometimes, this is thought to be part of the coin's design.
Click to compare Large & Small examples.
Three dollar gold pieces were struck at four mints: Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans and Dahlonega. This was a very
unpopular denomination and mintages were extremely limited. This makes it very difficult to complete a collection of the
3 Dollar Specs.
Designer: James Barton Longacre Content: 90% gold 10% other Diameter: 20.5 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 5.02 grams Mint Mark Location: Below the wreath on the reverse.