The low mintage of a meager 6,146 Bust quarters in 1796, the inaugural year for the new American denomination, can be laid at the feet of the U.S. half dollar denomination, which was a workhorse among early coin series. The Spanish Colonial two reales coins were also widely available in the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century in America and elsewhere, worth 25 American cents and widely accepted as an alternative to the U.S. quarter. The fledgling U.S. Mint, with its limited bullion deposits and meager capacity, could scarcely compete with the pervasive Spanish Colonial coins, which were made most prominently in Mexico (Mexico City), Peru (Lima), Bolivia (Potosí), and Colombia (Santa Fe de Bogotá), and other locations.
It would be 1857 before the legal tender status of the foreign silver coins in America would be revoked. The 1796-dated U.S. quarters would be the last of the denomination until 1804, by which time the Heraldic Eagle appeared on the reverse. Two different obverse dies were used to produce the 1796 issue. This example of B-1, the less common obverse which is very scarce in all grades, shows Tompkins Die State 3/3, a late state with prominent crack to the left of the 1 in the date.
Deep gunmetal-gray surfaces have significant blue and green overtones. Liberty’s portrait shows a number of adjustment marks, both near-horizontal and near-vertical, but these do not influence the grade. The reverse has a smoother appearance despite being technically slightly inferior, yet it too is thoroughly pleasing for an AU53 coin, still-lustrous with only isolated wear on the high design elements of the eagle’s breast and leg.
The 1796 quarter is an important issue from both the rarity and type perspective. The mintage was miniscule ascertaining any survivor to be described as a “scarcity”. Quarter dollars were not produced again after 1796 until 1804. This makes the 1796 quarter a one-year type, as well as, the first year of issue for both the denomination and the design. An incredible coin to own!