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Draped Bust Quarters
Although the Mint Act of 1792 authorized several denominations or coins, the first coins the Mint struck occurred in 1793 and those were Copper Half Cents and Cents. It was not until 1796 that Dimes and Quarter were struck.
Robert Scot was the Engraver at the Mint in those early days, but many of his designs were roundly criticized by the public - the Chain Cent, the Wreath Cent, and the Flowing Hair designs of the Silver coins were widely disliked.
Mint Director Henry DeSaussure engaged the services of the world-famous portrait artist Gilbert Stuart to sketch a Miss Liberty design that would be well-received. Stuart was the pre-eminent portrait artist of his day. He had painted portraits of General Washington as well as portraits of other Founding Fathers and his portraits of the patriots were legendary. A patron of his artwork became the model for Miss Liberty. But while Stuart’s sketches delighted the Mint Director, Scot’s interpretation of them into coins failed badly. Scot was not a portrait artist and his coin efforts reflected that.
Scot’s design had Miss Liberty, facing right, with the word “LIBERTY” above her. There were 8 stars behind her head, 7 stars in front of her, and the date below. The reverse has a small eagle with wings spread, standing on cloud-like cushions within a wreath of palm and olive leaves with the inscription “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” around the periphery.
The 1796 Small Eagle quarter met with some resistance when it was struck, and it wasn’t simply a matter of artistic style. Many people didn’t like the Small Eagle on the reverse because they considered it scrawny. It was in large measure because the Spanish 2 reales coin had been circulating for over 100 years in early America. It was well-known, well-accepted and well-respected. So only 6.146 1796 quarters were minted, but there were many more Spanish 2 reales circulating in the early United States at that time. In fact, the US Mint didn’t strike any more Quarters until 1804.
Gilbert Stuart sketched a portrait of Miss Liberty that was the model for the Draped Bust Quarter. While the Mint’s Engravers could not replicate Miss Liberty well, they did give the reverse had a major overhaul.
Gone was the scrawny eagle replaced by a much more majestic rendition. Overall, the coin was better but still not what US Mint officials had hoped. The obverse containing the portrait of Miss Liberty was strengthened. She still faced right, date below her, the word “LIBERTY” above her, with now 7 stars behind her and 6 in front of her on the periphery of the coin.
On the reverse, the eagle was majestic with wings raised, a shield covering her breast, arrows in one talon, an olive branch in the other, 13 small, 6-pointed stars between her wings with clouds above the stars, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” around the periphery and “25C” below the eagle.