The production of coinage during the early years of the United States Mint can largely be described as erratic, with the nation’s main coining operations hindered by a motley crew of impediments. Among these troubles during the first three decades of the United States Mint, established in 1792, were yellow fever, resignations of top figures, funding issues, a fire, and scarce supplies of silver. These and other factors are just some of the reasons most of the nation’s early coin series, struck from 1793 through the 1830s, saw inconsistent production runs and multi-year gaps between the issuance of coins across many denominations.
Such was certainly the case with the quarter-dollar, a denomination that was first struck in 1796, produced for a short stint once more from 1804 through 1807, and placed on a protracted hiatus yet again from 1808 through 1814. This halt in quarter production only further exacerbated an ongoing shortage of circulating Federal coins, which were supplemented in commerce at the time by the presence of coins from other nations as well as privately minted tokens that were accepted by many merchants.
Though the urgency for new United States coin was dire, the resumption of quarter dollar coinage in 1815 stemmed from an order made by Planters Bank in New Orleans, which had on hand a large number of Mexico 8 Reales silver coins, which were one of the most widely circulating non-United States coins of that time. The bank quartered these Reales, as was then common to create small change, and counterstamped these pieces with the Planters Bank seal. Bank officials insisted the U.S. Mint convert the silver into an equitable value of quarter-dollars – something mint officials initially resisted before giving in and cutting dies for new quarters to fulfill the order. The 1815 Capped Bust Quarters were soon produced and the bulk of the mintage shipped to Planters Bank.
With the new production of quarters came a revised design. The previous motif, the Draped Bust type designed by Chief Engraver Robert Scot, was replaced in 1815 by the Capped Bust figure by designer John Reich. The new obverse design was also coupled with a new reverse likeness of an eagle bound for flight with olive branches and arrows in its talons – a departure from the more classical heraldic eagle that debuted on the quarter in 1804.
While the previous quarters minted in 1805, 1806, and 1807 all saw relatively high mintages of 121,394, 206,124, and 220,643, respectively, the output of 1815 quarters was quite small. Just 89,235 were struck, and all known specimens were produced by the same die marriage – a seeming novelty for a series that, due to many noted die marriages employed during most years, offers numerous significant varieties among its latter issues.
A rather scarce first-year issue, the 1815 Capped Bust Quarter is quite popular both with type set collectors and series specialists who pursue each issue for their collections. It is also one of the pricier Capped Bust Quarters, which were reduced in diameter from 27 millimeters to 24.3 millimeters in 1831 and continued to roll of the presses until 1838. As with most early United States coinage, finding problem-free 1815 Capped Bust Quarters without heavy blemishes and sans any evident past cleanings can be a tall order.
Worn specimens make up most of the estimated 1,875 survivors, with 67 believed to be in the grade of MS60 or better and about half a dozen in MS65 or above. The bulk of the specimens graded by PCGS fall within the range of G4 to XF40, with significantly smaller numbers in higher grades. The finest-known PCGS specimen is an MS66+, with just a sole survivor at that level. Those who wish to build PCGS Registry Sets incorporating the 1815 Capped Bust Quarter will often vie for the handful of specimens graded MS65 to MS66 that occasionally cross the block at a public sale.
Even in well-circulated grades, the 1815 Capped Bust Quarter sets the collector back a handsome $200 to $500, a price range that according to PCGS CoinFacts largely corresponds to the smallish but oft-traded pool of specimens grading G4 to F12. In VF20, the 1815 becomes an $850 coin, while pieces in the loftier circulated grades of XF40 to AU50 fetch between $2,150 and $2,500. Uncirculated specimens are priced well into the mid four figures, with an MS60 taking $4,250 and MS63 specimens commanding $7,500. In the Gem grade of MS65, an 1815 Capped Bust Quarter realizes $40,000, which is still a far cry from the $96,938 a PCGS MS66 specimen from the celebrated D. Brent Pogue Collection claimed in a 2015 auction.