CAPPED BUST $2.5 (1808-1834)
In 1808 the design was changed to what we now know as the Capped Bust to Left design. The 1808 quarter eagle, believed to have been minted to the extent of 2,710 pieces, represents the only year of its design type and thus is in fantastic demand for inclusion in type sets. Needless to say, specimens are highly prized and are eagerly competed for when they cross the auction block or appear in fixed price catalogues.
After 1808 no quarter eagles were minted until 1821, when the Capped Head to Left style made its appearance, a design continued intermittently through 1834. Mintages in this range average about 3,000 to 4,000 coins per year, with just 760 registered for 1826 and a high of 6,448 for 1821. Again, it is probably the case that strict die dating was not observed. Therefore, the production quantities published in standard references bear only an approximate relationship to present day availability.
Of this design type the following issues were made: 1821, 1824/1 overdate, 1825, 1826, 1827, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, and 1834. By far the rarest is the last issue in the series, 1834, of which 4,000 were stated to have been coined, but of which only a few dozen exist today. The reason is that by 1834 the price of gold had risen on the world markets, and most American gold coins were either melted down for their bullion value or exported. Probably only a couple hundred or so 1834 quarter eagles of this style (with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM on the reverse, as differentiated from later 1834 issues without motto) ever found their way into circulation, and even this estimate may be on the high side.
To remedy the untenable situation of melting and exporting, Congress passed the Act of June 24, 1834, which reduced the authorized weight of American gold coins. Issues made after August 1, 1834 were of lighter weight and thus stayed in circulation. To differentiate the pieces, the obverse and reverse designs were modified, and the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM was deleted from the reverse. A perusal of old-time financial publications, such as Niles Register, an early-day equivalent of The Wall Street Journal, reveals that gold coins minted prior to August 1, 1834 (the date in which the change took place) were described as "old tenor" issues and traded above face value by bullion dealers, while later pieces sold at par. During the 1830s, and continuing through the Civil War, bullion traders, securities houses, and bankers did an active business in buying and selling gold and silver coins by weight.