The Year 1796 Minting and Numismatics

In 1796 the denominations provided by the Mint Act of 1792 were finally completed with the introduction of the silver dime and quarter with the Small Eagle reverse and the gold quarter eagle with the Large Eagle or Heraldic Eagle reverse. Quarter eagles were made with two obverse designs: No Stars with an estimated mintage of 963 and With Stars, 432. Likely, the stars were omitted from the first as the reverse had 13 stars, and having them on both sides was redundant. The idea was dropped, and later issues had 13 stars on both sides, for a total of 26.

Assistant engraver John Smith Gardner left the Mint in the spring and then returned for a few months at the end of the summer, likely to assist Robert Scot in the making of dies for the new quarter eagle denomination. It was policy at the time for the Mint to strike gold and silver coins at the request of depositors of bullion, foreign coins and other precious metals. The Mint did not maintain its own inventory or stock of bullion and did not make pieces on speculation. As a result, production was erratic.

Depositors experienced delays. By November 24, 1796, the Mint had received deposits totaling 409,502 oz. 16 dwts. standard silver—this from July 18, 1794 to date. This would have been enough to coin 520,657 371-grain dollars, versus only 272,941 having been coined to that point (1,758 dated 1794, 203,033 during 1795, and 68,150 to that date in 1796). Those silver bullion deposits were carried forward through at least 1798.

The policy was to retain serviceable dies until they cracked or otherwise became unusable. Accordingly, the coinage may have included pieces dated earlier than the year issued. It is likely that certain half eagles and possibly eagles were from earlier dated dies. From a numismatic viewpoint 1796 yielded a number of key rarities in the half cent, quarter dollar, and quarter eagle denominations.