This seemingly odd denomination was among the first three gold coins authorized by Congress in 1792. Its value was probably selected as a multiple of the quarter dollar, which itself was a non-decimal coin produced solely because so many Spanish Colonial issues of this value were already circulating in the United States. No examples were struck until 1796, at which time dies were prepared that featured a smaller version of the obverse adopted for the eagle and half eagle in 1795. This displayed a Draped Bust of Liberty wearing a mob cap, an item of clothing fashionable at the time. The reverse featured a representation of the Great Seal of the United States, albeit with the arrows and olive branch transposed from the original. This is in contrast to the larger gold coins of that year, which bore the Small Eagle and laurel branch imagery. The quarter eagle differed for the simple reason that its size permitted the cross-use of reverse dies produced for dime coinage, and these bore the Heraldic Eagle of the seal. No statement of value appeared on these coins, as their legal value was determined by weight and could vary as the coins wore.
The 1796 edition was coined both with and without obverse stars, the No Stars variety being less rare. It is nevertheless more highly prized by collectors, as it is the only date so found. All subsequent Draped Bust Quarter Eagles through 1807 have the stars. NGC recognizes this distinction automatically for 1796 quarter eagles, along with the 1806 overdates, and these varieties require no additional fee. Other varieties for this coin type require VarietyPlus Service, and requires payment of the additional VarietyPlus fee. The so-called 1802/1 overdate is no longer recognized as such by NGC, though it may still appear in some catalogs.
The one-year-only Capped Bust type of 1808 was struck from a single pair of dies, and quarter eagle coinage did not resume until 1821. The obverse bust was modified to the Capped Head type, and this continued through mid-1834, though its diameter was reduced slightly in 1829 with the adoption of the close collar. All 1824 quarter eagles are 4/1 overdates and will be labeled as such by NGC automatically. The 1826 quarter eagle, formerly thought to be an overdate, is now correctly labeled as 1826/6 at no additional cost.
A reduction in the weight of federal gold coins became effective August 1, 1834. Quarter eagles struck to the new standard featured a revised bust of Liberty known as the Classic Head, and the quarter eagle was thereafter coined in large numbers for the first time. The new issue lacked the Latin motto, as it wouldn't fit and Mint Director Samuel Moore believed it to be redundant with United States of America. There are numerous minor varieties for this type, all but a few of them of little interest to most collectors. Recognized by NGC under its VarietyPlus Service are the Script 8 and Block 8 date varieties of 1836, as well as the 1839/39 C repunched date. Other varieties of merit may be added at NGC's discretion.
In 1840 Christian Gobrecht adapted his Coronet Head Liberty design to the quarter eagle, this having debuted on the eagle two years earlier. The reverse of this type was simply his modification of the old design in use since 1808. Though subtle changes were made in the master hubs over this long series, the basic design never changed through 1907. There are many varieties for these coins, but many are of too little interest for NGC to recognize. The collecting of varieties for the Coronet type is a fairly recent phenomenon and is still catching on with the hobby. The major varieties recognized almost universally are attributed by NGC automatically at no additional cost. These include the date sizes of 1843, the counterstamped "CAL." issue of 1848, the transitional reverse subtypes of 1859-61 and the Closed 3 and Open 3 varieties of 1873. All others will be attributed under NGC's VarietyPlus Service with the VarietyPlus fee, and additional varieties will be recognized in the future at NGC's discretion.
Despite fairly high mintages that must have required multiple dies, there are no true varieties for the Indian Head Quarter Eagle series of 1908-29. The fact that mintmarked coins were struck in only three years certainly contributed to this void. The sunken relief of Bela Lyon Pratt's distinctive designs does not seem to have produced any doubled-die varieties, or at least any that do exist are not discernible.