There are many questions today about early quarters. Unfortunately, there arenít very many answers to them either. This makes the subject both exciting and fun, and a bit frustrating at the same time. Understanding the early history of quarters is a lot like finding the clues in a good mystery or crime novel.
In one case we do have a somewhat good story of how the first quarter was authorized along with various other denominations. The first quarter was authorized in 1792, but it wasnít until 1796 that the first quarters were actually minted. A combination of factors that kept the quarter from being minted in 1792.
Going from being authorized to actually being struck is not always as easy as it might seem to be. In 1792 the U.S. government was starting coin production from scratch. The first thing that was needed was a physical place to produce the new coins. At the time the U.S. coins were authorized the Mint was merely a dream. It took time to bring this entity into physical existence.
The capital of the U.S. was in Philadelphia. This was the location of the very first U.S. Mint. Once the Mint was built, there was still the problem the problem of getting it up and running. One hurdle was that officials were required by law to post a bond before any gold or silver coins could be struck. The first bond amount was set at $10,000, which in 1793 represented a substantial amount of money for the times. This bond was intended to be a guarantee of the honesty of the Mint officials.
The bond amount was too much and the would-be officials balked at the requirement. Thomas Jefferson had to step in and attempted to solve the quandary, which took up more precious time. Meanwhile the only coins that were seeing production were copper large cents and half cents. The officials were able to handle the smaller bond amounts for these denominations.
In 1794, the bond issue was settled and gold and silver coin production could proceed. Even though the Philadelphia Mint was new, priorities had to be set, because the facility had a very limited production capacity. The first priority was to produce silver dollars. This turned out to be an odd choice because the production equipment was not going to be available until the next year.
It wasnít until 1796 that production on the first quarters was begun. Thomas Jefferson was long gone from his post as Secretary of State. By this time he was running for President against John Adams. 6,146 quarters were struck for the year of 1796 although it is believed that some of this number may have been struck in 1797.