The first quarter to be struck by the United States Mint was produced in 1796. Authorized by the Mint Act of 1792, it was part of the new monetary system of the United States, and was the final silver denomination (together with the dime) to be struck for production by the United States Mint. Silver and half dollars had first been struck for circulation in 1794, while half dimes were first struck during the previous year. With the dime and the quarter now being struck, 1796 marked the first year that all coins authorized by that Mint act were in circulation.
After production in 1796 the quarter dollar denomination was not produced until eight years later, in 1804. As the designs of the silver coins had been considerably changed at the time a new reverse design was introduced for the quarter at that time as well, making the 1796 quarter a one year type coin which now is highly valued by collectors of United States coins.
The quarter dollar is a somewhat odd denomination, whose origin can be traced back to Spanish colonial coinage, which was usually divided into 8 bits of 12 ½ cent each. A quarter was, in the early day, often nicknamed two bits, and thus composed of 25 cents. Even within the American monetary system the quarter is somewhat odd. A more logical order can be found of currency, where $20 is followed by $50, not by $25. While a twenty cent piece was tried in the United States in the 1870s it quickly failed, as the public was more used to the quarter dollar, which continues to be struck and used in the United States on an extremely large scale.
The first quarter dollar was designed by Robert Scot, whose draped bust design was used on virtually all denominations, up until the early 19th century. A Philadelphia woman, named William Bingham, is said to have been the woman who sat for the portrait used on these coins. In 1804, when the second quarter dollar issue was struck, the reverse used a heraldic eagle, but in 1796 a small eagle reverse was used. This design was only produced for a few short years on the silver denominations making the 1796 quarter dollar the only possible year that this reverse could be used on this somewhat odd denomination.