The Capped Bust design, created by Philadelphia Mint engraver William Kneass, was featured on seven different United States coin denominations. The motif was first unveiled in 1809 and lasted until 1839. At the time, it was the longest-lasting United States coinage design; prior motifs tended to only last a few years at a time. The design was not only popular among the generic public, but it was also relatively easy to produce. Whereas earlier designs were difficult to execute with an even and complete strike, Capped Bust coins were usually well-made.
While there was some minor variation from denomination to denomination, the Capped Bust coins have the same basic design elements. The obverse shows a female portrait of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap. This soft, conical cap was associated with freedom from slavery. As a young nation, the United States was still proud of its newfound independence from Great Britain – and the unprecedented freedom afforded to its citizens. At the obverse’s periphery are 13 stars to honor the original 13 colonies plus the coin’s date at 6:00.
An eagle adorns the reverse, along with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM, the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the coin’s denomination. The eagle is grasping both an olive branch and a bundle of arrows; these represent America’s desire for peace combined with its ability to defend itself. Clearly, William Kneass looked for every opportunity to incorporate symbolism.
Capped Bust silver coins can be relatively affordable. Collectors can buy Half Dimes, Dimes, Quarters and Half Dollars of this design for a few hundred dollars or less. While there are some very rare dates in these series, most issues are quite common and reasonably priced. A popular set is to acquire one example of each of the four silver denominations. In grades like Extremely Fine, this four-coin set can be assembled for under $2000.
The Capped Bust gold coins, however, are much rarer and more valuable.