Q. David Bowers (edited and updated by Mike Sherman): Like dimes, quarter dollars were not minted until 1796, at which time the Draped Bust obverse style was employed. The obverse features Liberty facing right, with flowing hair and a ribbon behind her head, with drapery covering a plunging neckline. LIBERTY is above and the date 1796 is below. Eight stars are to the left and seven to the right. Around the border are prominent denticles. The reverse has an open wreath tied with a bow at the bottom, enclosing a small eagle perched on a cloud. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds. There is no indication of value or denomination.
Probably around 10% of the original mintage of 6,146 survives in some grade, though most are in the About Good to Fine range. Being a one-year type, and a scarce one at that, enough were saved in mid-grade so that VF to AU coins can be located, though at a mid five-figure price. Uncirculated pieces are also known, those these will typically set you back over $100K. A number of 1796 quarters were made with prooflike surfaces, such pieces occasionally being called Proof in earlier sale catalogs, although it is not known whether they were specifically made as such. Several dozen of these prooflike coins exist today. The sharpness of strike on most 1796 quarters is apt to be decent, much more so than on the following design type. An exception is the head of the eagle on the reverse, which is nearly always indistinct.
The 1796 quarter is considered to be a key issue in any grade, and is a landmark in the American coinage series.
-- Reprinted with permission from "United States Coins by Design Types - An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor" by Q. David Bowers