Liberty Seated Quarters (1838-1891)

Gobrecht’s Liberty Seated design made its appearance in the quarter dollar denomination in 1838. Matching the other new silver designs of the time, the quarter depicts Liberty seated on a rock, her left hand holding a liberty cap on a pole and her right holding a shield inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars are around the upper border, and the date is below. The reverse is somewhat similar to the preceding design, except the denomination is now expressed as QUAR DOL. instead of 25 C and the eagle is a bit heavier looking with a shorter neck and body. There is no motto on the reverse.

This design was produced continuously from 1838 through early 1853 and again from 1856 through 1865. Early issues lack drapery at Liberty’s elbow. Some issues dated 1853 and all those dated 1854 and 1855 display arrows at the date discussed in the following section.

The collector has a wide variety of type set possibilities within the range. Although there are a number of scarce and rare dates, among them the New Orleans issues of 1849, 1851 and 1852, the San Francisco issues of 1859, 1860 and 1864, and the 1853 without arrows, there are enough common dates that there should be no difficulty in obtaining coins graded Good through Extremely Fine, although it is important to note that Liberty Seated quarters of this era are in general scarcer than half dimes, dimes or half dollars. AU and Uncirculated coins are a bit more elusive, but obtainable given money and patience. Proofs were distributed to the public beginning in 1858.

Along with the other silver denominations, quarters were reduced in weight in 1853 as a measure against the hoarding and melting of newly released pieces. The authorized weight, previously 103.125 grains, was lowered to 96 grains. To signify this reduction, an arrowhead was placed on either side of the date on the obverse, and rays were added around the eagle on the reverse. The rays were used only in 1853, and thus constitute a separate type. In 1854-55, the rays were removed creating an “arrows, no rays” type as well. Both Philadelphia and New Orleans struck this type in 1853, in quantities of 15,210,000 and 1,332,000 respectively.

The Liberty Seated quarter with arrows at date and rays on the reverse design was modified in 1854 by dropping the rays but retaining the obverse arrows. Otherwise the type is essentially the same as produced from 1838 to early 1853. Coinage was effected at the Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco mints, the latter beginning production in 1855. The most plentiful of the two dates is 1854, of which 12,380,000 were produced. A variety of 1854-O with a “huge O” mintmark is rare.

In 1866, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of the Liberty Seated quarter dollar, half dollar and silver dollar. The Liberty Seated obverse in combination with the eagle reverse with the added motto then continued in use through 1891, with the exception of some 1873 issues and all 1874 issues, which again displayed arrows at the date. Mintage was continuous at the Philadelphia mint, while San Francisco and Carson City produced coins in most years though 1878. The only New Orleans issues of the type is the 1891-O made during the last year the design was in use. There are a number of rarities within the span, with top honors being held by the 1873-CC (variety without arrows at date) of which just four or five specimens are known to exist out of an original mintage of 4,000.

The type collector will have no difficulty acquiring an example of one of the common dates of this type in nearly any grade desired. Keep in mind however, that quarters remain a bit tougher to get than either dimes or halves of the same period. Original mintages from 1879 through 1889 were extremely low (as were halves) as the mints were busy using their bullion supply and presses for striking the millions of silver dollars produced during this period.

In 1873, the authorized weight of the quarter dollar was slightly raised from 96 to 96.45 grains, the latter figure equaling 6.25 grams. To signify the new standard, arrows were added to the date of quarters produced later in 1873 and all those produced in 1874. After 1874, the weight remained the same, but the arrows were no longer used.

This arrows type is scarcer than the earlier 1853-55 arrows type due to much lower original mintages: just over 2.2 million vs. just shy of 34 million of the earlier type. The 1873-CC with arrows is rare, though not as rare as the no arrows type of the same date.