In 1835, when it was time for the U.S. Mint’s new engraver, Christian Gobrecht, to redesign the quarter and other coins, he chose to seat Lady Liberty on a rock. In her left hand, he placed a pole topped by a Liberty cap, a symbol during that era of freedom. Leaning against the rock and steadied by her right hand, Gobrecht placed a shield emblazoned with the word "Liberty" in capital letters.

A similar shield, but without the word, crowned the breast of an eagle on the coin’s reverse. Below the eagle was the abbreviation "QUAR. DOL."

Seated Liberty Quarters featured the same design as the half dimes, dimes, half dollars, and dollars of the mid-19th century. The dollars came first in 1836, with the quarters following in 1838. Decades later, the Seated Liberty design even appeared on the short-lived (1875-1878) twenty-cent piece.

Almost half a million coins were struck in 1838 when the new quarter debuted. The Seated Liberty coins were considered an aesthetic and technical improvement on the Bust quarters that preceded them, but officials at the mint couldn’t leave well enough alone.

In 1840, Robert Ball Hughes was hired to fine-tune the design. Robes (called drapery by numismatists) were added at Lady Liberty’s left elbow, to fill in the void between her elbow and leg. Hughes also plumped her up a bit. It’s not clear, in retrospect, if any of these changes were really necessary.

By 1851, the silver in four quarters was worth more than a dollar’s worth of gold, which prompted speculators to melt down millions of dollars worth of the coins. Naturally, this caused a serious shortage of quarters. To address the problem, in 1853 Congress agreed to reduce the weight of the quarter and the shortages disappeared. For coin collectors, the result is that coins from 1851 and 1852, particularly those minted in New Orleans, are rather expensive.

To differentiate the lighter coins from the heavier ones, arrows were placed on either side of the 1853 date on the coin’s obverse. On the other side of the coin, dramatic rays w...

By 1856, it was felt that the public now understood that quarters from 1853 on were lighter than those that had come before them (most of which were out of circulation anyway). So the arrows, too, were removed.

Quarter-coin production continued throughout the Civil War, by the end of which the nation felt itself in need of the healing balm of religion. To that end, in 1866, a ribbon with the words "In God We Trust" was placed above the eagle’s beak on the reverse of seven different types of gold and silver coins (the two-cent piece got the phrase first in 1864). Quarters minted in Carson City during the early 1870s are the rarest of this series.

The quarter’s weight was increased again in 1873, so back came the arrows on either side of the coin’s date. Again, the quarters minted in Carson City that year are the rarest—just 12,462 were struck compared to 1,271,160 in Philadelphia. Seated Liberty Quarters with arrows on either side of the date continued in 1874, but the arrows were removed in 1875. The coin’s design remained stable until 1892, when the Barber quarter, or Liberty Head, was introduced.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Nice 1850 Seated Quarter Original Toned Xf! Scarcer Date In This Grade!U.s. 1869 Proof Seated Liberty Quarter Coin Pcgs Pr 50Seated Liberty * Quarter Dollar 1876 * Ω 1854-o Seated Liberty Quarter Xf1859 S Seated Liberty Quarter G-vg1876-cc ~ Carson City Seated Liberty Quarter Xf * Free Shipping *1876 Cc Seated Liberty Quarter Xf Details Sq074U.s. 1891 S Seated Liberty Quarter Coin About Uncirculated Condition Nice Toning1845 Liberty Seated Quarter, Pcgs Unc Det, Very Sweet (estatesale Is Now Dkrc)1846 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf To Xf Sq0351854 Seated Liberty Quarter Xf Sq0441854-o Pcgs Vf 30 25c Arrows Huge O Liberty Seated Quarter Retail $5450 1854 Us Seated Liberty Quarter! Extra Fine! Sharp & Bold! Old Us Coins!1859 O Seated Liberty Quarter Vf To Xf Sq059Undated Seated Quarter Love Token Engraved B Initial~slight Damage/bent~free S/h1882 Proof Seated Liberty Quarter Pcgs Pr63 Cam New Holder Wow!1876 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1840 O Seated Liberty Quarter *no Drapery*U.s. 1861 Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar.1855 S Seated Liberty Quarter Fine Sq0481853 Pcgs Vf35 Arrows And Rays Seated Liberty Quarter (a102)1856 25c Ngc Ms 65 Liberty Seated Quarter Retail $34501860 Very High Grade Seated Liberty Quarter From Big Collection1838 Key Date No Drapery Seated Liberty Quarter From Big Collection1859 Seated Liberty Quarter 25 Cent - Semi-key Date, Free Shipping (2631)1885 Seated Liberty Quarter Proof - Pcgs Pr63 Certified & Graded *no Reserve1866 Us Seated Liberty Quarter In Ngc Pf64 + Proof Condition1871 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf1855 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf To Xf Sq0471873 Philadelphia Open 3 Silver Seated Liberty Quarter Variety 4 Motto W/ Hole1876 Seated Liberty Quarter Free ShippingFantastic 1858 Seated Liberty Quarter1857 Seated Liberty Quarter - Ngc Au-501853/4 Pcgs Silver Seated Liberty Quarter Variety 2 Arrows & Rays Vf Details 1876-s Ms++++ Seated Liberty Quarter From Big Collection1855 Seated Liberty Quarter, With Arrows, ** Free Shipping!1861-s Liberty Seated Quarter. Civil War Reserve Auction1850 Seated Liberty Quarter 25c .. 160 Year Old 90% Silver Coin ..civil War Era1873 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf To Xf Sq0661857 Seated Liberty Quarter ** Free Shipping!1872 Seated Liberty Quarter From An Estate1854 Liberty Seated Quarter DollarNice Collectable 1845/5 Seated Liberty Quarter Rpd Fs-301 Fine Details1853 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1853 25c Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Quarter ""key Date""1877-s F-12 Anacs Original Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar! No Reserve1854 New Orleans Silver Seated Liberty Quarter Variety 3 Arrows At Date Holed1857 Philadelphia Silver Seated Liberty Quarter Variety 1 W/ Var. 2 Weight Holed1876 25c Liberty Seated Quarter1877 & 1877 S Seated Liberty Silver 251860 Seated Liberty Quarter1877-s Seated Liberty Quarter - A Partial Liberty Still Shows On ShieldGood Detail 1877-cc Seated Silver Quarter Coin Great Detail 90% No Reserve1854 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping!1862 Seated Liberty Quarter Original - *ngc Ms 62*1839 Key Date No Drapery Seated Liberty Quarter From Big CollectionGenuine 1876-cc And 1877-cc Seated Liberty Silver 25c.1876 Cc Seated Liberty Quarter1872 25c Liberty Seated Silver Quarter1877 Seated Liberty Quarter Light Cleaning! 14 Day Satisfaction Guarantee