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    

1849 O Seated Liberty Quarter Pcgs Vg 10 / Very Tough1860-s Seated Liberty 25 Cents Almost Uncirculated Extra Rare!1885 Seated Quarter Pcgs Au53 No Reserve. Starting At 1c1876 Seated Liberty Quarter Ngc Au 581859 Seated Quarter, Pcgs Xf-45, Great Original Toning (estatesale Is Now Dkrc)Seated Liberty Usa 25 Cents 1861 Ngc Au Details1877-cc ~ Liberty Seated Quarter Dollar ~ .900 Silver Coin1855 Philadelphia Seated Liberty Quarter Ngc Vf 351877 Cc 25c Seated Liberty Quarter Twenty Five Cent Vf 20 .99 Start! No Reserve 1877 Liberty Seated Quarter 25c - Pcgs Vf 30 *no Reserve!1861 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping!1873-s Arrows Seated Liberty Quarter Coin1843 O U.s. Silver Seated Liberty Quarter 25 C. Cent Piece Better DateUs Coins 1876 Seated Liberty Quarter Nice Au !1877 Seated 25c Pcgs Vf351858 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping!1853 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows & Rays** Free Shipping!1872 Cc Seated Quarter Vg Details Large Star Carved On Obv. Very Scarce1854-o Huge O Pcgs G-6 Seated Liberty Quarter (rare)1855 Philadelphia Seated Liberty Quarter Ngc Vf 30Us 1853 Arrows Seated Liberty 25c Cents Silver Quarter Dollar Coin Early Date1854 Seated Liberty Quarter Silver1853 Us Liberty Seated Silver Quarter Nice Detail Reverse Rays & Arrows @ Date1853 With Arrows And Rays Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1876-cc Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Carson City 90% Silver Rare Date 1879 Seated Liberty Quarter ** Free Shipping!1856-0 Seated Liberty Quarter Icg Ef40 For Auction ! Check Out This Toning! 1853 Ngc Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows And Rays, Ngc Xf 40 ** Free Shipping!1877-cc Seated Liberty Silver Quarter 25c - Circulated1878-cc Seated Quarter Almost Uncirculated 1877-cc Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Old Rare Collectible Us Coin Money1842-o Seated Liberty Silver 25c Quarter Id# Pp341853 Arrows At Date Seated Liberty Silver 251853 With Arrows And Rays Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1876 Seated Liberty Quarter Silver2 Seated Liberty Quarter, Both Hole, 1854 Vf, 1876 Xf, True Auction1877 Liberty Seated Quarter Very Fine1853 A & R Seated Liberty Quarter Ngc Au 58 Old 'fattie" Holder Nice1854 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows, ** Free Shipping!1876-cc Vf Detail Seated Liberty Silver 25c Quarter Id# D851877 Cc Seated Liberty Silver 251854 25c Arrows Liberty Seated Quarter Xf/au Nice Coin No Reserve1861 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf Details1854 Seated Liberty Quarter Circulated1853 Silver Seated Liberty Quarter 251857 Seated Liberty Quarter Nice Color, 90% Silver1875 Philadelphia Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar Ungraded1878 Seated Liberty Quarter United States Currency 1874 S Seated Liberty Quarter Vg-1853 25c Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Quarter Vf No Reserve1876 Seated Liberty Quarter United States Currency 1854 25c Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows, Nice Tone1876-cc Liberty Seated Quarter 25c1861 Gem High Grade Seated Liberty Quarter From Big CollectionLot Of (5) Coins: Seated Liberty Quarters 1876 Cc And 1853's, 90% Silver1855 Gem High Grade Seated Liberty Quarter From Big CollectionSeven Silver Quarters , 1876, 1899,1904, 1914-d, 1897-o, 1926, 1934 Silver1853 "with Arrows" Seated Liberty Quarter "love Token" Great Condition & Detail1891p Seated Liberty Quarter Rotated Reverse W/ Obverse Die CracksUs 1876-s Seated Liberty 25c Cents Silver Quarter Dollar Coin Early Date