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    

1853/4 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows & Rays, Better Date Uncirculated Variety!1851 Seated Liberty Quarter Ms 62 Pcgs1878-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Pcgs Au 50, Rare Date1884 Seated Liberty Quarter Proof, Only 875 Pf's Issued, Choice Gem ** Free S/h!1883 Seated Liberty Quarter Proof 63 Ngc1842-o Seated Liberty Quarter, Large Date, Sharp Au-unc1840 O W/ Drapery Seated Liberty Quarter..sharp,wholesome Original Tough Date Nr1844 Seated Liberty Quarter Ms 63 Ngc1881 Unreal Looking Proof Seated Liberty Qtr *pcgs* Pr-63cameo Truely Eye CandyHuge Lot Of (185) Seated Liberty Quarters Includes Many Dates + Type 33oz Silver1878 Seated Liberty Quarter Proof 64 Ngc1880 Seated Liberty Quarter Au 55 Ngc1839 Seated Liberty Quarter Pcgs Vf Det, Full Liberty Rare Old Coin No Drapery1873-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows, Attractive Vf1858 Seated Liberty Quarter, Details * Tough Date In Ms Condition * Great Strike1858-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Scarce Date, Vf-xf Detail1860-o Pcgs Xf-40 Seated Liberty Quarter1888-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Pleasing Choice Au Silver Piece, ** Free S/h!Nice 1878-p Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Almost Uncirculated Au1858 O 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter United States Coin (9230)1858-o Seated Quarter - Tough New Orleans Date - Old Us Silver - Album Filler1839 Seated Quarter - Briggs 1-a - Open Claws - Vf1876-cc Seated Liberty Quarter Silver Carson City MintLot Of Three (3) Seated Liberty Coins: 1853 Quarter & 1857, 1887-s Dimes. CircCirculated 1875 Philadelphia Mint Silver Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1876 Seated Liberty Quarter. A.u. Detail.Nice 1858-p Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Almost Uncirculated Au1875-s Vg Usa Silver Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar1844 Seated Liberty Quarter...better Date...very Appealing Original Fine+...nr!1849 Seated Liberty Quarter1853 O Seated Liberty Quarter (j724)1858 Seated Quarter Vf30 Icg Certified1856 Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Pcgs Xf45 *no Reserve* Beautifully Toned!!1861 Seated Liberty Quarter, Tough Choice Au++/unc Silver Piece, * Free Shipping1853 Arrows & Rays Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar, Nice Detail1871 Seated Llberty QuarterLot (4) Mixed Date Us Seated Liberty Quarters! Nice Circulated Coins! Nr! #b91853 Seated Liberty Quarter * Circulated * Possible Corrosion Spot @ 3:00 1875-seated Quarter1876 U.s. Seated Liberty Silver Quarter 25c Coin -you Grade -#0729371857 P Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Us Silver Coin No Reserve!!1858 P Seated Liberty Quarter! Rare! Au In My Opinion. Back Looks Pl. You Grade!1858 Seated Liberty Very Shape Coin Must SeeSeated Liberty Quarter 1843 (ef)Seated Liberty Quarter 1840 Drapery (f)1856-p Seated Liberty Quarter Silver 25c Philadelphia Mint1854 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter United States Coin (9226)1877 Cc Seated Liberty Quarter1853 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf-xf Detail1844 O 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter1853 Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Us Silver Coin Arrows & Rays No Reserve!!1888s- Liberty Seated Quarter 25c Lsq Silver Coin`ngc/ncs Ag Details~better Date1877 S Seated Liberty Quarter No Arrows W Motto With A Small Hole Holed1861 P Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Us Silver Coin No Reserve!!1853 Arrows And Rays Seated Liberty Quarter Jr271854 Seated Liberty1853 Seated Quarter - Arrows & Rays Type - Old Us Silver - Ag1853 Circulated Seated Liberty Quarter W Arrows & Rays With A Small Hole Holed1854-o Seated Liberty Quarter (j850)1861 Seated Liberty Quarter + Nice Circ + No Reserve!!