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    

1861 .25c Choice Au Liberty Seated Silver Quarter Civil War Nice Mild Tone Coin1876-cc Seated Liberty Quarter, Scarce Date! ** Free Shipping!1876-cc Seated Liberty Quarter 25c - Pcgs Au58 Certified & Graded *nrCalifornia Gold Rush Token - Rudolph Counterstamp 1860 Quarter - Nevada City Ngc1878 Cc Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar, About Uncirculated, Fr. Type Set, NrLot (6) Quarters 1876 Cc, 1877 Cc Seated, 1892 Barber Full Liberty Silver 25c1857 Us Seated Liberty Quarter1845 Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar, About Uncirculated +, Fr. Type Set, Nr1859-p U.s. Seated Liberty Quarter 25 Cents Silver Coin - Ngc Au Details GradedLot U.s. 90% Seated Coins - Quarters & Half Dimes | 2 Quarters + 7 Half Dimes1856-o Seated Liberty Quarter, Pcgs Vf35Six Piece Seated Liberty Quarter Whitman Album W/ 1876-cc Thru 1878-cc + Id#p4651857 O Seated Liberty Quarter Xf Details1841-o Seated Liberty Quarter.1927 S Standing Liberty Quarter Vf Detail1877-s Liberty Seated Quarter 25c - Pcgs Unc Details Certified *no Reserve!1862 Seated Liberty Quarter Au/bu Rare In This Condition!1877-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Ngc Xf 401878-cc 25 Cent Seated Liberty Silver Quarter Pcgs Vf Details Coin1876-cc Seated Quarter - Popular Carson City Type Coin - Vf - Old Cleaning1880 Seated Liberty Quarter - Pcgs Certified Proof 641856 S Us Seated Liberty Silver Quarter 25 C~circulated~no Reserve!1873 Seated Liberty Silver QuarterOld Us Coins Rare Liberty Seated 1854 Choice Scarce Quarter Twenty Five Cent 1844 O Seated Liberty Quarter F Details1878-cc Seated Liberty Quarter1882 Seated Liberty Circulated1874 Seated Liberty Quarter Dug In Petersburg, Va - WowSeated Liberty Usa 25c 1882 Ngc Pf631891 Seated Liberty Quarter, Beautiful Color & Design! ** Sharp Strike!1857 Seated Liberty Quarter A Fine Coin1854 25c Arrows Liberty Seated Quarter1868-s Seated Liberty Quarter- Popular- No Reserve1857 Seated Liberty Quarter Choice Xf (vl122) Free Shipping!1840 O Seated Liberty Quarter A About Good CoinSeated Liberty Quarter Collection In Nice Dansco Album - Some Dates MissingSeated Liberty Silver Quarter 18531838 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf/xf1876 Cc Seated Liberty Quarter - Nice Original Vg (vl706)1857 Seated Quarter In Nice Original Xf Condition 7 Day Auction No Reserve 1872 Seated Liberty Quarter 90% Silver No Reserve1853 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1856 Seated Liberty Quarter.1876-s Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1853 50c Ngc Graded Xf Details Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Half Dollar Silver1861 Seated Liberty Quarter Choice Uncirculated!!: No Reserve Auction!!!1854 Arrows Scace Xf Quarter1858 Liberty Seated Silver Quarter * Full Liberty * Free Shipping1847-o Rare Seated Liberty Quarter F1871 Vg Seated Liberty Silver 25c Quarter Id# Jj371891 S Seated Liberty Quarter....wholesome & Very Appealing Original!!1997 American Eagle One Ounce Proof Silver Bullion Coin 1849 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping!1853-o Seated Liberty Quarter1853 Ar Seated Liberty Quarter 251842-o, Seated Liberty Silver Quarter Dollar Coin #9-0261858 Seated Liberty Quarter~Rare 1879 25c Anacs Vg 8 Very Good Seated Liberty Quarter Mintage 13,6001857 Seated Liberty Quarter.1854 Liberty Seated Silver Quarter * Full Liberty Beauty * Free Shipping