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-s 25c Liberty Seated Quarter San Francisco Civil War Issue1859-s Seated Liberty Quarter 90% Silver Old Us Coin - Pcgs G04 Cac. Nice Coin!1871 Seated Liberty Quarter, Razor Sharp Solid Gem Proof, Only 960 Pf's Issued!1843 Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Us Silver Coin (estate Fresh)1878 Cc Carson City Seated Liberty Quarter Pcgs Very Fine 25 Original Rare Coin1878-s Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping And No Reserve!!!1875 Pcgs Ms 65 And Ms 64 Liberty Seated Dime1853 25c Seated Liberty Quarter Arrows & Rays - Uncirculated - Great Strike1888-s Seated Liberty 25 Cents Icg Ms 611840 O Seated Liberty Quarter Pcgs Genuine Vf Details Filed Rims No Drapery1886-s Seated Liberty 25 Cents Icg Ms 611860 O Seated Liberty Quarter Pcgs Extra Fine 40 Original Rare Coin1854 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows, Tough In Bu Condition, Nice Strike!1883 Seated Liberty Quarter - Good/about Good Details1877-s Seated Liberty 25 Cents Icg Au50 Details1875 25c Liberty Seated Quarter1875-cc Seated Liberty Quarter - Very Good Details / Counter Stamped1853 Seated Liberty W/rays & Arrows Quarter Dollar, Awesome Looking Coin1873 Ngc Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows, Ngc Ms 61 * Nice Cartwheel Mint Luster!1877 Seated Liberty Quarter, Tougher Choice Bu Silver Piece, ** Free Shipping!1853 Seated Liberty Quarters Choice Xf1876-s Seated Liberty 25 Cents Icg Au53 Details1870 Seated Liberty Quarter - Fine Details / Gouge 1873-s Seated Liberty Quarter - Very Good Details / Arrows/cleaned 1877 Seated Liberty 25 Cents Icg Ef45 Details1877-cc 25¢ Carson City Seated Liberty Silver Quarter Better Grade 25 Cents Coin1853 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows & Rays, Pleasing Bu+ Silver Piece, *free S/h1860 25c Liberty Seated Quarter1853 25c Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Quarter1878 Cc Carson City Liberty Seated Silver Us Quarter Dollar 25c-you Grade It H571856 Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Silver Coin 25c 90% Silver Coin1877 Cc Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Au Details Ngc Certified1888 S Unc Seated Liberty Quarter, Improperly Cleaned. Graded By Ngc.Us 1877 Liberty Seated Quarter Dollar - Anacs Au53Outstanding 1861 Seated Liberty Quarter1871 Seated Liberty Quarter - Very Good Details 1861 Seated Liberty Quarter1853 Arrows & Rays Seated Liberty Quarter...appealing Original Vf Type Coin...nr1877-s Seated Quarter Coin (vf+) On Silver-copper1868 Seated Liberty Quarter - About Good Details 1876 Philadelphia Liberty Seated Silver Us Quarter Dollar 25c - You Grade It H261876-s Seated Liberty Quarter - Extra Fine Details 1846 Seated Liberty Quarter - Fine DetailsGenuine 1864-p Scarce Date Silver Seated Liberty 25c.1853 Liberty Seated Half Dollar With Arrows And Condition1891 Seated Liberty Quarter...very Appealing Original Raw Vf+/xf Type!1858 Liberty Seated Quarter Coin (au) On Silver-copper1860 O New Orleans Liberty Seated Silver Us Quarter Dollar 25c -you Grade It H271858 25c Seated Liberty Silver QuarterU.s. Seated Liberty Silver Quarter Coin Love Token -#0519191853 Philadelphia Liberty Seated Silver Us Quarter Dollar 25c -you Grade It H291862-s Seated Liberty Quarter - Good Details1857 Seated Liberty Quarter Choice Bu++ Tough This Nice!1840-o Seated Liberty Quarter Silver1862 Seated Liberty Quarter!1854-o Seated Liberty Quarter - Extremely Fine Details1844 Seated Liberty Quarter - Scratches - Fine Details1847-o Seated Liberty Quarter - Extra Fine Details 1853 Seated Quarter With Arrows And Rays Vf1875-s Seated Liberty Quarter - Fine Details