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    

1847 O Seated Liberty Quarter Vf / Tough Date1873 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows, Proof, ** Rare With Only 540 Pieces Struck!1875-cc Seated Liberty Silver Quarter 25c - Ngc Very Fine Verified1864 S Seated Liberty Silver Quarter1912 Us Silver Barber Quarter .25c - Nice Circulated Quarter 1891-s 25c Liberty Seated Quarter Pcgs Ms-63 Ms 63 Old Green Holder!!1858-s 25c Liberty Seated Quarter1932-s Washington 25 Cents Nice Uncirculated 1857 Seated Liberty Quarter, Scarce This Nice, ** Free Shipping!1853 O,new Orleans,seated Liberty Quarter Arrows & Rays, Nice Estate Coin, Nr..!1853 A+r Seated Liberty Quarter Ms63 Old Anacs Slab1877 Seated Liberty Quarter Uncirculated ~ Nice Album Toning * Free Shipping *1838 Seated Liberty Quarter1853 Silver Seated Liberty Quarter Nice Detail***florida Lake Okeechobee Estate 1859 O,new Orleans, Seated Liberty Quarter, Nice Ungraded Estate Coin, Nr..!Lot Of (2) Seated Quarters: 1854-o And 1876 & (1) 1871 Seated Half Dollar - N/r1861 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping!1861 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf/xf Condition; No Reserve1853-p Pcgs Vf35 "arrows & Rays" Seated Liberty Quarter!!L@@k 1853 A&r Seated Liberty Quarter! Bid Now! Pcgs Rare This Fine On The Bay!!!1868-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Problem Free Ag, True Auction, Scarce S Mint1854-o Seated Liberty 25 Cents Almost Uncirculated 2 Seated Liberty Quarter, 1843 Vg, 1844-o Good, True Auction1846 Liberty Seated Quarter - From Jt Stanton's Cherrypickercoins - 31461854 Liberty Seated Quarter Xf40 Arrows Pcgs 1876-cc Pcgs Vg10 Seated Liberty Quarter1891 S, Seated Liberty Quarter, San Francisco, Nice Ungraded Estate Coin, Nr..!1860-p Nice Grade Seated Liberty Quarter!!1891-s 1877 Set Of Fv- 5o C 2 Quarter Dollar Seated Liberty Silver Coins1891 25c Seated Liberty Quarter Pcgs Au58 - Light Toning1857 High Grade Seated Liberty Quarter From Big Collection1878 Strong Full Liberty Nice Toned Example1854 W / Arrows Seated Quarter Xf 160 Years Old Invest1854-p 1857-p & 1858-o Seated Liberty Quarter Lot A Fine Trio N/r1853 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows & Rays, ** Tough Coin! ** Free Shipping!1877 Seated Liberty Quarter1862 Seated Liberty Quarter ** Free Shipping!1925 Standing Liberty 25 Cents Nice Uncirculated Full Head 1891 Seated Liberty Quarter Xf Details 90% Silver U.s. CoinHoled Old Us 90% Silver Seated Liberty 1853 Quarter Dollar Coin With Arrows Date1853 Seated Liberty Quarter1860 Liberty Seated Quarter - From Jt Stanton's Cherrypickercoins - 31511859 Liberty Seated Quarter - From Jt Stanton's Cherrypickercoins - 3150Solid Upper Grade 1853 Seated Quarter 25c Arrows And Rays Luster1831 Capped Bust DimeLot Of 2 1853 Seated Love Tokens. One 1853 Seated Quarter One 1853 Seated Dime1853 Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows & Rays, ** Free Shipping!1888-s Seated Liberty Silver Quarter 25c Twenty Five Cent 1853 P,,philadelphia,seated Liberty Quarter Arrows & Rays,estate Coin, Nr..!1876-s Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping!One (1) Us. Seated Liberty Silver Quarter, 1861, Vg Details, Dark Corrosion Obv.1891-p Nice Grade Seated Liberty Quarter!!1861-p Seated Liberty Quarter Nice Vf+ Civil War Date Nice Color1861, P, Seated Liberty Quarter, Philadelphia, Nice Ungraded Estate Coin, Nr..!1877-s San Francisco Mint 90% Silver Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Coin Free Ship1854 Seated Liberty Quarter W/arrows Free Shipping1853 25c Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Quarter ""key Date""1858 Seated Liberty QuarterSeated Liberty Silver Quarters (4) Mixed Dates Worn - No Reserve1854, 1877 & 1891 Seated Liberty Quarters Vg/fine