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    

1854 Seated Liberty Quarter, With Arrows, Scarce In Uncirculated Conditions!1860 Seated Liberty Quarter, Tough Coin, ** Free Shipping!1862-p Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Nice Au Or Better Coin Civil War Date1886 Seated Liberty Quarter1863 Seated Liberty Quarter * Pcgs Au Details * Very Nice * Rare1878-cc Seated Liberty Quarter Ngc Au55 Monster Original ToningOutstanding 1853 Seated Liberty Quarter1843 P Seated Liberty Quarter Au Details Ngc1885 Seated Liberty Quarter In Xf Plus Condition - Cleaned - See Scan1854 Seated Liberty Quarter Xf ~ Small Hole * Free Shipping *1840-0 Seated Liberty Quarter No Drapery In Vf-xf Condition - See Scan1873 Seated Liberty Quarter, With Arrows, Scarce Au Coin, ** Free Shipping!1857 Seated Liberty Quarter1853 25c Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Quarter Xf 1876 Liberty Seated Quarter - Pcgs Au55 - Triple Punched 6 - Nice Luster & Color1875s Seated Twenty -20 Cent - Piece - Very Popular Coin1876 Cc 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter1861 S Seated Liberty Quarter Fine Details / Tough Date1858 O Seated Liberty Quarter No Motto 1853 Silver Seated Liberty Quarter 251848 Liberty Seated Silver Quarter (double Date)1856 O Seated Liberty Quarter Pcgs Xf45 Secure Nice!1930-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Lustrous! ** Free Shipping!1876 Ms+++ Seated Liberty Quarter From Big Collection1877-cc Silver Seated Liberty Quarter 251875 25c Liberty Seated Quarter1876 Cc 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter1877 Seated Liberty Quarter1856-o Seated Liberty Quarter ** Free Shipping!1856 Seated Liberty Quarter.1874 25c Arrows Liberty Seated Quarter Pcgs Au551876 Seated Liberty Quarter, Popular Series, Choice Au ** Free Shipping!1853-o Seated Liberty Quarter, With Arrows! ** Free Shipping!10 Piece 90% Silver Seated Liberty Quarter Collection Lot Lt300-211854 Seated Liberty Quarter. Circulated High-grade. No Reserve!1873 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter With Arrows *ana Ef 40* Dark (261608x)Ω 1854-o Seated Liberty Quarter Au1873 Seated Liberty Quarter In Vf Condition - Cleaned - See Scan1876 Liberty Seated Silver Quarter Pcgs Vf301873 Seated Liberty Quarter Vg * Fine Details But Dented1878 Cc Liberty Seated Quarter1915-d Us Barber Silver Quarter Dollar - 25 Cents -full Liberty- Nice Detail1876 Seated Liberty Quarter Xf 1857 Seated Liberty Quarter (anacs Graded) Struck In Extra Fine Vibrant Details 1840-o Seated Liberty Quarter/ No Drapery - About Good Condition - Problem Free1877 Cc 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter1840-o, 2) 1853 Seated Liberty QuartersRare Carson City Minted 1877-cc Silver Seated Liberty Quarter. A Likely Bargain!1877-cc Silver Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Coin - Carson City Mint1853-o Seated Liberty Quarter - Very Good Condition - Problem Free1877 25c Liberty Seated QuarterAntique 1860 25c Liberty Seated Silver Quarter Toned Vf1875 Ms+++ Seated Liberty Quarter From Big Collection1853 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter, Arrows And Rays1872 Liberty Seated Quarter 25 Cents F/vf Details1876-s Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1853 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter, Arrow/rays1841-o Liberty Seated Silver Quarter1877 S 25c Seated Liberty Silver Quarter1853 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping