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    

J.m Taylor Broker Counterstamp On 1853 Arrows & Rays Seated Liberty Quarter1865-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Extra Fine In Detail. A Scarce "s" Date!!1877 Seated Liberty Quarter, Cameo Proof ** Free Shipping!1858-s Rare Date Seated Quarter, Pcgs G Det, Really Vg (estatesale Is Now Dkrc)1877cc Seated Liberty Quarter Vf+ Carson City, Full Liberty25c 1855-o Seated Liberty Quarter, Good -vg* No Reserve!1861 25c Pcgs Au 50 Colorful Civil War Era Seated Liberty Quarter1852 Seated Liberty Silver Quarter! A Very Nice Coin! 1872-p Seated Liberty Quarter Nice Condition!1854 Pcgs Seated Liberty Quarter, Arrows, Pcgs Au 55 ** Tough! ** Free Shipping!Lot Of (4) Seated Liberty Quarters - 1853 W/a - 1857 - 1871 W/a - 1877 Sm Date1877-cc Seated Liberty Quarter, Popular Carson City Mint Issue ** Free Shipping!1888-s Seated Liberty Quarter Great Eye AppealSeated Liberty Usa 25 Cents 1855 With Arrows Ngc Au Details1875 Seated Liberty Silver Quarter High Grade Excellent Condition 430t1853/4 25c Anacs Ef 40 Tough 3 Over 4 Old Small Holder Xf Seated Liberty Quarter1877-s/s 25c Pcgs Au 50 S Over Horizontal S Liberty Seated Quarter1860 Key Civil War Very High Grade Seated Liberty Quarter From Big Collection1858 25c Pcgs Xf 40 Seated Liberty Quarter Nicely TonedΩ 1858-o Seated Liberty Quarter Au1873 Seated Liberty Quarter "no Arrows" Proof - Pcgs Gem Pf62 Rare! 600 Issued1876-s Seated Liberty Quarter ** Tough Coin! ** Free Shipping!1838 Rare No Drapery Seated Liberty Quarter From Big Collection25c 1845 Seated Liberty Quarter, Vf Details * No Reserve!1877-p Seated Liberty Quarter Uncirculated1878-cc Seated Liberty Quarter ** Free Shipping!1857 Seated Liberty Quarter Silver Coin25c 1861 Seated Liberty Quarter, Vf-xf Details * No Reserve!1858 Liberty Seated Quarter.1853 Seated Quarter Rays1877-s Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Au Original No Reserve1842-o Seated Liberty Silver Quarter Id# Mm5101858 Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1857 Seated Liberty Quarter (anacs Graded) Struck In Ef 40 Extra Fine1853 25c Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Quarter, Xf, Better Grade Coin (111635k)Lot 6 Silver Quarters 1876 Cc Seated Liberty 1920 Standing 1937 D Washington 25cNice Lot Of (4) Seated Liberty Silver Quarters1876 Seated Liberty Quarter 25c Xf Original No ReserveLot Of 2 Seated Liberty Silver Quater 1853 O & 1853 P (gsNice Collectable Fine 1857 Seated Liberty QuarterNice Collectable Fine 1854 Seated Liberty Quarter25c 1874-s Seated Liberty Quarter, Good * No Reserve!Nice Collectable 1853 Seated Liberty Quarter25c Cent Quarter 1877 Au/unc Liberty Seated Bright Lustrous Field Roughness.Ω 1853 Seated Liberty Quarter Vf-xfLot Of (5) Seated Liberty Silver Quarters1897 S Barber Quarter Fine + Bq0521876-cc Seated Liberty Quarter Free Shipping1891 S Liberty Seated Quarter Xf Sq0871843 O Key Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Ber On Shield Lot Silver Coin 968k Mint1857 Liberty Seated Quarter.Ω 1856-o Seated Liberty Quarter Xf1888 Seated Liberty Quarter // Semi-key Date! // 90% Silver (sq423)The Central Reserve Bank Of China China 5 Yuan 1940 Choice Unc1877-p Seated Liberty Quarter ** 90% Silver 1876 Seated Liberty Quarter Au Original 1875 Seated Liberty Quarter - #52021853 Silver Seated Quarter W/arrows And Rays Great Condition Combined Shipping1877 Seated Liberty Quarter ** Free Shipping!1854 O - 1875 Seated Liberty Silver 25