Liberty Seated quarters were produced from 1838 through 1891, eventually replaced by Charles E. Barber's Liberty Head motif. A Guide Book of United States Coins, the familiar Red Book, recognizes five types of Seated quarters; in two instances a preceding type (as defined by the obverse/ reverse designs) was resumed after a short period of a design modification that indicated a weight change. For quarters, the first resumption of a type was after an interlude of three years of lower weight coins (1853-1855) identified first by arrows and ray, and then by arrows. The second resumption of a type followed a two year period of production of quarters (1873-1874) that were of slightly higher weight than the previous coins, also identified by the use of an arrow on each side of the date. A simplified list of the Seated quarter types is:
- No Motto; No Arrows or Rays; weight 6.68 grams; 1838-1853 (Variety 1, Red Book)
- No Motto; Arrows and Rays; weight 6.22 grams; 1853 (Variety 2, Red Book)
- No Motto; Arrows, no Rays; weight 6.22 grams; 1854-1855 (Variety 3, Red Book)
- No Motto; No Arrows or Rays; weight 6.22 grams; 1856-1865 (Variety 1 Resumed, Red Book)
- Motto; No Arrows or Rays; weight 6.22 grams; 1866-1873 (Variety 4, Red Book)
- Motto; Arrows, no Rays; weight 6.25 grams; 1873-1874 (Variety 5, Red Book)
- Motto; No Arrows or Rays; weight 6.25 grams; 1875-1891 (Variety 4 Resumed, Red Book)
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Thus, for a collector inclined toward such details, an argument could be made that there are seven Seated quarter types rather than five. However, such a distinction is not made by standard reference works, for the obvious reason that a weight change is not something that is visually apparent. The first use of arrows and rays, then arrows only, marked an weight increase of nearly one-half gram. This second use of arrows, defining the 1873-1874 type, was a much smaller difference of just 0.03 grams. As several authors have noted, this change was within the allowable tolerance for planchet weight variation, and it is plausible (perhaps even likely) that previously made, slightly heavier blanks were also used for the 1873 and 1874 Arrows type. By weight alone, there is no reliable way to distinguish Motto no-arrows 1873 and earlier quarters from Motto no-arrows post-1874 quarters.
The reduced weight was mandated by the Mint Act of February 12, 1873, an event later labeled the "Crime of '73" by silver mining interests and their political allies. That Act also moved the Mint directorship from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and eliminated the two cent piece, the silver three cent piece (the trime), the half dime, and the domestic silver dollar. Proposed by Ohio Senator John Sherman, the Act reflected his advocacy of the gold standard and a metric coinage basis, both influenced by his experience at an 1867 Paris monetary conference. The small weight change in the quarter established its weight at an even metric unit (.25 instead of .22), but as a standard it was too close to the old weight of the quarter to have a significant influence on the American public. The bimetallism debate was the larger issue, and though the Act created the Trade dollar primarily for Oriental commerce, the blunt effect domestically was to demonetize silver; which of course meant less demand for silver by the Mint, the heart of the "Crime" for those in the silver business. A more pernicious effect for collectors today was that many pre-1873 silver coins were melted, presumably for recoinage, creating many of the early 1870s silver issue rarities. As before, the need for arrows on the quarter to indicate a weight change apparently ended after just two years, and from 1875 forward quarters had no arrows at the date but remained at the higher weight standard.
On the obverse is a full-length representation of Liberty wearing long, flowing robes, seated on a rock, and head turned back to her right. Her left arm is bent and holds a pole topped by a Liberty cap. The right arm extends down at her side, hand supporting a Union shield across which is a slightly curved banner displaying LIBERTY. The date is centered at the bottom, below the rock upon which Liberty rests, and is flanked on each side by a short arrowhead. Inside dentils along the raised rim 13 six-point stars form a partial circle, seven to the left of Liberty, one between Liberty's head and the Liberty cap, and five to the right of the cap.
The reverse has a centered left-facing eagle, with extended but partly folded wings. The eagle clutches three arrows in the left claw and an olive branch in the right; a Union shield is placed over the chest. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA forms a concentric arc around the top two-thirds of the surface, inside of the dentils circling the rim, with the denomination of QUAR. DOL. at the bottom visually completing the circle. Liberty Seated, Arrows, quarters were minted at Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Carson City; S and CC mintmarks are located above QUAR. DOL., just below the crossed ends of the branch and the arrows.
Several hundred business strike Seated, Arrows, quarters are listed in census/ population reports, with significantly fewer Carson City and San Francisco examples for 1873. At least one prooflike piece has been certified for the type. Prices are modest for most dates to MS63, expensive to very expensive finer. The 1873-S is expensive as MS63 and finer, and the 1873-CC expensive to very expensive at lower grades, but extremely expensive as MS60 and finer. A few hundred proof Seated, Arrows, quarters have been certified, including some designated Cameo. Prices are uniform for examples of either date, with Cameo pieces slightly more expensive; all are expensive as PR64 and finer.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht, from Thomas Sully sketches; reverse after John Reich and William Kneass
Circulation Mintage: high 1,271,160 (1873), low 12,462 (1873-CC)
Proof Mintage: high 700 (1874), low 540 (1873)
Denomination: Twenty-five cents (25/100)
Diameter: 24.3 mm; reeded edge
Metal Content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 6.25 grams
Varieties: A very few minor die varieties have been identified.
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing.
Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.