No Motto (1838-1866)
For over a decade, renowned banknote plate engraver and medalist Christian Gobrecht had been seeking a permanent position with the Mint. By the early 1800s, however, the nepotism permeating the Mint’s employment practices was firmly entrenched. This engraver was that mint director’s nephew, that official was another official’s son, and so on. Professionally gifted as he was, but unrelated to any person-of-influence, Gobrecht unsuccessfully pursued the position of chief engraver. And ironically, he was without question, the best qualified for the job.
One of seven children of a German immigrant minister, Gobrecht was born in 1785, in Hanover, Pennsylvania. Right away he showed a talent for mechanics and inventions. After apprenticing to a clockmaker, he moved to Philadelphia in 1811, and acclaim for his work as an engraver soon came to the attention of Mint Director Robert Patterson. Gobrecht at first declined Patterson’s offer in 1817 to become Chief Engraver Robert Scot’s assistant, but when Scot died in 1823, Gobrecht solicited President Monroe’s endorsement for the vacant position. However, Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt (one of many Eckfeldts connected with U.S. coinage, both before and after this era) used his influence to see to the appointment of William Kneass, an engraver of lesser abilities, but whose studio was a gathering place for prominent Philadelphians.
Finally, necessity won out over nepotism. In the summer of 1835, Kneass suffered a stroke and Gobrecht accepted the position of assistant engraver offered by Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson’s (brother-in-law of the previous director, Samuel Moore, and son of Moore’s predecessor, Robert Patterson).
Gobrecht started work immediately on the task of improving and updating the coinage. Patterson, concerned about artistic merit on the federal coinage and influenced by the seated goddess motifs of British designs, chose a drawing by Thomas Sully as the model for Gobrecht to bring to life on a new dollar coin.
After the dollar patterns were released in December 1836, the Mint’s ongoing penchant for using the same design on all silver coins caused Gobrecht to begin work on the other denominations. Spending most of his time on his daily duties of die making for the current mintage, he used what little spare opportunities he had over the next several years to rework the designs for the smaller coins. It was not until the fall of 1838 that the new quarter replaced the old Capped Bust design of John Reich and William Kneass.
On the obverse, Gobrecht used a modified version of his Liberty, seated on a rock and surrounded by thirteen stars, while the reverse had the Reich-Kneass eagle from the previous issue with the denomination as QUAR. DOL. instead of the earlier 25 C. In 1840, looking for an “improvement,” Patterson hired artist Robert Ball Hughes to rework the design. Hughes added drapery at the elbow, and in general succeeded in fattening the figure of Liberty. Many felt the resulting rendition lacked the artistic merit of Gobrecht’s original and, despite problems with flat striking, which did not exist with the 1838-39 coins, this version would remain for the rest of the series.
Called the No Motto type because it lacked the motto IN GOD WE TRUST (added in 1866), over 36 million coins were minted of this variety between 1838 and 1853 and again from 1856 through 1865. It was struck at three Mints; Philadelphia (no mintmark), New Orleans (O) and San Francisco (S). The mintmark is on the reverse below the eagle. Mint records show that only 3,980 proofs of the type were made from 1859 onward, but proof examples from just about every year prior to then do exist, although they are exceedingly rare.
The first issues, referred to as the No Drapery variety, most noticeably lacked a fold of drapery at Liberty’s elbow. Issued only in 1838 and 1839 at Philadelphia and for part of the year 1840 at the New Orleans Mint, today this variety is scarce in all grades and very rare in mint state. At least one proof is purported to exist, possibly from among the twenty “specimens” sent by Patterson to Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury in September, 1838.
Robert Hughes’s modified design issued from 1840 onward is replete with rare dates. The major rarity is the 1842 Small Date. Struck only in proof for inclusion in presentation sets for dignitaries, supposedly only six specimens exist. Other very rare dates include 1842-O Small Date, 1849-O and 1852-O.
In Mint State, almost all the dates prior to 1853 are extremely difficult to find. There are two reasons for this: First, the weak strikes of this era made many coins look more worn than they actually were; and second, the melting that took place around 1853 due to the increasing value of silver forever destroyed vast quantities of coins. Surprisingly, the low mintage 1853 Without Arrows, which is very scarce in all grades due to meltings, exists in Superb Gem Uncirculated to the tune of at least several pieces.
Among the later dates, the toughest to find in Mint State are the San Francisco coins from 1856-1865 and, to a lesser extent, the Philadelphia coins of 1863-1865. When pursuing gem specimens, type collectors will most often encounter the Philadelphia issues of 1857, 1858, 1861 and 1862. Although most collectors approach the Seated Liberty quarter series from a type perspective and desire to acquire only one of each variety, there are still some who find the challenge of completing a date and mintmark collection compelling.
When grading this design, the high points on the obverse to check for wear are Liberty’s knee, hair and breast. On the reverse, the areas to first show wear are the eagle’s neck, claws and the tops of the wings. Care must be taken to differentiate between weak striking and wear, as many coins, particularly those up through 1858, are very weakly struck.
By 1853, due to the increase in silver prices relative to gold, the silver in the No Motto quarters was worth more than face value. This led to their rapid disappearance from the channels of commerce. Accordingly, Mint Director George Eckert persuaded Congress to reduce the weight of silver coins to preclude melting. This set the stage for the next type of Seated Liberty quarter, the Arrows and Rays variety. The No Motto type without arrowheads or rays would not return until 1856.
Arrows & Rays (1853)
By the early 1850s, the whole country was infected with “gold fever.” In fact, the California Gold Rush had captured the attention of the entire world. From 1849 onward, vast amounts of the precious metal entered the channels of commerce from the new strikes in the West. With this unprecedented increase in supply, the price of gold on world bullion markets fell, relative to its value in silver. Conversely, silver became worth more in terms of gold.
From 1834 to 1850, the intrinsic value of a silver dollar and a gold dollar was almost equal. By 1851, however, the silver in four quarters was worth $1.035 in gold and, by 1853, reached $1.06. Silver coins were being withdrawn from circulation and were rapidly disappearing. Melting silver in large quantities and reselling the bullion for up to 6% more in gold, and then continually repeating the process, was a very profitable and seemingly endless pursuit. It is estimated that in 1850 and 1851 alone, over $25,000,000 in silver coins were exported.
As would happen several times in United States history, change for retail businesses dried up. The only silver coins available were an assortment of very worn Spanish coins and the tiny “fish scale” three-cent pieces. These trimes had been specifically authorized in 1851 as the nation’s first subsidiary silver coins, having a metal content below their face value. The importance of this concept would only be realized two years later.
Mint Director George Eckert approached Congress with a plan. Approve a reduction in the weight of the silver coins to below where it would be profitable to melt them. Even though this had already been done with the trime, the idea of issuing all silver coins this way struck Congress as “debasing the coinage” and would, in effect, place the nation on a gold standard. Congress was strongly against abandoning bimetallism and was not in a position to do so, as there was no way of telling when the ever-increasing flow of gold would end and what the eventual relative values of silver and gold would be.
A compromise option was adopted, which included slightly lowering the amount of silver in the fractional coinage but keeping the old standard in the silver dollar as a symbol of Congress’ continued allegiance to bimetallism. Authorizing a reduction in the weight of the quarter from the former 103-1/8 grains to 96 grains, the Act was signed into law on February 21, 1853 and became effective April 1. The legislation accomplished its intended objective, for within a year the coin shortage was over. For the first time in its history, the country had an ample supply of small change.
The quarter then current was Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design as modified by Robert Ball Hughes. It had been in use since 1838, replacing the Capped Bust motif, and was very familiar to the public. The design depicted Liberty seated on a rock, surrounded by thirteen stars and holding the union shield along with a pole topped by a Liberty cap. On the reverse was the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination QUAR. DOL., encircling an eagle clutching arrows and branches.
Officials felt the best way to make it easy for the public to distinguish the new lower-weight coins was to make an obvious design change. Christian Gobrecht’s replacement as chief engraver, James Barton Longacre, accomplished this by adding arrowheads on each side of the date and a glory of rays emanating from the eagle on the reverse. This change was particularly favored by the Treasury Department, whose main concern was being able to easily distinguish the old coins from the new. It was not immediately certain whether the new issues would be removed when gold and silver prices stabilized.
Mint records show that on March 3, 1853, five proof sets were struck, consisting of half dimes, dimes, quarters and half dollars with arrows. These sets have long been dispersed, and the individual coins are rarely seen.
The first business strikes were released on April 26. During the remainder of the year, 15,254,200 pieces were struck at Philadelphia (no mintmark) and 1,332,000 pieces at New Orleans (O). The mintmark can be found on the reverse under the eagle.
Almost all of the record mintage of Arrows & Rays quarters went into circulation. More coins were struck that year than all of the previous years of the series combined, which probably accounts for why relatively few were saved. They literally flooded out of the Mints. Circulated Philadelphia specimens have always been common, and the variety remained in circulation as late as the 1930s. Uncirculated examples, while not rare, are becoming increasingly difficult to find, especially in gem condition. Uncirculated New Orleans coins, however, along with the unusual 1853/4 Philadelphia Mint variety, are very rare.
Although there are a few collectors pursuing the entire Seated Liberty quarter series by date and mint, and some seek only New Orleans issues, demand for the Arrows & Rays quarter comes primarily from type collectors. Perhaps the relative difficulty of finding gem specimens today is because the available supply of nicer coins is already tucked away in type sets.
When grading Arrows and Rays quarters, as with the other Seated Liberty quarters, the high points on the obverse are Liberty’s knee, hair and breast. On the reverse, the areas to first show wear are the eagle’s neck, claws and the tops of its wings.
Early in 1854, the new Mint Director, James Ross Snowden, was informed that impressing the rays into the reverse dies required an extra operation and therefore more time and cost. Ordering the removal of the rays from subsequent coinage, Snowden effectively defined the Arrows and Rays quarter as a one-year-only type, to be followed by the quarters of 1854-55 which included just the arrowheads. In 1856, it was felt that even this feature was no longer needed, so the arrows were removed.
Other changes to the Seated Liberty design included the addition of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST in 1866 and the use of arrows again in 1873-74 at the sides of the date, but this time to denote an increase in weight, rather than a decrease. The Seated Liberty quarter, in its many variations, would span over a half century before being replaced by the Barber quarter in 1892.
With Arrows (1854-1855)
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing the residents of those territories to settle the subject of slavery by popular vote. It was widely regarded as an act of bad faith, as its passage wrecked the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, both of which had been responsible for holding the Union together.
While less momentous, the previous year Congress had passed the Mint Act of 1853, another piece of legislation regarded as an act of bad faith, as it reduced the amount of silver in most U.S. coins by almost 7%. This reduction was necessary in order to return silver coins to circulation. Prior to 1853, silver coins had been melted in large numbers, as they were worth more than their face value. Now the smaller denomination coins were returning to circulation, but many in Congress sincerely believed that the passage of the Mint Act cheated the American people of the full measure of value inherent in their coinage.
By early 1854, the coin shortage had ended, and more than a million dollars worth of silver coins were stored in the vaults of the Mint awaiting purchasers. The new, lighter weight coins were a life-giving force for retail trade throughout the country, and for the first time since the founding of the Republic the nation had an ample supply of small coins of uniform quality. 1854 saw more than twelve million quarters struck in the Philadelphia Mint alone. But the explanation of such a large mintage goes well beyond meeting the nation’s needs for coinage at the time and is another example of bad faith with the American people—this time by the mal-administration of the law itself.
The Mint Act of 1853 specifically required Mint officials to purchase silver bullion from the Mint’s bullion fund and then sell the new coins to the public in exchange for gold coins only. This would keep the fractional silver pieces, with their limited legal tender status, from becoming an overabundant nuisance. What Mint Director James Ross Snowden did, however, was to pay out the new silver coins to bullion depositors in exchange for their silver.
Even after the market price of silver bullion had fallen, the Mint continued this illegal practice. By setting no limits on the amount of bullion the Mint would purchase, Snowden effectively allowed the free coinage of silver, a practice Congress wished to discontinue in 1853. Conceived as a means of relieving the previous coin shortage, this situation virtually guaranteed that there would soon be too many silver coins in circulation.
Under other circumstances, this policy might not have presented any particular problems, but the coins authorized by the Mint Act of 1853 were only legal tender in amounts up to five dollars. As the Mint Act did not allow for redemption of the coins, and there was no possibility of exporting them (as there had been with the heavier, old-tenor coins), oversupply was inevitable, and it came quickly. Soon, retail stores refused silver coins except for small payments, and even banks declined to accept them for deposits. Some businesses that received large amounts of change were forced to sell their surplus to brokers at a discount.
The situation became so serious that Treasury Secretary James Guthrie temporarily suspended the coinage of quarters and half dollars, but he never investigated the Mint policy responsible for the oversupply. This redundancy in the nation’s silver supply lasted until 1862, when the government finally suspended specie payments and coins once again disappeared from circulation.
With $100.00 face value in old-tenor (pre-1853) silver coins still selling for $106.60 in 1854, Mint Director Snowden believed that their value was still sufficiently high enough to warrant retaining some type of identifying mark on the new 1854 coins. Thus, the arrowheads placed on the 1853 issues remained at either side of the date. The glory of rays on the reverse of the quarter and half dollar, however, required an extra operation in die preparation and shortened die life considerably, so Snowden ordered their removal.
Otherwise, this design is a continuation of the motifs originally engraved by Christian Gobrecht in the late 1830s, with the obverse depicting Liberty seated on a rock, surrounded by thirteen stars, and a spread-winged eagle encircled by the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and QUAR. DOL. on the reverse.
1854 and 1855 saw Arrows quarters struck at three mints: Philadelphia (no mintmark), New Orleans (O) and San Francisco (S). Mintmarks are located on the reverse, just below the eagle. Five issues are represented in the total mintage of 17,293,400 pieces, of which the vast majority were produced at Philadelphia in 1854. New Orleans produced over 1.5 million coins in 1854, including the scarce, so-called Huge O mintmark variety, but minted only 176,000 pieces in 1855. This issue is the rarest in the series, particularly in high grade, along with the San Francisco issue of 1855, the only year that the western branch mint produced this design.
In general, Arrows quarters are collected as type pieces. 1854 is usually the date of choice, as it is available with the most regularity. When collected by date and mint, the other four issues are usually considered a part of the much larger No Motto series.
Counterfeits are generally not a problem with this type. Proofs are very rare, and deceptively prooflike business strikes that resemble proofs are more likely to be encountered than counterfeits. At most, a few dozen proofs are known from each year, including a unique branch-mint proof struck in San Francisco in 1855 that traces its pedigree to then-Mint Superintendent Robert Aiken Birdsall.
The grading of these coins is similar to that for all coins of the Seated Liberty type. The points to first show wear on the obverse are Liberty’s knee, breast and hair; on the reverse, check the neck, claws and tops of the wings.
After 1855, so few old-tenor silver coins remained in circulation that Director Snowden dropped the arrows from subsequent dates, even though the weight remained the same. The device of arrowheads at either side of the date was resurrected again in 1873 to designate another weight change, but this time a slight increase.
With Motto (1866-1891)
Four years of civil war had seemed like an eternity to many Americans. The bitter hatreds that divided the North and South in 1861 had long turned to numbness and shock by 1866, as relief from the fighting and realization of the war’s devastation took hold. The United States, now forever a Union, would never be the same again. Many among the largely religious populace viewed the sacrifices made—by both dead and living—as divine judgment visited on the nation from above.
As Americans, victor and vanquished, started down the long and arduous road to reconciliation, God and survival were much on their minds. Monuments commemorating the national holocaust spread throughout the land. New communities in the North were named after the deadly places that took their men: The Dayton, Ohio, suburb of Shiloh and other battle names such as Shenandoah still dot the northern landscape.
With Americans in their grief having turned to religion to ease the war’s anguish, even the nation’s coinage reflected this new priority: The now-familiar motto IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared in 1864 on the newly introduced two-cent piece. Reaction was so positive that on March 3, 1865, Congress mandated its use on all gold and silver coins of suitable size. Implementation came in 1866, when seven other coins joined the two-cent piece in making this statement of faith. Among these was the quarter dollar.
The Seated Liberty quarter was then nearing the end of its third decade of production. First issued in 1838, it replaced the Capped Bust quarter, which had lasted only 24 years. Its design, used on almost all subsequent silver coinage minted in the United States until 1892, was based on sketches by artist Thomas Sully. Assistant Engraver Christian Gobrecht executed dies featuring a seated figure of Liberty with her right hand resting upon the Union Shield and her left hand grasping a staff topped by a Liberty cap—symbols of preparedness and freedom.
This seated goddess device was first used by the Greeks and Romans in antiquity and adopted in the 17th century by English coiners to represent Britannia. The reverse’s central element, shared with the half dollar and dollar, depicts a naturalistic eagle with a shield superimposed upon its breast. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is inscribed above the eagle, with QUAR. DOL. below. Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre modified the dies to accommodate the new motto IN GOD WE TRUST, and it appears on a graceful ribbon that floats above the eagle on the reverse. Mintmarks are found below the eagle (‘O’ for New Orleans, ‘S’ for San Francisco and ‘CC’ for Carson City). Pieces without a mintmark were coined at the primary mint in Philadelphia.
Produced from 1866 through 1891, mintages were extremely low during the first few years of the design. In part, the low output resulted from the fact that while specie payments remained suspended, little bullion reached the Mint. Silver coins were still worth more than their equivalent face value in the questionable “greenbacks” the North issued to finance the war. This situation did not abate until about 1873.
Mint State survivors from the years before 1874 are scarce to very rare, but the occasional gem randomly appears, often in collections completed decades ago. San Francisco and Carson City issues are particularly elusive, with the 1870-CC and 1871-CC quarters right at the top of the rarity list, eclipsed only by the nearly unique 1873-CC No Arrows coin; although 4000 pieces of this issue were minted, obviously few escaped recoinage into the Arrows design of that year, as only four examples are traceable today. A fifth is reported but unconfirmed.
In 1873, Congress made a modest attempt to introduce the metric system into U.S. coinage. As part of that effort, it increased the weights of silver coins to simplify their value in grams. To call attention to this change, arrowheads were placed alongside the date in 1873 and 1874. The Arrows coinage of these years, like the similar issues of 1853 and 54-55, is considered a separate design variety and is included in most type sets of this denomination. In 1875, the arrows were removed, although the weight remained at the new higher level.
Mintages increased dramatically after 1875, due to the combination of new supplies of silver ore and passage of the Specie Act of 1875, which called for redemption in silver coin of the fractional currency notes then in widespread use. In just 1876 alone, more than 31 million quarters poured out of three of the four mints that produced this design, Philadelphia, Carson City and San Francisco. The Philadelphia issue of 1877 is the most common of its decade in gem condition, possibly due to the release of an old hoard. The New Orleans facility, closed from the beginning of the Civil War until 1879, would not resume striking quarters until 1891, minting just 68,000 examples; survivors are rare in all grades. New Orleans struck at least two proofs in that last year of this design, marking the resumption of quarter coinage at the southern branch.
Production levels plunged again in 1879, as vast quantities of silver dollars required by the Bland-Allison Act taxed the Mint’s production capacity. Mintages stayed minuscule from then through the end of the series, with only three exceptions—the San Francisco coinage of 1888 and 1891 and the Philadelphia issue of that final year. Otherwise, yearly output never reached 100,000 at any given mint during the period. For the most part, it was well below 20,000, hitting a nadir of just 5,000 (plus 886 proofs) in 1886. Much of the Philadelphia mintage of 1879 through 1890 was hoarded when issued, providing collectors of today with superb examples of these low-mintage coins. Uncirculated sets of Seated quarters from these years were common sights at coin shows just a few decades ago and are still assembled today, albeit at loftier prices. High grade pieces are avidly pursued by type collectors.
Proofs were minted every year from 1866 through 1891. While business strike examples frequently had limited productions, the mintage figures for proofs were normal for the era, ranging from a low of 510 in 1877 to a high of 1,355 in 1880. Because they were preserved more carefully, proofs have a higher survival rate than business strikes. The availability of both drops off sharply in grades of Proof-66, Mint State-66 and above. Points to first show wear are Liberty’s knees, breast and hair. On the reverse, check the eagle’s neck, claws and the tops of its wings.
In 1892, after a run of over fifty years, the Seated Liberty coinage was finally retired. The motto that appeared since 1866 continued on Charles Barber’s new design, this time placed on the obverse, over Liberty’s head.
With Arrows (1873-1874)
The Mint Act of 1873, later called by critics the “Crime of `73,” started life as a proposal by Treasury Secretary George S. Boutwell to move control of the various mints to Washington and overhaul the existing coinage statutes. Before it became law, however, it would encompass the opinions of over thirty Treasury and Mint officials, undergo numerous revisions and fuel intense debate in Congress for almost three years.
In the early 1870s, silver was once again in oversupply. Germany and France had adopted the gold standard, dumping millions of dollars worth of the metal on the market. At the same time, new discoveries of silver in the western United States exacerbated the problem. Aside from mine owners, silver had few friends. Foreigners didn’t want their United States bonds redeemed in the depreciating metal, and many believed that the overabundance of silver would fuel inflation.
Boutwell’s recommendations were included in a coinage bill introduced in 1870 by Ohio Senator John Sherman, an advocate of the gold-standard. Sherman had attended the Paris International Monetary Conference in 1867, and he returned to the United States with the notion that this country needed to adopt a gold standard based on the metric system used by the Europeans. Such a standard would sharply curtail use of silver, the metal that had been the mainstay of commerce in this country. Curiously, though the provisions of Sherman’s bill were considered at length, few contemplated what effect they would have on the economy of the United States.
Sherman promoted his bill through two sessions of the Senate until it was finally approved on January 10, 1871. It was sent to the House of Representatives the same day but remained under consideration in that chamber for over a year, advocated strongly by Massachusetts Representative Samuel Hooper and Chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures, Representative William Kelley. After the usual legislative paper shuffling, a beleaguered Congress finally passed the bill on February 12, 1873, with an effective date of April 1.
The legislation demonetized silver, eliminating the standard silver dollar, half dime and three-cent piece (as well as the two-cent piece), yet it created a Trade dollar for use in the Orient. It also provided for a slight increase in the weight standard of the quarter, dime and half dollar to conform with the “metric” system.
The Act produced no benefit for the commerce of the United States, yet it greatly affected the use of money. It ended “free coinage,” the right of anyone to have foreign silver or bullion coined into United States silver coins without charge. U.S. Bonds were to be redeemed only in gold, as silver was no longer a monetary metal. The net effect made the U.S. national debt doubly difficult to pay off. However, it was of great benefit to the Europeans, especially the English, who were large importers of American cotton and wheat.
Several years later, Missouri Senator Richard “Silver Dick” Bland would declare that this “Crime of `73” “...was a fraud...stealthily passed, without reconsideration and without debate.” Others claimed that it was ushered through Congress by legislators in cahoots with agents of foreign governments. Although Bland’s accusations ignored the fact that the bill was discussed and amended for several years, the other charges gained some credence in 1895 when a pamphlet published by the American Bimetallic Union recounted the recollections of a prominent Colorado citizen, Frederick A. Luckenbach. Luckenbach contended that a Mr. Ernst Seyd of London came to America in the winter of 1872-3 with £100,000, representing the interests of the Bank of England, which was determined to get a bill demonetizing silver passed in the United States Congress. It turned out that Mr. Seyd enjoyed a close personal relationship with Representative Hooper, leading many to suspect that something unorthodox had indeed occurred.
Although the reason is unclear, officials decided that the new silver coins would bear a mark indicating the change of weight. Since arrows at the date were used in 1853-55 for this purpose, they were adopted again for the coinage of 1873. The weight change was insignificant, as the new standard didn’t exceed the allowable deviation in weight specified by law. It made no difference if old or new planchets were used, and it’s likely that they were used interchangeably. Though the previous coin issues remained current, many business strikes and proofs were melted, including the obsolete three-cent coins and half dimes. This action created rarities of many silver issues of the early 1870s.
The arrows added to the existing Seated Liberty quarter were just one of several cosmetic and technical changes this design had undergone since it had been introduced by Christian Gobrecht in 1838. The obverse depicts Miss Liberty seated on a rock, holding the Union Shield and a staff topped with a Liberty cap. On the “Arrows” coinage of 1873-74, the date below Miss Liberty is centered between opposed arrowheads. On the reverse, an eagle with outstretched wings is perched on an olive branch, clutching arrows and branches. Above the eagle is the legend IN GOD WE TRUST, and surrounding the design is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination expressed as QUAR. DOL. Mintmarks are found on the reverse, under the eagle. As with all Seated Quarters, look for traces of wear on Liberty’s hair, breast, knee and arms. On the reverse, check the eagle’s wing tips, neck and claws.
In its two-year run, slightly more than 2.3 million quarters of this type with arrows were minted for circulation, along with 1,240 proofs. Though this coin is generally collected as a “type,” a complete set consists of just five coins: The Philadelphia (no mint mark) and San Francisco (S) issues of 1873 and 1874 and the lone Carson City (CC) issue of 1873.
Arrows quarters of 1873-74 are easily obtainable in circulated grades but become very elusive in AU or better. The key to the series is the 1873-CC issue, which is extremely rare in mint state. Next in scarcity is 1873-S. While the Philadelphia coins of both years have the largest mintages, the date most often available in mint condition is 1874-S. A hoard of 80 to 100 uncirculated pieces of this date turned up on the West Coast around 1949 and was slowly dispersed over the next twenty-five years.
The Seated Liberty Quarter With Arrows was the last major design change to this long running series. In 1875, the arrows were omitted. In 1892, the Seated Liberty Quarter design was replaced by the new Charles Barber portrait of Liberty.
Coin Descriptions Provided by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC)