The Gem Full Head 1927-S quarter in Heritage’s October 27 Signature Auction of The Eugene H. Gardner Collection II boasts a thick overlay of mint frost complementing a light golden tinge, which is somewhat deeper on the obverse. Design definition is excellent for the issue; Liberty’s toes are separated, the stars are well-defined, and the head, though slightly soft at the ear hole, is sharper than those seen on many other Full Head representatives. The central gown lines, a few shield rivets, and the eagle’s feathers are soft, as is expected for this San Francisco issue.
An interesting characteristic of most surviving Full Head representatives is that they were coined with severely clashed dies. Mint efforts to efface the resulting marks left numerous striations in the die face, which were then transferred to the coins as they were struck. This is a typical specimen in that regard, with remnants of the clash marks still visible on each side.
Only 23 examples have been awarded a Full Head designation by PCGS in all grades; of them, three have been deemed worthy of the MS65 grade level (one in 65+), and three have been certified finer. NGC has seen 22 Full Head representatives in all grades, with five awarded Gem status but only one finer. Given the large value spikes from one successive Full Head grade point level to the next, those figures certainly include resubmissions.
Of the three mints that struck Standing Liberty quarters, the San Francisco facility consistently had the most trouble producing sharp strikes, a problem that spanned the duration of the series. The difficulty in producing sharp strikes was blamed in part on the design. Concerns about the relief of designer Hermon MacNeil’s models were originally addressed in mid-1916, several months prior to the first production run of the design, when Chief Engraver Charles Barber was allowed to work up the designs to the mechanical requirements of the Mint.
The design change of mid-1917, however, effectively reversed many of Barber’s modifications, with the result that significantly more die pressure was needed to fully impress the details. The San Francisco Mint, already operating with lower production values than Philadelphia, magnified the problem from that point forward, which ultimately aided in the series’ demise at the close of 1930.
The 1927-S is perhaps the most famous illustration of the California mint’s struggle with the design. Additionally, the date’s low mintage of 396,000 pieces — a number inadequate even to supply every citizen of San Francisco with an example — has long been recognized as the second-lowest in the series (behind only the 1916), but the issue’s key-date status was not fully appreciated until the advent of third-party certification. The addition of the modifier “Full Head” to the grade descriptions of coins exhibiting such detail effectively changed not only the way Standing Liberty quarters were collected, but also the perceived rarity of most issues within the series, notably the 1927-S.
Due to its rarity, the 1927-S is a driving force behind the ranking of Standing Liberty quarter Registry Sets. It is one of only two issues to which the PCGS Set Composition awards a hefty seven points, the other being the lower-mintage 1916; additionally, the 1927-S with a Full Head designation receives a two-point bump, while the 1916 in Full Head receives only one. Examining the current finest Registry Sets, we note that several of them lack the 1927-S in Full Head, even though a couple do have remarkably high-grade coins; in fact, in the current highest-rated set, the 1927-S is the only coin represented that lacks the coveted designation. This coin could upgrade (or secure) the ranking of a fine, high-end collection.