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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: U.S. coins for less than $500 each, Part 3; Quarters

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #172 …..

This discussion of silver quarters follows part 1: copper and part 2: dimes. Different collectors have different budgets. The idea behind this series is that many collectors do not wish to spend more than $500 for any one coin, yet would like to build meaningful, enjoyable and noteworthy collections of classic U.S. coins. Collectors who feel that $500 is too much may wish to refer to an earlier series on classic U.S. coins that cost less than $250 each, or to an introduction for absolute beginners. (Clickable links are in blue.) The focus here is on building type sets of silver quarters, though I first mention some ‘date sets’ that are practical.

Not everyone wishes to collect ‘by type.’ Some wish to collect ‘by year’ or ‘by date’ (including U.S. Mint locations). Given a $500 per coin limit, a set of Barber Quarters could be assembled, except for the three key dates, with many coins that are PCGS or NGC graded from MS-62 to MS-64.

Tbudget_quartershe entire set of Capped Bust ‘Small Size’ Quarters in Extremely Fine-40 grade could be completed, eight coins from 1831 to 1838. Furthermore, except nine or ten coins, an entire set of Liberty Seated Quarters in Good-04 or higher grades could be assembled, with more than eighty different dates (including U.S. Mint locations) available in Fine-12 or higher grade for less than $500 each. This task would be a bit overwhelming, however, for a beginning or intermediate level collector.

Collecting Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs) ‘by date’ would take less time and effort than collecting Liberty Seated Quarters ‘by date.’ When I refer to collecting ‘by date,’ I am including coins of different U.S. Mint locations as well, not just years. A 1919 Philadelphia Mint quarter, a 1919-Denver Mint quarter, and a 1919-San Francisco Mint quarter are three different ‘dates,’ in the minds of many coin collectors, though all were made during just one ‘year.’

There are really only three Standing Liberty Quarters (1916-30) that cost more than $500 in Fine-12 grade, and one of those three, the 1923-S, could be bought for less than $500 in Good-04 grade. Kris Oyster emphasizes that people can “buy a 1921 in Fine-12 condition for around $450. It is seldom encountered, a classic. This is a good deal because a 1921 costs so much more in higher grades. It is a key to the series. Thousands of collectors want a 1921 quarter,” Kris declares. Oyster is a managing director of the Dallas Gold & Silver Exchange.

The focus here is on silver quarters that were produced before Washington Quarters were introduced in 1932. I have addressed Washington Quarters in previous discussions, especially in pieces on Assembling Sets of Quarters and Collecting Modern Coins.

Other than a few better dates, pre-1965, silver Washington Quarters can easily be purchased for less than $10 each, sometimes less than $5. Proof Washingtons, clad Washingtons, and the non-Proof Washington Quarters that were specially made for collectors, are really topics that are beside the theme here. These will be addressed in other contexts.

For a silver type set, a single PCGS graded MS-66 Washington Quarter, dating from the 1950s, should not be hard to find for less than $40. I suggest choosing one that has russet toning, perhaps with touches of blue or green. It is best to avoid silver quarters that are of a bright white color, as these are usually too obviously artificially brightened via dipping in an acidic solution.

For people who have yet to collect silver quarters or are unsure as to how to proceed, building a type set is often the best option. A type set may be either a ‘means to an end’ or a cherished project to be pursued for years. A type set of quarters is often accompanied by type sets of silver dimes and silver half dollars.

The fourteen design types of silver quarters are: 1) Draped Bust, Small Eagle (1796 only); 2) Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle (1804-07); 3) Capped Bust, “Large” (1815-28); 4) Capped Bust, “Small” (1831-38); 5) Liberty Seated, No Drapery, No Motto (1838-40); 6) Liberty Seated, With Drapery, No Motto (1840-53 and 1856-65); 7) Liberty Seated, Arrows & Rays (1853 only); 8) Liberty Seated, Arrows, No Motto, No Rays (1854-55); 9) Liberty Seated, Motto (1866-73 and 1875-91); 10) Liberty Seated, Arrows, Motto (1873-74); 11) Barber (1892-1916); 12) Standing Liberty, Open Chest (1916-17); 13) Standing Liberty, Covered Chest (1917-30); 14) Washington (1932-64 plus various contrived silver issues later).

Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs) minted from 1925 to 1930 have some slightly different features than those dated from 1917 to 1924. Those minted from 1925 to ’30 are really subtypes of type #13, not distinct design types.

gr25_2It would not be practical to seek to obtain a 1796 quarter for less than $500. A nineteenth century type set of quarters is practical, even given the constraint of a maximum expenditure of $500 for any one coin. An 1805 or 1806 Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Quarter could probably be found in Good-04 grade for less than $500. Stack’s-Bowers just sold a PCGS graded Good-04 1805 for $394, in May.

As for Capped Bust Quarters, John Albanese suggests “large size quarters in Very Fine, small size in XF,” Extremely Fine-40 to -45. Albanese is the founder and president of the CAC.

During June 2010 in Baltimore, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS graded Very Fine-20 1820 quarter for $299. In Dec. 2010, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded VF-20 1828 for $460. My impression, however, is that, VF-20 grade, “Large” Capped Bust Quarters now often retail for above $500, though a few could be found for wholesale prices by buyers who put significant time and effort into their searches. Kris Oyster suggests, however, that an “1820 quarter can be bought [at retail] for $450 in VF-20” grade.

One California dealer, who does a large volume of mail-order sales, is offering a not certified 1821 quarter in ‘Very Fine’ grade for “$450” and a not certified ‘Very Fine’ 1828 for “$500,” in a ‘June 2013’ price list. I have not seen these coins. I am not assuming that both or either of these coins would be determined to be gradable if submitted to the PCGS or the NGC.

Certainly, many certified Fine-15 or Fine-12 grade quarters of the Capped Bust “Large” type sell at retail for amounts well below $500. In 2012, Heritage sold five PCGS or NGC certified Fine-15 1819 quarters, one with a CAC sticker, all for under $500 each, four of the five for under $400. Many other “Large” Capped Bust Quarters in Fine-15 grade could be acquired for less than $400 each.

The Capped Bust Quarter design type of 1831 to 1838 actually appears considerably different from that of 1815 to 1828. Rather than distinguish these as “Large” and “Small,” since their respective diameters vary only slightly, it would make sense for each of these types to have more distinctive names.

Researcher Breen refers to the 1815 to 1828 type as “Reich’s Capped Busts” and the 1831 to ’38 type as “Kneass’s Capped Busts.” Until Breen’s names or other names become widely accepted, the “large” and “small” names will be often used. For a type set, it is easy to find a quarter that dates from 1831 to 1838 for less than $500, in Extremely Fine (‘XF’)-40 or higher grade.

gr25_3For the Liberty Seated, No Drapery (1838-40) type, an 1839 in EF-40 grade is a sound selection and, with patience, could be obtained for less than $500. There tends to be more demand for the 1838, as it is the first year of the type and for the 1840-O ‘No Drapery,’ as it is the first quarter issue of the New Orleans Mint.

For the longer and less scarce, Liberty Seated, With Drapery, No Motto type, standard price guides understate true market price levels. Even so, an 1840, 1840-O, 1841 or 1841-O in Extremely Fine-40 grade could certainly be found for less than $500.

As for the one-year type with Arrows & Rays, a pleasant, EF-40 grade 1853 should cost less than $225 and an EF-40 grade 1853-O costs well below $500. It is also true that a PCGS or NGC certified AU-55 1853, not an 1853-O, could be acquired for less than $500.

In this discussion, references to all coins valued at more than $200 are to those that are PCGS or NGC certified, unless otherwise stated. While PCGS and NGC certified grades are often controversial and are sometimes wrong in the views of most experts, buying PCGS or NGC certified coins involves much less risk than the purchase of coins that are not certified or are certified by other grading services. Coins certified by the PCGS and the NGC are widely accepted by dealers and auction firms in the mainstream of the coin business in the United States.

If a scarce or rare U.S. coin is not PCGS or NGC certified, there is a good chance that it has been sent to the PGCS or the NGC in the past and then failed to receive a numerical grade because it was determined that it has serious problems. Also, some dealers will take a coin that is PCGS or NGC certified AU-55 or -58, remove it from its respective holder, and then offer it alone as a “Choice” or “Gem” uncirculated or as a “Mint State” coin. Despite the imperfections of the PCGS and the NGC, it still makes tremendous sense to buy scarce or rare U.S. coins that are already in PCGS or NGC holders.

In 1853, quarters were struck with both ‘Arrows’ on the obverse (front) and ‘Rays’ on the reverse (back of the coin). In 1854 and 1855, quarters were struck with ‘Arrows,’ though no rays. The 1853 and 1854-55 issues are thus of different design types.

A PCGS or NGC certified AU-55 or AU-58 grade, 1854 or 1855 ‘With Arrows’ Liberty Seated Quarter typically retails for less than $500, though some of the pieces of this type that are certified in this grade range are not desirable. It is a good idea to examine them very carefully. A certified EF-40 grade coin for less than $175, maybe even less than $100, could be an excellent value and would certainly have less downside risk.

gr25_4As type coins,‘With Motto’ Liberty Seated Quarters are not scarce. There are plenty of the least scarce dates. Some of these are 1875, 1876, 1876-S, 1877, 1877-S, 1891 and 1891-S.

Kris Oyster states that Liberty Seated Quarters in “Extremely Fine to AU are great classic coins.” For the least scarce Liberty Seated Quarters, including the dates just mentioned, nice Extremely Fine-40 to AU-50 grade coins retail at prices from $75 to $200 each. There are many available for around $100 each. Provided that they are fairly graded and feature natural toning, these are excellent values.

PCGS or NGC certified, AU-55 to MS-62 grade Liberty Seated Quarters, of the least scarce dates, are certainly available for much less than $500 each. Some of these are difficult to interpret, and certified grades are not always accepted by veteran collectors and dealers. It is a good idea to view a number of coins and to ask questions of experts. For many buyers, EF-40 to AU-50 grade pieces are better values.

In 1873 and 1874, Liberty Seated Quarters were again struck with arrows near the “date” (year) on the obverse (front). An appealing, PCGS or NGC certified AU-50, or AU-53, 1874 or 1873 ‘With Arrows’ Liberty Seated Quarter could be obtained for less than $500. Again, EF-40 grade coins are much less expensive.

There is only one design type of Barber Quarters. These were minted from 1892 to 1916. Oyster “would recommend common date Barber Quarters in MS-63, PCGS or NGC. These are scarce in uncirculated,” Kris says. For people with a $500 per coin limit, Scott Travers also recommends Barber Quarters in MS-63 grade.

I am not as enthusiastic about MS-63 grade Barbers as Kris and Scott. Usually, a PCGS or NGC graded MS-63 Barber Quarter will either tend to lack originality or be characterized by a substantial number of hairlines and contact marks.

Another option for a type set is a naturally and very attractively toned, PCGS graded AU-53 or AU-55 Barber Quarter with a 19th century date, perhaps 1897 or 1898. Such a coin could certainly be found for less than $200!

When I asked Travers to recommend U.S. silver coins that cost less than $500 each, Travers noted, among a few other types, Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs) in MS-63 to MS-65 grades. Scott is the author of The Coin Collector’s Survival Manual and is a recognized commentator about rare coins in the general media.

gr25_5Two Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs) are needed for a type set. A “Type One” SLQ (1916-17) is the twelfth type of quarter in the already mentioned list. On these, Miss Liberty’s chest is partially exposed. On the following “Type Two” SLQs of 1917 to 1930, which is type #13 in my list, Miss Liberty’s chest is covered with a garment of metal links. Plus, there are other differences between these two design types.

Although the 1916 SLQ is a key date and is expensive, a 1917 of the open chest type is more common than the 1916 and is a very popular type coin. A PCGS or NGC certified MS-64 1917 SLQ of this type costs less than $500. Oyster recommends this issue and also says that “MS-63 and -64 Type Two [1917 to 1930] Standing Liberty Quarters are great values.” Oyster tells collectors “to buy PCGS or NGC certified, but not to worry about whether they have a full head.”

Both the PGCS and the NGC designate some Standing Liberty Quarters as having a ‘Full Head.’ These tend to sell for large premiums over otherwise equivalent SLQs that are not so designated.

Regarding Standing Liberty Quarters of the 1917 to 1930 type (#13), John Albanese and I strongly contend that PCGS or NGC certified MS-65 grade coins that are not designated as ‘Full Head,’ yet have considerable head detail, are excellent values, provided that the coins do not have problems. Certified MS-65 grade SLQs of several dates can be found for less than $500 each.

In July 2012, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS-65 1927 that has more than half a head, for $345. Earlier this month, on June 4, the Goldbergs auctioned a 1928 that is PCGS graded MS-65 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. The head is more than 75% full. It brought $437. In the same Goldbergs auction, a 1929-D from the same collection with the same certification, went for $368.

It is also noteworthy that, in May, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded AU-58 1927 quarter, with a CAC sticker, for $93. This 1927 has more than three-fourths of a head. This might have been a great value for someone who is unable or unwilling to spend much more for a SLQ.

After a collector finishes a type set of classic U.S. quarters, he or she can decide on another quest. If one of the types included seems especially appealing, then a ‘year set’ or a ‘date set’ may be the next objective.

Type sets of other denominations are practical, too. Assembling a type set of all 19th century silver series would be very enjoyable for most collectors of classic U.S. coins. In any event, a carefully assembled, type set of fourteen silver quarters, costing a total of between $3500 and $7000, is sensible and particularly desirable, given the traditions and values in the coin collecting community.

©2013 Greg Reynolds

Readers who are interested in other types of classic U.S. coins, and do not wish to spend more than $500 for any one coin, may wish to click to read earlier parts of this series:

1) Copper

2) Dimes

3) Quarters

4) Bust Half Dollars

5) Liberty Seated Half Dollars

6) Barber Half Dollars

7) Trade Dollars


Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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