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Liberty Seated Quarter, Arrows (1854-1855) | CoinWeek

1854 Liberty Seated Quarter. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1854 Liberty Seated Quarter. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Through the Mint Act of February 21, 1853, the weights of fractional silver coins (half dime, dime, quarter, and half dollar) were slightly reduced to remove the financial incentive to melt these coins for bullion; the silver content of the older heavier-weight coins was worth more than their face value.

To help differentiate the new lighter-weight quarters from the coins of the old weight standard, the United States Mint deployed two new design details: arrows on each side of the date on the coin’s oberse and rays extending outward from behind the eagle on the reverse.

To replenish the nation’s stockpile of quarters, the Mint produced over 16 million coins in 1853. This effectively ended the coin shortage, but the ray feature shortened die life and was abandoned for the 1854 issue.

Over 17 million Liberty Seated Quarters With Arrows were produced in 1854 and 1855, most by the Philadelphia Mint. Philadelphia also produced 1854-dated dies for the San Francisco Mint, but no quarters were struck at that facility until 1855, the first example being a Proof.

In 1856, the Mint reverted back to the original design and removed the arrows, even though quarters continued to be produced at the lower weight. This design continued until the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse in 1866.

America’s Failed Bimetallism

Liberty Seated Quarters of this period are illustrative of the unintended consequences of the Government’s efforts to balance the use of both gold and silver in the nation’s coin supply. So many quarters and other fractional silver coins were produced in the mid-1850s that the opposite effect of the intentions of the February 1853 Act resulted: there was a surplus.

The Act specified that the Mint sell new silver coins to the public in exchange for only gold coins and required the purchase of silver bullion only from the Mint’s bullion fund. Instead, Mint Director James Ross Snowden produced the new coins for depositors of silver bullion. This effectively created an ongoing free coinage of silver, which was not Congress’ intent. Compounding the problem was the specification in the Act that the new silver coins were legal tender only in transaction amounts up to five dollars.

As surpluses grew, stores started refusing to accept silver coins except for small purchases, and some banks also refused to take them. To help mitigate the problem, Treasury Secretary James Guthrie restricted quarter and half dollar production. But it was not until the start of the Civil War that the coin surplus vanished as people hoarded all precious metal coins.

How Much Are Liberty Seated Quarters With Arrows Worth?

Approximately 3,500 business strike Liberty Seated Quarters With Arrows have been certified by the leading third-party grading companies, with most being the 1854 Liberty Seated Quarter. Overall, Philadelphia issues are more available than quarters of this sub-type struck at New Orleans or San Francisco.

Prices for Philadelphia examples are modest to MS60 but expensive finer (and very expensive as Gem and finer). New Orleans and San Francisco pieces are expensive finer than AU55 and very expensive as Select Uncirculated and finer (though less so for the 1854-O). The 1854-O Huge O quarter is very expensive in all grades finer than XF.

Very few Proof Liberty Seated Quarters With Arrows have been certified, some with the Cameo designation. All Proofs are expensive, increasing to prohibitively so finer than PR64; Cameo pieces have slight premiums. The 1855-S Liberty Seated Quarter Proof is thought to be unique.

Liberty Seated Quarter, Arrows Design

Obverse:

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 the word LIBERTY. The date is centered at the bottom, below the rock upon which Liberty rests, and flanked on each side by a short arrowhead. Inside denticles along the raised rim, 13 six-pointed 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.

Reverse:

The reverse has a centered left-facing eagle, with extended but partly folded wings. The eagle clutches three arrows in its left claw and an olive branch in its right. A Union shield is placed over the chest, and many radiating lines extend from behind the eagle on all sides nearly to the surrounding legends. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA forms a concentric arc around the top two-thirds of the surface, inside the denticles circling the rim. The denomination QUAR. DOL. is at the bottom, visually completing the circle of text.

Liberty Seated Arrows and Rays quarters were minted at Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco Mints, and the O or S mintmarks of the two branch mints are located above the denomination, just below the crossed ends of the branch and the arrows.

Edge:

The edge of the Liberty Seated Quarter With Arrows is reeded.

Varieties

The best known variety is the 1854-O Huge O (apparently added by hand at the New Orleans Mint). A few other minor die varieties have been identified.

Coin Specifications

Liberty Seated Quarter, No Motto, Arrows
Year of Issue: 1854-55
Mintage (Circulation): High: 12,380,000 (1854); Low: 176,000 (1855-O)
Mintage (Proof): 5 (1853)
Alloy: 90% silver and 10% copper
Weight: 6.22 g
Diameter: 24.30 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht, from sketches by Titian Peale/Thomas Sully
REV Designer: John Reich | William Kneass

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.
 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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