The Mint Act of 1890 allowed for change of coin designs every twenty-five years, and the dime, quarter, and half dollar were eligible to be changed in 1891. A contest was held to come up with a new design; judges for the entries included Engraver Charles E. Barber and artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. However, when Mint Director Edward Leech deemed the competition a “wretched failure”, Barber was assigned the task of redesigning all coins eligible for a change. The “Barbers” are one of the few coin series to be known by the name of the designer (Gobrecht, Morgan, and Saint-Gaudens being the others), but the design is also known as Liberty Head. The first year 1892 coins wouldn’t stack properly so the relief was lowered and design elements slightly altered. Production of Barber coins occurred at the same time as the introduction of a new process in the manufacture of coins. A transfer lathe copied the elements of a larger electroplated wax and gum model to a master hub the size of the actual coin. This allowed for greater precision, thus more detail and more design elements. Barber apparently took advantage of the new technology, and ironically was criticized for creating a cluttered design, but it proved to be more durable in circulation than the Hermon MacNeil Standing Liberty quarter design that followed in 1916.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The obverse right-facing Liberty portrait is similar to George Morgan’s on the dollar, but with more of the hair hidden under a Liberty cap. Surrounding the Liberty cap is a laurel wreath, tied by a bow at the back. A small band at the front, under the wreath, displays LIBERTY. Inside the dentilled rim are the words IN GOD WE TRUST at the top, the date at the bottom, with six-point stars connecting the two, six to the left and seven to the right. The reverse displays a somewhat awkwardly proportioned eagle with outstretched wings and legs, the dexter claw (viewer’s left) clutching an olive branch and the sinister a bundle of arrows. The eagle holds in its beak a ribbon displaying E PLURIBUS UNUM. The rim is dentilled and around the periphery are UNITED STATES OF AMERICA at the top and QUARTER DOLLAR at the bottom. Thirteen five-point stars fill the field above the eagle below STATES OF. Coins were minted at Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Denver; O, S, and D mintmarks are below the eagle and above the space between QUARTER and DOLLAR.
Prices for Barber quarters are moderate until Gem grades, though remaining so even at that grade for many dates. New Orleans and San Francisco branch mint coins generally have slight premiums over Denver and Philadelphia mintmarks. Quarters were minted at New Orleans through 1909, with the last year often at higher prices. Denver started minting Barber quarters in 1906, continuing through the end of the series. Key dates are 1896-S, 1901-S, and 1913-S. Mint state and gem coins are scarce to rare, more so than dimes and half dollar of the same design, and are often found with bagmarks and other abrasions. Prooflike business strikes have been certified along with cameo and deep cameo proofs. Proof coins are moderately and fairly evenly priced, increasing as Gem and finer.
Designer: Charles E. Barber
Circulation Mintage: high 12,624,000 (1899), low 40,000 (1913-S)
Proof Mintage: high 1,245 (1892), low 380 (1914, produced only at Philadelphia for every year except 1916)
Denomintion: $0.25 Quarter (25/100)
Diameter: ±24.3 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: ±6.25 grams
Varieties: Best known are two 1892 reverses, one with the eagle’s wing covering half the E in UNITED (more scarce) and one with the eagle’s wing covering most of the E. There are several minor die variations, design modifications, and overpunches.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
The Complete Guide to Barber Quarters. David Feigenbaum. DLRC Press
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.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.