Quarters – Liberty Seated Quarter, Arrows, 1854-1855

Through the Mint Act of February 21, 1853, the weights of fractional silver coins (half dime, dime, quarter, and half dollar) were reduced to remove the incentive the melt those coins for bullion; the silver content of the older heavier-weight coins was worth more than their face value. So that the new lighter-weight quarters could be easily distinguished from the previous issues an arrowhead was added to each side of the obverse date, and rays extending outward from the eagle were added to the reverse. Over 16 million quarters with Arrows and Rays were produced in 1853, which effectively ended the shortage of small change in commerce that had prevailed in the early 1850s. Because the older heavy-weight quarters were still selling for bullion value in 1854, Mint Director James Ross Snowden continued previous Director George N. Eckert’s design of a short arrow on each side of the obverse date.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

However, the reverse rays were eliminated, producing another of the many Seated quarter types. This change was most likely done because of the extra time needed to produce dies with the rays, and possibly because of excessive die wear from the pressure needed to fully form the design into the blank. Over 17 million quarters were produced in 1854 and 1855, most from the Philadelphia Mint. Dies for minting 1854 quarters were sent to San Francisco, but no quarters were struck at that mint until 1855, the first example from that branch mint apparently a proof coin. In 1856 the arrows were also removed, but quarters continued to be produced at the lower weight until the design was again changed by the addition of the IN GOD WE TRUST motto in 1866. Seated quarters minted from 1856 through 1865 could be considered a separate type, but usually are not because the only significant distinction between these coins and those produced from 1838 through 1853 is the weight.

Seated quarters of this period also came to represent an example of the unintended consequences of government 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 of coins. The Act specified that the Mint sell new silver coins to the public in exchange for only gold coins, and required purchase of silver bullion only from the Mint’s bullion fund. Instead, Director Snowden produced the new coins for depositors of silver bullion. This effectively creating 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; and the coins would not be redeemed or exported for metal because bullion value was now less than face value. As surpluses built, 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.

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

The reverse has a centered left-facing eagle, with extended but partly folded wings. The eagle clutches three arrows in the left claw and an olive branch in the right; a Union shield is placed over the chest. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA forms a concentric arc around the top two-thirds of the surface, inside of the dentils circling the rim, with the denomination of QUAR. DOL. at the bottom visually completing the circle. Liberty Seated, Arrows quarters were minted at Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco; O and S mintmarks are located above QUAR. DOL., just below the crossed ends of the branch and the arrows.

Several hundred business strike Seated, Arrows, quarters are listed in census/ population reports, most from the Philadelphia Mint, with significantly fewer representing the branch New Orleans and San Francisco mints. Prices for Philadelphia examples are modest to MS60, expensive finer (very expensive as Gem and finer). New Orleans and San Francisco pieces are expensive finer than AU55, very expensive as Select Uncirculated and finer (though less so for the 1854-O). The 1854-O, Huge O quarters are very expensive at all grades finer than XF. Very few proof Arrows only Seated quarters have been certified, though some pieces have received the Cameo designation. All proofs are expensive, increasing to very expensive finer than PR62; Cameo pieces have slight premiums. The 1855-S proof is considered unique.

Designer:Christian Gobrecht, from Thomas Sully sketches; reverse after John Reich and William Kneass
Circulation Mintage: high 12,380,000 (1854), low 176,000 (1855-O)
Proof Mintage: high 25 (1854, estimated), low 1 (1855-S)
Denomination: Twenty-five cents (25/100)
Diameter: 24.3 mm; reeded edge
Metal Content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 6.22 grams
Varieties: Best known is the 1854-O, Huge O (apparently added by hand at the New Orleans Mint); a few other minor die varieties have been identified.

Additional Resources:
CoinFacts: www.coinfacts.com
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
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.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.

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