Collecting United States coins by mintmark varieties did not become popular until the publication in 1893 of Augustus G. Heaton’s Treatise on Mint Marks. This monograph listed various “causes of attractiveness” of mintmarks and spurred interest in them. As unusual as it may seem today, prior to 1893, few people cared whether a coin bore an “S,” “CC,” “O,” or other mint designation. It was only the date that counted. Most numismatists simply ordered Proofs from the mint each year, satisfying their collecting requirements. No attention whatsoever was paid to the Carson City Mint producing quarter dollars in 1870, for example. Thus, many numismatic treasures were irretrievably lost.
Even after the publication of Mint Marks in 1893, interest was slow in gaining momentum. Although John M. Clapp ordered pieces from the Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco Mint each year, he was in the minority. Most probably, not more than a handful of others did the same thing. According to B. Max Mehl, who discussed the situation with the author circa 1955-1956, interest in a substantial way in mintmarks did not begin until August 1909 when the Lincoln cent was released. Almost immediately, it was realized that the presence of a tiny “S” mintmark on a newly minted Lincoln cent made it more valuable, worth, say, a nickel or a dime instead of just a cent. The public scrambled to look for mintmarks and find such pieces. In time, beginning in 1912, certain nickel five-cent pieces would be made with a “D” or “S” mintmark on the reverse. Meanwhile, interest extended gradually to dimes, quarters, and half dollars from branch mints. Morgan dollars remained an arcane specialty, quite probably due to the high face value of the pieces and their general unavailability in Mint State (many were hoarded by the Treasury Department and not available through banks).
In 1934, Wayte Raymond, a well-known New York City dealer, published the Standard Catalogue of United States Coins, which became the first regularly issued guide to mintages and prices. Before that time, anyone seeking information as to what might be available to collect had to rely upon auction catalogs, dealer price lists, or the occasionally issued catalogs put out by J.W. Scott. Now, beginning with the Standard Catalogue, prices became available on a more or less regular basis, almost every year.
Around the same time, Raymond launched a series of cardboard album pages with clear celluloid slides. This initiated the “hole-filling” syndrome. Coin collecting became far more exciting as numismatists sought to fill in the last remaining openings and acquire a coveted 1909-S V.D.B. cent, 1885 Liberty Head nickel, 1928 Hawaiian half dollar, or some other prize. In due course, the commemorative boom came along in 1935-1936 and focused nationwide attention on coin investment. Soon thereafter, Whitman Publishing Company launched its “Penny Boards,” which were widely distributed through hobby stores and spurred interest in looking through pocket change for valuable coins. By the end of the 1930s, numismatics had been firmly launched as a fine American hobby of great popularity.
By this time, attention indeed turned to mintmarked issues. Those reaching back into the Liberty Seated series and desiring to acquire coins had to be satisfied with pieces that had been extracted from circulation years earlier, and which were mostly graded in worn grades. It was soon realized that many issues, particularly those of branch mint, could be produced in large quantities yet be quite rare in Uncirculated grade (the term “Mint State” was not used until years later), simply because no one was interested in saving them. As noted, in the Liberty Seated quarter dollar series, such pieces proved much more elusive than in other Liberty Seated disciplines.
As the years went on, many other changes occurred, too numerous to recite here. It should be noted that the Guide Book of United States Coins made its debut in 1946 (bearing a cover date of 1947) and that Numismatic News (1952) and Coin World (1960) spread the word about coin collecting to an ever-widening circle, augmented by Coinage and Coins magazines and various other periodicals. The Liberty Seated Coin Club was formed, and with its organ, The Gobrecht Journal offered a forum for all sorts of research findings on Liberty Seated quarter dollars and other denominations. For the first time, repunched dates, doubled mintmarks, cracked dies, and other unusual features became centers of attention. Much of these findings and other wisdom was eventually incorporated in 1991 in the previously-mentioned book by Larry W. Briggs, The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of United States Liberty Seated Quarters.
The Liberty Seated quarter dollar series commences with the year 1838. The obverse motif, without drapery at the elbow, is adapted from Christian Gobrecht’s illustrious silver dollar design of 1836. Matching other new silver designs of the time, the quarter dollar depicts Miss Liberty seated on a rock, her left hand holding a liberty cap on a pole and her right holding a shield inscribed LIBERTY. 13 stars are at the border, and the date is below.
The reverse depicts an eagle perched on an olive branch and holding three arrows. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is above and the denomination QUAR. DOL. is below, an adaptation, quite differently styled but similar in some respects, to that created by John Reich for silver and gold coinage in 1807. There is no motto on the reverse, E PLURIBUS UNUM having been absent from the series since 1828 (and not to reappear until 1892).
This general obverse and reverse motif, with changes as described below, was continued through 1891.
Liberty Seated quarter dollars were issued in several well-defined types, these being as follows, along with some additional notes:
- 1838-1840: Earliest style without drapery at the elbow, these encompassing the issues of 1838, 1839, and some of 1840. No motto above eagle in reverse (as is true of all through 1865). The first New Orleans quarter dollar made its appearance in 1840 within this type. That mint would continue to produce quarter dollars until 1860, after which there would be only one later issue, the long-distant 1891-O.
- 1840-1853: Style with drapery added to the elbow. This era is replete with many repunched dates, star oddities, cracked dies, and other interesting features and constitutes a particularly challenging area for numismatic specialists. Moreover, nearly all issues are major rarities at the gem Mint State level, even if many were minted. The type is concluded with the elusive 1853 Philadelphia quarter dollar, of which only a few were distributed.
- 1853: Type with arrows at the date and with a glory of rays around the eagle; type made only from spring 1853 to the end of the year. Lighter weight than preceding.
- 1854-1855: Type with arrows at the date, without rays on the reverse. Quarter dollars of the San Francisco Mint made their debut in 1855 and would be produced intermittently through the end of the series, with a notable hiatus 1879-1887.
- 1856-1865: No arrows or rays. Reduced weight, but otherwise similar in appearance to the 1840-1853 type (our No. 2 above, and sometimes combined with it for type-collecting purposes).
- 1866-1873: Motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse (continued on the following types). The Carson City Mint produced its first quarter dollars in 1870 and would strike several dates of this design type, all of which would become prime numismatic rarities.
- 1873-1874: Slightly increased weight. Arrows at the date.
- 1875-1891: No arrowheads. Increased weight as preceding. Similar in appearance to the 1866-1873 type (our No. 6 above, and sometimes combined with it for type-collecting purposes).