Collectors might be tempted to think if they've seen one coin with
the Seated Liberty design they've seen them all.
because the Seated Liberty coinage design bears the distinction of
being the longest-running design for any U.S. silver coin doesn't mean
that the quarter dollar series didn't produce a few interesting
In fact, change is the most constant aspect of
these coins, struck from 1838 to 1891. The obverse design for the
coins was the work of Christian Gobrecht, based on a drawing by Thomas
Sully. The essential difference in the obverse design is whether extra
fabric is or is not present at Liberty's elbow. Seated Liberty quarter
dollars dated 1838, 1839 and 1840 are minus the extra fabric, while
coins dated 1840 to 1891 do exhibit drapery.
COIN VALUES: See how much Seated LIberty quarter coins are
The reverse eagle design is credited to John Reich, William Kneass,
Robert B. Hughes, Gobrecht and Sully. The eagle, with wings partially
raised, looks to the viewer's left. In its right claw it holds an
olive branch and in its left claw, three arrows.
were sometimes used to symbolize preparedness. Olive branches
symbolize peace and are considered the international emblem of
friendship and accord.
Arrows of another kind were used
on the obverse of this series in certain years. In early 1853 the
weight of all fractional silver coins was reduced by about 7 percent
to prevent hoarding and melting. To distinguish between the old and
new weights, arrows were placed on either side of the date on the half
dime through half dollar on the new-weight coins. On the reverse, rays
were put around the eagle on the quarter and half dollar. The rays
were removed about 1853, and the arrows after 1855.
1866 another new design element was added. All silver dollars, half
dollars and quarter dollars incorporated the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on
The idea for the motto began with Baptist
minister Mark R. Watkinson, who wrote to U.S. Secretary of the
Treasury Salmon P. Chase on Nov. 13, 1861, suggesting that U.S. coins
bear some recognition of God.
Chase took the matter under
consideration and in a Nov. 20, 1861, letter to U.S. Mint Director
James Pollack, Chase stated: "No nation can be strong except in
the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our
people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause
a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto
expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national
An Act of April 22, 1864, authorized
the change in the composition of the 1-cent coin as well as the
striking of 2-cent coins. The Mint director was also given authority
to determine the mottoes on U.S. coins, with the approval of the
Treasury secretary, paving the way for the addition of the IN GOD WE
TRUST motto legend.
However, not all 1866 Seated Liberty
quarter dollars were struck with the motto. At least one 1866 Seated
Liberty, No Motto quarter dollar is known. In fact, at least one 1866
half dollar and two 1866 silver dollars are known without the motto.
There are no Mint records of the coins having been struck.
During the mid-19th century, a number of Mint employees
profited from the sale of fantasy pieces produced for collectors. The
1866 No Motto coins may be the result of this unauthorized activity by
These are just a few of the interesting
twists that make this series fun for collectors.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: