The short-lived 20-cent series was born a year before the United States celebrated its centennial. And although the series can not lay claim to the longevity of the country, the silver coin does continue to attract interest long after its birth.
COIN VALUES: See how much your Seated Liberty 20-cent coins are worth today
The obverse of the 20-cent coin bears Christian Gobrecht's design of 13 stars around a figure of Liberty seated on a rock. Gobrecht's design was first used on the silver dollars of 1840 to 1873. John Hughes and William Barber are credited with modifications made for the design's use on the 20-cent coin. An original design by Barber – showing a facing eagle with partially raised wings, three arrows in the eagle's right claw, olive branch in the other – was used on the reverse.
According to numismatic researchers this design is considered an heraldic faux pas, favoring the arrows of war over the olive branch of peace, but it was copied from the Trade dollar, which Barber also designed.
Barber, as chief engraver, engraved both the obverse and reverse designs of the coin. He served in the position of chief engraver for a short time, dying Aug. 31, 1879, just eight months after the death of his predecessor James B. Longacre. Barber's son, Charles, an assistant engraver at the time, assumed the chief engraver's position after his father's death.
Although William Barber is one of the most well-known Mint engravers who did much original work on pattern coins and also designed many medals, only the 20-cent coin and the Trade dollar were his designs selected for circulating coins.
Seated Liberty 20-cent coins were struck for only four years: 1875, 1876, 1877 and 1878, the last two years in Proof only. Coins dated 1875 were struck in Philadelphia, Carson City and San Francisco while coins dated 1876 were struck in Philadelphia and Carson City only. The first year of issue saw 38,500 coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint and 1,200 Proofs are known for this date. At the Carson City Mint there were a total of 133,290 business strikes but no known Proofs. There are six to seven Proof 1875-S coins known, probably struck to celebrate the first (or last) year of this denomination at the San Francisco Mint. No official Proof mintages were reported for this year, but it was the largest mintage of the series with 1,155,000 business strikes.
Virtually all 10,000 of the 1876-CC coins were melted at the Carson City Mint and no Proofs are known. A few of the business strikes escaped, possibly as souvenirs given to visitors. Fewer than 20 are known today. Only 14,750 1876 coins were struck for circulation and 1,150 Proofs were made at the Philadelphia Mint. The Philadelphia Mint struck 510 Proof coins dated 1877 and 600 dated 1878.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: