The 1840-O Seated Liberty quarter is not just the first quarter produced at the recently opened New Orleans facility. It was also the first quarter of the United States ever to be produced outside of the main facility in Philadelphia.
The situation with United States coins had been changing in the 1830s, and the changes were definitely for the better. There was new equipment, and the discovery of gold in Georgia and North Carolina had opened the door to the possibility of branch mints. The two logical choices were Dahlonega, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C., as they were in the heart of the gold discoveries.
New Orleans was a less clear situation. Certainly New Orleans had something that was important: location. The port of New Orleans had become a major transportation center. New Orleans had no gold but it did have real estate, which might have been better than gold. The city was offering the government a choice parcel of real estate if a mint could be built and coins could be made in New Orleans.
It was an offer the government apparently could not resist so as Dahlonega and Charlotte were being approved, New Orleans was included as well.
Approving a facility in New Orleans was one thing. Actually getting that facility ready to produce coins was quite another. The project was well behind schedule and well over budget before the first coins were produced in 1838.
As would be the pattern at new branch mints, New Orleans was not ready to make all denominations immediately. The first quarter production didn’t take place until 1840 when a total of 425,200 were produced. Some of the mintage was the old design that didn’t have drapery under Liberty’s left elbow, while others had the new design that included drapery.
Precisely how many had the drapery and how many did not isn’t clear. New Orleans was prone to let some mintages end up being in the following year’s totals. The most widely accepted estimates are 382,000 pieces of the 1840-O without drapery and 43,000 with drapery.
The result today is the 1840-O without drapery is $40 in G-4, and with drapery it is $34. In MS-60 without drapery it is $1,650 as opposed to $1,100 with drapery. Both are very elusive in MS-65. The estimated mintages are far apart, but the numbers seen today leaves us with an unclear picture.
At Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, they have seen 24 no-drapery 1840-O quarters with just one being MS-65. Its with-drapery total is 26, but none are MS-65. At Professional Coin Grading Service, they report 12 Mint State examples of the 1840-O without drapery but none of the 12 were MS-65. In the case of the 1840-O with drapery, the total is twice that but still without a single MS-65.
Simply put, we have a divided grading service result and that seems to suggest that despite a potential lower mintage, the with-drapery 1840-O was saved in larger numbers at the time. The problem is we have two historic quarters from the same facility and the same year but no real proof as to which is better or the actual mintage breakdown. There are far more questions than there are answers, but there is no doubt they are good quarters.