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Calling this series

That poor old coin had definitely seen better days. The design was worn smooth in some places, and no date was visible.  The reverse wasn’t much better; the flying eagle was identifiable but showed very little detail, and the rim was worn down into the letters, “Quarter Dollar.” To add to the coin’s problems, two scratches adorned the figure of Liberty on the obverse.

The old quarter was “culled” from circulation, in every sense of the word. But despite the wear and the abuse, from over 40 years of circulation, it was obvious to even a young collector that the coin was once a thing of beauty. The design was so unlike the plain Washington quarter that was seen all the time.

I never did find out the date on that coin, but that beat-up old quarter introduced me to a real collecting challenge: Standing Liberty quarters.

Back in the late 1960s when silver coins still circulated, Standing Liberty quarters could be found in change. Many coins called slicks were well worn, with the date worn off, but some still had dates, especially those of 1925 and later.

I found a few quarters dated 1925 to 1930, and some even had mintmarks.  Later, I found out that the date had been recessed in 1925, to make it less prone to wear. Like the Buffalo nickels, a coin that circulated side-by-side with Standing Liberty quarters, many coins had the dates worn off, even though the rest of the coin looked halfway decent. It was frustrating to find quarters that looked to be very good or fine, with that kind of detail, but have no date visible. And if the dateless quarter had a “D” or “S” mintmark, it became more frustrating.

Collectors of dateless Buffalo nickels had a product available to restore dates on their worn nickels. There was a product for silver coins, too, called Sil-Va-Date. I bought a bottle of the stuff at a local coin shop and figured I’d go to work, just as I did with my hoard of dateless Buffalo nickels. What do you know – it didn’t work. I am not sure if I didn’t follow directions, or if I had gotten a bad bottle, but I tried this product on a few of my quarters and no dates showed up.

Collecting Standing Liberty quarters was a bigger challenge than I first thought.

The quarters of the late 1920s didn’t pose much of a problem. I found a few of those in change, even a few with “D” and “S” mintmarks, but the coins were quite worn. The photos of Mint State quarters in the Red Book showed the full design.  It was a beautiful coin in full Mint bloom, with details on the figure of Liberty, the shield, the eagle, and some had a Liberty head with full details. When I first noticed Standing Liberty quarters in the late 1960s, however, no one paid much attention to full head details.

The first coin to the set, the famous and rare 1916, was a collector’s challenge if there ever was one. Only 52,000 were made, a very low mintage by 20th century standards. But they had to get out in circulation.

I saw one or two at coin shops that had plenty of wear, and that important date was visible.  Weak, but visible. The famous New York Subway Hoard contained 19 of the 1916 Standing Liberty quarters, including two in extremely fine condition, among other scarce coins.  I wondered how many 1916 Standing Liberty quarters had their dates worn off.

I once read in a coin publication that there was a way to tell 1916 and 1917 Type I quarters apart if their dates were worn off. Certain details on the head and the toes differed, and the ornamental border at the top of the coin was different, too.

As I didn’t have any Type I quarters at the time, I couldn’t use this information.  I queried a coin magazine about this and got the response, “the descriptions probably pertain to a brand new coin.” Well, if the coins were brand new, the dates would show clearly, and a collector wouldn’t have to study the figure of Liberty to learn the date.

During this time, I came very close to realizing my dream of finding a 1916 Standing Liberty quarter; in fact, I came as close as a collector could. I found a 1917 Type I quarter in change, with the last two digits of the date barely readable. This was the oldest quarter I ever received in change.

As a young collector, I found the challenge too difficult, and I didn’t pursue Standing Liberty quarters for long. Years later, I took up the challenge again.

While visiting one of my favorite coin shops, I noticed a complete set of Standing Liberty quarters in an old Library of Coins album. A nice circulated 1916 led off this set. The coin showed some wear, but the date was bold. The next coin was a 1917 Type I with mint luster – very different from the slick coin I pulled from circulation years before.

That 1917 was the only coin that showed any luster. The remaining coins were circulated, some showing more wear than others, but a great set to see all at once. Each coin had a full date. This would have been a wonderful set to buy and study, and of course, it was a full set of Standing Liberty quarters, found with no challenge.  The 1916 put this set out of my budget. On my next visit, the set was gone. Some lucky – and astute – collector had snapped it up.

Seeing a set of these beautiful quarters inspired me to build my own set. I didn’t expect to find every single date in blazing Mint State with full details, but I thought a “nice circulated” set could be worthwhile. Yes, it was still a challenge.

Some of the more common dates were purchased in Mint State or almost Mint State. One of the first Standing Liberty quarters I bought was the 1917 Type I.  A lovely coin with plenty of detail and sparkling mint luster, it was a virtual twin to the coin I saw in the Library of Coins album. That coin wasn’t difficult to locate, but a few others took some searching.

The 1919-D, while never number one on the quarter hit parade, wasn’t easy to find. I saw a few well-worn ones, and perhaps one in Mint State, but a coin in very fine or extremely fine turned out to be scarce.

1921 is a favorite year for coin collectors, and the year is quite special for quarter collectors. This coin was not easy to find in any condition. A thorough search of coin shops in the area failed to turn up a single specimen in any condition. One of my favorite dealers did find one that fit perfectly into my set. The coin had light circulation marks, some wear and the date wasn’t all that strong, but the coin had an overall pleasing appearance. The eagle on the reverse looked good, with claims to a higher condition.

Standing Liberty quarters can show any collector that grading is an art and not a science. A collector can look up these quarters in any grading book and read descriptions of the various states of preservation. Real quarters, however, may not be true to the descriptions. These quarters are tricky to grade and, in fact, have three grading standards. There are differences in the Type I and Type II quarters, of course, but the early Type II coins, and those of 1925 or later, have different standards, because of the date wearing off so quickly. 

When my collection of Standing Liberty quarters began to take shape, and more holes in the album were filled, I could see how the wear patterns showed on the early coins and the later issues.  The later dates, except for the 1927-D and “S,” were fairly easy to obtain, even in higher grades, but the coins without the recessed dates were harder to find in high grade circulated condition. Many of the coins showed good detail, on the figure of Liberty, the shield and the wall, but dates looked weak. The 1923-S coin, a key date, looked as if it hadn’t circulated very long, but the date wasn’t that strong. The date on my 1924-P, not considered an especially rare coin, was quite weak, although the rest of the coin looked great.

On the other hand, most of the later dates looked nice, strong date and all.  The 1928-P I found had only the slightest wear, and showed some pink toning. It was not a perfect coin by any means, but very pretty in its own way.

The Standing Liberty quarter is considered to be one of the most beautiful United States coins, and it is indeed, when the coin is in Mint State or has only slight wear. I was right when I guessed that the old worn quarter I got in change had been a lovely coin when it was first minted.

My album had a hole for the famous overdate, the 1918-S with “8” over “7,” but I doubted I would ever get this coin.  The 1916 coin was expensive, and so was the overdate.  I wondered how many overdates were lost, due to the date wearing off. Maybe one of the mintmarked and dateless coins I got in change was the rare overdate.

That 1916 opening in the album remained empty. I attended quite a few conventions and saw 1916 Standing Liberty quarters in every grade, but the price was always out of sight. One dealer at the Florida United Numismatists show had a selection of 1916 quarters and was happy to show them to me, and told me I was a rarity myself – a woman who collected Standing Liberty quarters. But even now, the 1916 is a dream coin.

A beautiful 1916 Standing Liberty quarter was auctioned at a recent FUN show, and I remember seeing newscasters from the area speaking to the dealers involved in the sale. That weekend, as I boarded a tour bus to Epcot, I heard the driver asking, “What did that topless quarter sell for?”

The Type I quarter was famous for that design, the “topless quarter” as the driver called it. A popular television program featured a story on this coin and implied that the coin was valuable because of this design, not mentioning that the Type I quarter was minted in much greater numbers in 1917.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac once ran an article on this coin, too.

Most of the later dates were not difficult to locate, but the 1927-D and “S” proved challenging. 

When I became serious about collecting these quarters, the “full head” quarters became popular. The Type I and Type II quarters, too, had different grading standards for a full head. Since most of my coins were higher grade circulated, I wasn’t concerned with full head detail, although in my searching I saw a number of full head coins. I found that every 1930-S quarter I saw had a flat head, even though this coin from the final year of issue was not hard to find in Mint State.

The silver one-ounce rounds, available at many coin shops, have designs modeled after classic United States coins, including the Standing Liberty quarter.  It’s a good idea to get one to keep with a set, to compare, and to see how this pretty coin would look in proof.

Those collectors who want to build a set of coins quickly, with every single coin in full Mint State and spectacular detail, would not be happy collecting Standing Liberty quarters – especially in the way I went about it.  Much searching, a good eye for detail, a willingness to look at many coins of the series, and some tolerance of frustration are all parts of collecting these beautiful coins. It’s a short set, but quite challenging, even after many years.        

 

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