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Even by type, quarters a challenge

It used to be that collecting quarters by type created a compact little set. Because assembling a small set is much cheaper to do than collecting every quarter by date and mintmark since the first one was struck in 1796, type collecting has been popular.


However, since 1999, the size of the quarter type set has exploded. It is all a matter of the many designs that have been introduced since the advent of the state quarter program.

But even this rapid increase in the number of quarter design types does not overturn the basic logic of a type set – especially the financial logic.

While type collecting is cheaper than date and mintmark collecting, assembling a type set of quarters is not cheap. A quarter type collection is quite a challenge and it includes a number of interesting and sometimes very tough issues.

In the early years, the quarter was not a high priority for the Mint. While authorized at the same time as the other denominations in April of 1792, it took a long time before there was any quarter production. The authorization began the process, but before there could be quarters, there had to be a U.S. Mint and at the time the law passed there was nothing more than the basement of a saw maker by the name of John Harper in Philadelphia where assorted experiments were carried out.

Philadelphia was the capital of the United States at the time and it was logical that the new mint would be located there. Philadelphia retained its mint even after the capital of the United States was shifted to Washington, D.C., in 1800.

The 1792 half disme emerged from Harper’s basement, but that was at best a demonstration. Harper was certainly not up to the challenge of producing large numbers of assorted denominations.

Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was responsible for a mint and he got one ready in a hurry. The problem was that while ready, the facility in 1793 could not make silver and gold coins because the officials had not posted a required bond and were not about to post one. Jefferson had to get involved, finding a compromise but that took time and 1793 passed not only without quarters but also without any silver or gold coins at all.

In 1794 the bond problem was solved and Mint officials turned to silver coin production, but unlike today, the quarter was not a priority. In fact, the first silver coin production was somewhat unusual as the equipment the Mint had was good for coins only up to a half dollar in size.

In 1795 it was expected that the Mint \would have equipment for striking dollars, but officials decided not to wait. The 1794 silver dollar mintage of 1,758 pieces basically tells you all you need to know as no one believes they set out to make just 1,758 silver dollars. The equipment was simply not up to the task and only 1,758, which are almost uniformly softly struck, were the result.

With the silver dollar experiment ended, the Mint switched to half dollars, which seemed to go better. The half dime was next, but by the time they were ready to produce the first half dimes the year was basically over. In fact, while there are 1794 half dimes, none was delivered until March of 1795, making us suspect that none were actually produced in 1794.

The situation in 1795 saw half dimes as well as other denominations such as dollars, half dollars and cents, which had already been attempted, produced in greater numbers. It also saw the first attempts at gold coins, pushing the quarter back until 1796 along with the dime.

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By the time the first quarter was ready for production in 1796, the design which appeared on the first silver issues had already been changed to the Robert Scot Draped Bust obverse along with a small eagle reverse. That first production in 1796 reflected the fact that there was very little demand for quarters. Mintage totaled just 6,146 pieces, making the 1796 quarter one of the most important and difficult of all type coins.

The situation is not helped by the fact that 1796 was the only year of the design. As the historic first quarter with a mintage of 6,146 and being a one-year type, the 1796 has all the elements needed to be very expensive and in great demand. That is true. The price is $11,000 in G-4 while an MS-60 is listed at $82,500 and an MS-65 is placed at $235,000. Normally speaking for an early date like this an MS-65 price would not even be listed as so few would exist.

There were, however, a few peculiar things that happened with the 1796 quarter. The first was while still having adjustment marks and some of the flaws normal in a silver coin of the era, the 1796 appears to have been made with prooflike surfaces, making them especially nice for a coin of the time.

The second factor is someone hoarded or at least saved a significant number of the 1796 quarters. We do not know who did the saving, or why, but the reports over the years were that Col. E.H.R. Green had perhaps 200 examples in Mint State. In fact, it appears that about one-half that number is closer to the truth as the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and the Professional Coin Grading Service report fewer than 100 combined in Mint State, but even so that is a very high number for a coin from the 1790s and especially for one with such a low mintage. Every Mint State example is not perfect and some can have a flat eagle’s head, but basically speaking the 1796 is perhaps the one early coin of the United States that is consistently nicer than the others.

Back in 1796 the Mint allowed those bringing in silver or gold to select the denominations to be made from their metal and apparently the quarter was not high on anyone’s list as the next quarter was not produced until 1804, by which time the reverse was changed to a large eagle. The fact that there were mintages from 1804-1807 give some indication that the suspension of silver dollar and gold eagle production in 1804 to try to get higher mintages of lower denominations might have helped. With higher mintages other than the 1804, which was just 6,738, the type is available starting at $230 in G-4 and going up to $6,300 in MS-60 and $56,000 in MS-65. Unlike the 1796, the coins of this type while available in Mint State tend to have problems especially in the striking, which is sometimes poor even for the time.

After 1807, the quarter went through another of its seemingly regular periods of no production. This hiatus lasted until 1815 when the next type appeared using the John Reich Liberty Cap design. While this type lasted until 1828, it was not produced every year although certainly this period of quarter production was better than in the prior years and that makes them more available with a G-4 in the case of the 1828 starting around $90 while an MS-60 would begin at $2,875 and an available MS-65 would be $19,500. While the striking varies, the group in general is overlooked so here you are getting good values as the type is not as available as the prices suggest as none had a mintage of even 400,000.

After 1828 there was another period of no production that ended in 1831 with a modified design that had no E PLURIBUS UNUM as well as a slightly smaller diameter. This type would last until 1838 and with higher mintages is more available starting in G-4 at just $70 while an MS-60 is $1,100 for almost all dates and an MS-65 starts at $17,000. These dates tend to be better struck making nice examples possible at a good price.

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Part of the way through 1838 the Christian Gobrecht Seated Liberty design in its preliminary form made its debut. The 1838, 1839 and 1840-O Seated Liberty quarters would have no drapery at the elbow. While short-lived, the no drapery Seated Liberty quarters are available starting at $35 in G-4. The mintages, however, did not top one-half million, so these coins are not common and that is especially true in Mint State as few were saving quarters at the time. In MS-60 examples will cost at least $1,250 while an MS-65 of the lowest price 1838 or1839 is at $36,500 and that is frankly cheap as there are no supplies in MS-65 and above for any date.

The drapery was added in 1840 for coins produced in Philadelphia and the New Orleans issues starting with some of the 1840 mintage and that design would remain until 1853. Produced for more than a decade, the type is available at $28 in G-4 while an MS-60 can be as low as $400. An MS-65 starts around $5,000 and thanks to the long period of production they are available.

There was a change in 1853 that was brought about by the huge quantities of gold coming out of California from the Gold Rush. That might seem odd, but the newly mined gold had upset the traditional silver-to-gold ratio, making the cost of producing silver coins higher than their face value. Finally, with virtually no silver coins in circulation, the Congress took action to slightly reduce the weight of the silver issues.

Feeling obligated to identify the new and lighter coins in some way, arrows were put at the date and rays on the reverse for the new issues of 1853. The design would last only that year, making it a short-lived type. The Philadelphia mintage in particular was high at over 15 million while the New Orleans total was over 1 million and that makes the 1853 with arrows and rays available in circulated grades at $27.50. In MS-60 the more available Philadelphia version is $900 while an MS-65 is $17,000. That seemingly high MS-65 price reflects the high demand and the fact that the quality was not good as the heavy production saw little care taken in the coins being produced.

In 1854 and 1855 the rays were eliminated from the reverse and but the arrows lasted for these two additional years. Again there were large mintages so a G-4 can be found at just $27.50. In MS-60 the more available Philadelphia 1854 or 1855 are around $460, but an MS-65 is again a problem with the 1854 being the least expensive at $8.900 and in this case attractive examples are much more available than is the case with the 1853.

Without the arrows or rays, the design in 1856 was basically the same as the design in 1852, so you can add a date from the period although they are not required being the same as earlier issues. The prices might make it a desired option as an available MS-60 from the 1856-1866 period is just $280 while an MS-65 is likely to start at $4,000 or above.

The change in 1866 was the addition of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to the reverse over the eagle. This type because they were only produced in small numbers is much tougher than might be expected. The most available date in G-4 is the 1872 from Philadelphia at $30. An MS-60 is currently $450 in the case of the 1873 while the 1873 is also the most available MS-65 at $5,000. Proofs, though, are cheaper than MS-65 pieces thanks to the quantities saved by collectors of the time.

The next change would come in 1873. It was caused by the Comstock Lode as there was more silver coming out of the ground than the market could absorb. That meant declining prices. The logical answer in the minds of those owning the mines was to use more silver. That produced legislation in 1873, which authorized a larger Trade dollar and also increased the amount of silver in other denominations. The increase was not large, but producing millions of coins each year it was a case of every little bit helping at least in the minds and wallets of those owning the mines. To mark the new and slightly heavier silver issues, arrows were placed at the date in 1873 and 1874.

The Seated Liberty quarter with arrows at the date had relatively modest mintages except for the 1873, which was over 1.2 million. That makes it the available date at $28 in G-4 while and MS-60 is $725 with an MS-65 at $3,900. It is worth noting that top quality examples are not easily found as with the low mintage and low saving, the supply today is not strong especially in the highest grades.

After 1874 the regular design would return and last through the final Seated Liberty quarter in 1891. The most available of the dates that would technically be the same type as earlier issues are the earlier ones such as the 1875 which are $27.50 in G-4, $245 in MS-60 and $1,600 in MS-65. Some quantities are available of the earlier dates. The later dates are more difficult as they had very low mintages as the United States had plenty of silver coins. Coins that had gone into hiding during the Civil War or sent to Canada because of inflation fears came out of their hiding places in the 1880s. Falling prices also dampened demand for coins.

The Barber quarter would make its debut in 1892 although interest in it was minimal especially considering the fact that it was a new design. There would be only one design for the Barber quarter series with lower grade circulated examples being available basically at silver related prices. In MS-60 the cheapest Barber quarter is about $215 while an MS-65 is $1,275. Realistically the Barber quarter is something of a sleeper from the past century as especially in MS-65 the numbers available are not large and only a lack of demand keeps the current prices at modest levels.

The quarter saw perhaps its best design introduced in 1916 as late in the year the first Standing Liberty quarter was released. The 1916 and some examples of the 1917 would be one type as in 1917 there was a design change with the addition of a jacket of armor covering Liberty’s previously exposed breast and three stars were set below the eagle on the reverse.

Those changes made the 1916 and some examples of the 1917 a different type and one that is in great demand from type collectors. The Philadelphia 1917 is the most available date of the type and it is $50 in G-4 with an MS-60 at $205 while an MS-65 is $685. Because few coins struck up fully, an MS-65 with a full head of Liberty is $1,500. The prices are higher than might normally be expected but that is because of the high demand especially for the nicest examples.

The rest of the Standing Liberty quarters have the new design introduced in 1917 and while not common, they are available. The most available dates are at basically silver related prices in lower grades while an MS-60 would be $92 with an MS-65 at $485 and the most available MS-65 with a full head at $900.

In 1932 the quarter would experience another change as the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington saw initial plans for a commemorative changed to a circulating quarter by the Congress. The change caused quite a fight between the Treasury and the Commission of Fine Arts, but the Secretary of the Treasury has the final authority to pick the design he likes, so the John Flanagan Washington quarter design was approved.

The Washington quarter is readily available. The first type was 90 percent silver and it would last until 1965. The 90 percent silver Washington quarters despite heavy melting around 1980 are available with an MS-60 at roughly $8.10 while an MS-65 is at least $12.

Starting in 1965 all silver was removed from the Washington quarter struck for circulation. There are silver examples struck since 1992 in special silver proof sets. It is interesting to note that MS-65 examples of the early clad quarters are priced similarly to the last silver versions. Why? Low striking quality is one reason, but also, collectors did not like them when first issued and they saved fewer of them.

There was a special Washington quarter in 1976. It was the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence and while a commemorative might have been in order officials wanted to stay away from commemoratives because of problems in the past. Instead they held a competition for special one-year reverses for the quarter, half dollar and dollar. In reality, the coins were made for 18 months with the quarter design being a drummer boy. This was very popular. These coins have the dual dates 1776-1976. No quarters were struck with the 1975 date.
There were both regular clad business strikes as well as special BU and proof silver clad examples of the Bicentennial quarters. Whatever the composition, examples are readily available today, though the MS-65 copper-nickel pieces have higher prices than the 40-percent silver version.

Bicentennial quarters continue to be very popular with both collectors and the general public.

The quarter type collector is then confronted with a real flood of possibilities in the form of the 50-state quarters which began in 1999. With 50 states there are the normal clad examples as well as special silver examples available in special sets. The choice as to what to include in your type collection is up to you as there are 50 clads and 50 silver examples which could be included in a collection.

(Editor’s note: This was followed in 2009 with six D.C. and Territories quarters designs and then five designs each year starting in 2010 for the America the Beautiful series.)

No other circulating denomination of the United States has the sheer numbers of different types as the quarter. That makes a quarter type collection an interesting and large one, although the cost is not as high as would be expected.

With so many coins, a quarter type collection makes for a great collection as well as a great education.

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