For more than eight years, Numismatic News reader Saverio Barbieri has been searching for 1857 Seated Liberty quarters featuring a ?Smoking Miss Liberty.? On the variety he seeks, even under low magnification, it appears that she is relaxing with a cigar held between the forefingers of her right hand. It seems so unmistakable that Barbieri is convinced that the ?cigar? may have been cut into the die in jest by an engraver or other workman inside the Mint on a slow day when they had nothing better to do.
Barbieri has found 28 examples of the ?cigar? variety since he first became aware of it in 2000. He said, ?I have looked at at least a thousand for each one I have found and probably more. I search only for this piece at the shows and ask every dealer if they have any. I have been fanatical in my search. I look at eBay every morning to see the additional 1857 listings.?
His collector friend, John O?Hare first showed him the variety at their local coin shop. They originally thought it was added to the coin after it left the Mint, but soon discovered otherwise as more examples were found. O?Hare still has just the one example.
While most of Barbieri?s specimens have come from eBay, his two finest pieces were found at the Florida United Numismatists show, which he has attended searching for this coin for the past six years. They graded NGC MS-64 and MS-61. They are the only two he has found there so far.
He said he took examples of the coin to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and ANACS asking if they?d certify it for the variety and indicated that they both said it was an ?unknown? and would not attribute it. He feels it is an unknown because collectors have overlooked it for many years ignoring the obverse die characteristics for the reverse. He suggests that most collectors only look at the reverse for the highly touted 1857 quarter with a clashed die from an 1857 Flying Eagle cent reverse die.
Unfortunately, we cannot be sure of the exact cause of this variation. Was it random die damage, a die break or intentional engraving? A close examination seems to rule out a die break, as it appears too straight and symmetrical, lacking the ragged edges and layering that we see on most die breaks. However, it could just as well be the result of a random die gouge or die dent, as it could be intentional engraving. With the passage of over 150 years since these quarters were made, the likelihood of ever knowing the exact cause is perhaps best described as remote.
Still, the effect is very interesting to say the least and we can never predict which die varieties will catch on with collectors and become ?majors? and which won?t tickle the fancy of collectors and will remain unknowns.
Since the 1857 Seated Liberty quarter is a common date for the type, there is no reason why cherrypicking a few ?Smoking Liberty? quarters for your collection as a curiosity wouldn?t make sense if for no other reason than for a good chuckle. And if it catches on, you?ll be glad you saved a few.
Barbieri has been collecting coins since 1991 and collects Morgan dollars, Walking Liberty halves, early commemoratives, state quarters and some generic gold and silver.
Ken Potter is the official attributer of world doubled dies for the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America and for the National Collectors Association of Die Doubling. He also privately lists other collectible variety types on both U.S. and world coins in the Variety Coin Register. More information on either of the clubs or how to get a coin listed in the Variety Coin Register may be obtained by sending a long, self-addressed envelope with 58 cents postage to P.O. Box 760232, Lathrup Village, MI 48076, or by contacting him via e-mail at KPotter256@aol.com. An educational image gallery may be viewed on his Web site at www.koinpro.com.