History of the American Quarter

Posted on February 15, 2021

Worth 25 cents, the American quarter is short for a quarter dollar since it one-fourth of a dollar. With its recent designs honoring the states and national parks, these coins are must-haves for any collector.

History of the Quarter

Under the Coinage Act of 1792, the U.S. Mint was formed in Philadelphia, but quarters didn't get minted until 1796 because Spanish-American coins were still in circulation [1]. Since its inception, the quarter has undergone myriad changes over the past 200-plus years, and it's important to know its history.

Draped Bust (1796-1807)

Designed and engraved by the first Mint Engraver Robert Scot, the Draped Bust quarter was required by the Coinage Act of 1792 to have an impression of Liberty along with an inscription [2]. The obverse of the coin has Lady Liberty's right profile with 13 stars surround her. These stars represented the 13 colonies. The word 'LIBERTY' was above her head, and the date was at the bottom.

The coin's reverse had a bald eagle, but there were two versions released during the Draped Bust's mintage. The Small Eagle was minted in 1796, and the Heraldic Eagle was minted from 1804-1807. The eagle has a shield on its breast, and its talons hold 13 arrows and an olive branch. In its beak is a scroll that reads 'E PLURIBUS UNUM,' and 13 stars are above its head.

Capped Bust (1815-1838)

After a hiatus from 1808 through 1814, the quarter began production again. This lapse was due to a coin shortage in the country due to the War of 1812, and production picked up after the war concluded.

John Reich, who was the assistant to Mint Engraver Robert Scot, created the design, which was similar to other silver coins minted during this time. Liberty faces left and wears a cloth cap with the words 'LIBERTY' on its band. She's surrounded by 13 stars, with the date below her profile.

On the reverse side, an eagle sits perched on a branch with three arrows in its grasp and a shield on its breast. A scroll above the eagle says, 'E PLURIBUS UNUM,' while the 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' and '25C' are below. This marked the first time the coin's denomination was on the quarter.

In 1831, the quarter saw a reduction in its diameter and the design slightly altered. The scroll was removed in this new design, and other details on the coin were enhanced.

Seated Liberty (1838-1891)

During the Seated Liberty quarters, six different designs were minted. Artist Thomas Sully created sketches of this new design, and Assistant Engraver Christian Gobrecht modified for final approval.

On this quarter, Liberty sits on a rock and holds a pole with a liberty cap on top. Her right hand rests on a shield that reads 'LIBERTY.' There are 13 stars surrounding Liberty, and the date is at the bottom.

The reverse has an eagle based on the earlier designs done by John Reich. There's a shield on its breast, and in its talons are three arrows and an olive branch. 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' is above the eagle, while 'QUAR. DOLLAR' appears at the bottom.

Barber (1892-1915)

In 1890, the Treasury Department reached out to 10 artists seeking a new design for silver coins. The winning design was done by Chief Engraver at the Mint, Charles Barber.

On the obverse, Liberty is facing right while wearing a liberty cap. 'LIBERTY' is in her headband, and 'IN GOD WE TRUST' is above her head. The date is listed below her neck, and 13 stars surround her.

The reverse has an eagle with its wings spread, holding an olive branch and three arrows. In its beak is a scroll that reads 'E PLURIBUS UNUM.' There are 13 stars above the eagle, along with 'QUARTER DOLLAR' and 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.'

Standing Liberty (1916-1930)

The Standing Liberty was designed by sculptor Herman A. MacNeil and features Liberty standing and facing eastward. She has a shield in her left hand and an olive branch in her right. She stands in front of a gate adorned with 13 stars. The word 'LIBERTY' is above, 'IN GOD WE TRUST' split between the gate and the date is below.

The reverse has an eagle in full flight with its wings raised adorned by 13 stars. Under the eagle is 'QUARTER DOLLAR' with 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' and 'E PLURIBUS UNUM' above.

Washington Quarter (1932-Present)

To honor the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth, the Treasury sought to update the quarter. Sculptor John Flanagan created the design, which has a left-facing bust of Washington. 'LIBERTY' is above his head and 'IN GOD WE TRUST' is to his left. The date sits below.

The reverse has an eagle with outstretched wings with arrows and an olive branch below. 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' and 'E PLURIBUS UNUM' are above the eagle, while 'QUARTER DOLLAR' is below.

All coins issued up until 1964 were 90% silver and 10% copper but afterward are made of a copper-nickel clad composition of 75% copper and 25% nickel.

The series continued until 1999 when the first of several series debuted:

  • 50 State: From 1999 to 2008, the state coins were minted. There was one for each state and released in the order they were admitted to the Union or ratified. In 2009, D.C. and five U.S. territories got their own quarters. All coins had Washington's profile on one side, while the other had a design relating to the state.
  • America the Beautiful: Begun in 2010, this program produces 56 quarters over 12 years and features a national park or site in all 50 states, D.C. and five U.S. territories.

Future of the Quarter

Once the America the Beautiful program ends, the U.S. Mint doesn't have any plans to create new quarters. Rumors have floated around about honoring new landmarks, but as of mid-2020, nothing had been finalized. Regardless, the quarter remains popular among collectors, particularly the recent coins honoring the states and national parks.

1. United States Mint, 'The History of U.S. Circulating Coins,' https://www.usmint.gov/learn/history/us-circulating-coins. Accessed September 28, 2020.

2. United States Mint. 'Coinage Act of 1792,' https://www.usmint.gov/learn/history/historical-documents/coinage-act-of-april-2-1792. Accessed September 28, 2020.