When last we left we had just finished discussing the Kneass/Gobrecht quarter and how that two iterations of this coin ran for almost 60 years. To end our series on one of the cornerstone coins of the US we’ll talk about the most recent history of the quarter and end with the Washington quarter that most of us know and have grown up with.
Barber Quarter (1892-1916)
In the sunset years of the 1800s the United States found itself once again going through growing pains. A post-war depression raged through the country, unions began defining workers rights and their relationship to management. Scott Joplin introduced a new kind of music known as Ragtime, and the Chicago World’s Fair was introducing new technologies and sparked the imagination for generations to come. Against this backdrop, Charles Barber’s artistry was introduced to the American public.
Coins have a habit of always being referred to by their design or who is included on the coin. The Mercury Dime, The Franklin Half-Dollar, The Lincoln Cent, all named after those who were included on the coin. However, in very rare instances, the designer gets the famous (or infamous) recognition of being the creator of that particular coin. This accolade has only been given to a handful of individuals. Gobrecht and Morgan are famous for their beautiful design on the dollar coin, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is known due to the penultimate Golden Double Eagle known to numismatic collectors world wide, and Charles Barber. In Barber’s case, he became known not because of the coin that he designed, but rather, the controversies during his tenure as Chief Engraver for the US Mint.
During this time, a bill was introduced into the US Senate that authorized the Treasury Department to redesign coins without the necessity of first obtaining congressional approval, as long as the coin had been in use for twenty-five or more years. The first coin to be changed under this new bill was the quarter which had remained relatively unchanged since 1837. After a disastrous competition, Charles Barber created the design for the new quarter, however, the coin itself wasn’t without its own issues.
When the Barber quarter was first struck in 1892, it was discovered that the coins wouldn’t stack properly. This problem was resolved by altering the relief and design elements of the coin which in turn created two series of coins, Type I and Type II, both sought after by collectors. While the series has no rarities, there are a few key coins, such as the 1896-S and the 1913-S both minted out of the San Francisco Mint. The coin would finish its run in 1916 when a new contest was held and a new design was chosen. However, because of their low relief design, Barber quarters continued to circulate well into the 1950′s.
Standing Liberty Quarter (1916-1932)
The year was 1916, war was ravaging Europe, and the political climate in the US was guarded, to say the least. President Theodore Roosevelt had began recommending and using classical design motifs for the higher denominations of coinage, and now, it was the quarter’s turn. Thus, the standing liberty quarter was born. The obverse of the design featured a frontal view of Liberty in a portrayal reminiscent of Greco-Roman sculpture, with an olive branch in her right hand, but a starred shield in her left in a posture of protection, a message of Liberty ready to defend peace if necessary. The reverse featured an eagle in full flight.
There are two major design varieties for the Standing Liberty quarter, Type I and Type II. Type I was only issued for the first two years of the coins minting due to an uproar over the design of the coin featuring Liberty’s bared breast. Due to public pressure, the design was changed and the breast was covered by chainmail.
Due to the beauty of the coin, the Standing Liberty quarter is very popular with collectors today. The series is collected by date and mint or as part of a complete type or century set. Unlike many earlier issues, it is still completely possible to complete a full set in uncirculated condition, a rare treasure that few have achieved. Unfortunately, the coin’s production would be cut short due to 1932 marking the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, and in commemoration Congress approves a re-design of the quarter.
Washington Quarter (1932-)
Which leads us to the Washington Quarter. This quarter is one of the longest running coins in American History. Having started in 1932 and is continued in circulation today, 80 years after its inception. There have only been two major changes to the Washington quarter since it began circulation in 1932, the change in composition from silver to a sandwich metal of copper and nickel, and in 1975 when Jack Ahr’s Bicentennial “Drummer Boy” design appeared on the reverse of the coin from 1975-77. Since 1932, over 21 billion business strikes and 60 million proofs have been issued, an amazing quantity by any standard.
Well, that wraps up this series on one of the cornerstones of American numismatics. From humble beginnings to one of the most used coins today. Now if you excuse me, I have some quarters to sift through.