The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
For several years leading up to 1853, few U.S. silver coins remained in circulation, because they were worth more melted than in their coined form. The root cause for this was the immense discoveries of gold in California that lowered the market price of gold in terms of silver. As Walter Breen describes in the Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, this 'eventually (led) to a point where bullion dealers found they could make 'endless chain' profits by melting down silver coins bought for face value and reselling the silver. All of the mints' output of silver vanished into hoarders' hands, and most of it went to bullion dealers, less and less silver reached the Mint for coinage, reflected in the diminishing mintages of 1850-52.'
The Act of February 21, 1853, reduced the weight of silver coins to a figure that would eliminate bullion dealers' profits and thus discourage further melting. The Act authorized the coinage of quarters at 96 grains, compared with the former 103 1/8 grains. Mint Director George Eckert realized that the new coins had to have an identifying mark to distinguish them from earlier ones. For the quarter (and half dollar as well), he placed arrows at each side of the date, with rays behind the eagle. (The dimes and half dimes included only the arrows.) This design format (for the quarters and half dollars) lasted only one year, with a reminder of the reduced weight carried on through 1855 in the form of arrowheads only. More than 15 million quarters were struck of the Arrows and Rays design. They were a smashing success. One Philadelphia paper reported that the Mint had 'fully overcome the complaint among the small dealers of a want of change.' The new coins served their purpose excellently. For the first time since the establishment of the Mint in 1793, the nation had an adequate supply of fractional coins of uniform quality.
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