Grading Standing Liberty Quarters (1916-1930)
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Most 20th Century United States coin series enjoy steady popularity among American collectors, but it seems that Standing Liberty quarters have not kept pace. The demand for type coins is strong, particularly examples displaying full head details in Liberty's portrait. But there are fewer collectors of this series by date and mint than for issues such as Buffalo nickels and Walking Liberty halves. Perhaps this is because of the 1916 and 1918/7-S quarters (two very expensive issues). While acquiring the overdate may be considered optional, a set really isn't complete without the scarce and costly 1916 quarter. Though this has nothing to do with the subject of grading, I just can't help noting how unfortunate it is that more collectors don't seek these beautiful and challenging coins by date and mint.
There really is no single set of grading standards for this series as it includes three different subtypes, each of which is graded somewhat differently. As noted in The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins, one of the factors in determining the grade of a circulated Standing Liberty quarter is the amount of its date showing. Type 1 (1916-17) and Type 2 (1917-24) quarters have their dates exposed atop a pedestal, causing this feature to wear as soon as the coins entered circulation. Type 3 (1925-30) quarters were struck from modified dies in which the date was sunken within the pedestal and thus protected from immediate wear. In my opinion the ANA's grading guide misleads users by lumping the Type 2 and Type 3 quarters together under a single set of grading criteria. The fact is that the exposed date of Type 2 quarters frequently is almost worn away on coins which otherwise grade as high as Very Fine. A barely discernible date, despite whatever detail may be visible, is cause for downgrading. The protected date area of Type 3 quarters renders this feature almost meaningless in determining grade. Applying a single set of grading criteria is comparing apples and oranges, and the Type 3 coins merit their own grading criteria.
The usual considerations apply when grading mint state Standing Liberty quarters. After evaluating a coin's eye appeal, surface quality, luster and sharpness of strike (in approximately that descending order of importance), NGC's graders can arrive at a numeric grade. NGC will not certify coins which have been damaged, harshly cleaned or treated in some manner to alter their surfaces. NCS certification provides a back-up for such pieces, though the grades assigned are non-numeric and include a brief description of the existing problem condition.
After the graders have arrived at a number, Standing Liberty quarters must be further evaluated to determine whether enough detail is present in the features of Liberty's head to assign the supplemental designation FH for "full head." The majority of 1916 quarters, as well as many Type 2 and 3 pieces, show only a silhouette of Liberty's profile, lacking the features of hair and face. Since full head quarters are highly prized by both type collectors and series specialists, grading services such as NGC must distinguish this feature, listing separate population figures for each date/mint combination with and without the FH designation. The ANA's grading guide defines the criteria for designating a full head coin as: "All details in hair are well defined; hair line along face is raised and complete; eyebrow is visible; cheek is rounded."
Some of the issues for which full head examples are most available include 1917 Type 1, 1917 Type 2, 1925, 1929 and 1930. Note that all are Philadelphia Mint coins. The products of this mint were better struck in all respects than those of Denver and San Francisco and make superior type coins. Date and mint collectors, however, will enjoy the challenge of locating well-struck branch mint coins.
From One to Seventy originally ran in The Numismatist, official publication of the American Numismatic Association (www.money.org)
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