Some Thoughts On Standing Liberty Quarter Dollars
Posted by David W. Lange, NGC Research Director on 8/1/2006
The Standing Liberty Quarter series is a favorite of mine, and I've written about it a number of times in this column. While previous studies centered around a particular theme, such as the nuances of grading this coin type or an examination of who really created the revised Type 2 quarter, this installment will consist of some random observations that did not fit neatly into the other columns.
This coin type has always stood out as special to me, perhaps because it was so elusive in my early days of collecting. When I discovered the hobby 40 years ago, I could still find collectable examples of this series' contemporaries, coins such as Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes and Walking Liberty half dollars. The dimes were common, the halves a little less so. Most of the nickels were dateless, but I did find some early ones that still had barely discernible dates, as well as a few later pieces with fully readable dates. When it came to Standing Liberty quarters, however, all were dateless by then, as collectors had long since squirreled away those having readable dates. It seemed that this coin type, though of the same vintage as the others mentioned, was somehow always beyond my reach. That ended with my discovery of coin shops a few years later, but the Standing Liberty quarter still retains an aura of mystery to me.
Cut short after just fifteen years of production, this series has been neatly divided into two periods by collectors. The issues coined through 1924 became dateless within as little as ten years of circulation, a fact confirmed by contemporary accounts in numismatic publications. Not until the Mint placed its date within a protective exergue, beginning in 1925, did coins of this type stand a fighting chance of retaining their identity. Even then, these coins wore unevenly and became very unattractive below the grade of Fine.
This fact, combined with very high prices for the low-mintage 1916 quarter and the 1918/7-S overdate variety in all grades, has inhibited the overall popularity of this series with collectors. The cost barrier to completing a set has had a dampening effect on the values of the other issues within it, which I believe to be too low relative to their availability.
Collectors who can afford to assemble this series in Mint State condition will find that examples are not significantly different in rarity from the dimes and halves of the same period, and prices are probably in line with actual availability. This is certainly not true, however, for those attempting to put together a nice set in circulated grades. While most of the 1925-30 quarters are available in all circulated grades, the prices for nice examples seem lower than they would be if there were as many collectors for this series as there are for contemporary dimes and halves.
The difference in availability between the later coins, with their protected dates, and the earlier issues is vastly under appreciated by anyone who has not attempted to complete a set in the higher circulated grades. In my own collecting of Standing Liberty quarters, I will not buy a coin that does not have all four numerals of the date visible, and this requirement excludes most of the surviving examples. Even coins that are just lightly worn may show weak or partial dates, as this feature did not strike up well. A further requirement of mine is that all coins I acquire must be free of damage and have original surfaces; that is to say, they must not have been cleaned. Attempting to assemble a full set of problem-free coins that have original surfaces and matching color is difficult for any series in circulated grades, but the Standing Liberty quarter is clearly the most challenging 20th century series under such terms.
There are several hidden rarities within the earlier, pre-1925 dates. Coins that are especially elusive with original surfaces and lacking any sort of damage include 1917-S Type 2, 1919 (all mints), 1920-D, 1921, 1923-S and 1924-S. It may surprise some readers that the 1919(P) quarter is included in this list, with a mintage of more than 11 million pieces, but the Philadelphia Mint coins weren't hoarded from circulation the way that "D" and "S" Mint coins were. Just try finding one that hasn't been cleaned in some way. The low-mintage 1923-S quarter dollar is nearly impossible to find in circulated grades having problem-free, original surfaces. In fact, I've yet to see one that is pleasing to my eye, although I've encountered a number of lovely Mint State examples over the years.
As with the cents, dimes and half dollars struck at San Francisco in 1928, the 1928-S quarter dollar may be found with two distinctive mintmarks. The normal Small S of 1917-30 is noticeably more common than the Large S unique to this year, though the difference in rarity is perhaps not enough to command a premium price. I've found that many collectors can't distinguish between the two, though the differences are fairly evident once one has become familiar with them.
David W. Lange's column USA Coin Album appears monthly in Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association