Barber Quarters

The Barber Quarter was introduced in 1892, after more than five decades of use for the previous Seated Liberty motif. The new deign featuring the head of Liberty on the obverse would be adopted for the dime, quarter, and half dollar. The series of Barber Quarters, minted continuously from 1892 until 1916, consists of 74 circulation strike issues and an additional 24 proof issues for all years up to 1915. With the exception of three rare issues, the series is very collectible, although much overlooked until recent times.

image from www.coinpage.com

The story of the Barber Quarter began in 1887, when Mint director James B. Kimball included a short request within his annual report to alter the circulating coin designs. The public had become tired of them, and many considered the Liberty Seated design to be of inferior quality, especially for a nation as grand as the United States. Nothing happened until 1890, when the Treasury Department contacted ten prominent artists for the purpose of designing new silver coinage. The cost to hire one of these artists far exceeded what the Treasury Department was willing to spend, and the idea was soon abandoned.

Eventually, new designs for the three smallest silver denomination would be created by the Chief Engraver of the Mint, Charles E. Barber. Both he and Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan had wanted to create the designs, and the competition between the two men which had started many years earlier continued here as well. According to some people, there are still similarities between the two designers, as Breen put it in his Encyclopedia in his typical language:

“Barber’s new obverse was a mirror image of the Morgan dollar head, with most of Ms. Anna Witless Williams cropped off and the rest modestly concealed within her enlarged cap.”

The design of the Barber Quarter, which was submitted in October of 1891, features a bust of Liberty on the obverse, facing right. She is wearing a Phrygian cap, with the word LIBERTY on the hair band. IN GOD WE TRUST is above the head with the date beneath the truncation of the neck and the designers initial “B” on the truncation. There are 13 stars representing the original states are surrounding the image, configured six to the left and seven to the right.

On the reverse of the coin is the image of an eagle with its wings spread, holding arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other. A scroll within its beak contains the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Above the eagle are another 13 stars, and inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination QUARTER DOLLAR are around. The first year of the series, 1892, had dies made from two different reverse hubs. The first has the Eagle’s left wing covering only half of the “E” in UNITED. The second variety has the wing covering most of the letter. In 1900 a new obverse hub was introduced, and in 1901 a new reverse hub was introduced as well, but few collectors have noticed this change and it is not often mentioned in literature.