Guide to U.S. Barber Quarters
The Barber Quarter was introduced in 1892, after more than five decades of use for the previous Seated Liberty motif. The new design by Charles E. Barber featuring the head of Liberty would be used across the dime, quarter, and half dollar. The Barber Quarter was struck each year from 1892 until 1916 across four mint facilities, comprising 74 different circulation strikes with an additional 24 proofs. The series contains for three key issues, including one major rarity which has been called the “King of Barber Coinage.”
The story of the Barber Quarter began in 1887 when United States Mint Director James P. 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. Eventually, a law was passed granting the Treasury Department the authority to alter coin designs once they had been in use for a period of at least 25 years.
Soon after the passage of the law, the process of selecting new designs for silver coinage began. The initial plan was to hold a competition among ten prominent American artists with a single fee paid to the winner. The artists suggested that fees should be paid to all participants submitting designs. When these terms could not be met, the competition was opened to the broader public. From the 300 entries received, none were considered suitable and the competition was deemed a failure.
Eventually, the new designs for the three smallest silver denominations would be created by the Chief Engraver of the Mint, Charles E. Barber. His design for the Barber Quarter would be submitted in October of 1891. The obverse features the head of Liberty, facing right. She wears a Phrygian cap adorned with a laurel wreath and band inscribed LIBERTY. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears above, with the date below. There are six stars to the right and seven to the left. The designer’s initial “B” appears on the truncation of the neck.
The reverse design features a heraldic eagle adapted from the Great Seal of the United States. The eagle appears with wings spread, a shield at its breast, and talons grasping an olive branch and bundle of arrows. A scroll within the eagle’s beak contains the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Thirteen stars appear above the eagle, with the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the QUARTER DOLLAR surrounding. The first year of the series 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.