The United States quarter dollar was authorized by the 1792 Mint Act, and has gone through numerous evolutions over time. Collectors generally classify rare quarters on the basis of scarcity and condition. Therefore, a rare and flawless quarter has the highest monetary value.
The very first quarter was made in 1796. At that time, people felt that coins should represent the country, and a lot of effort was put into the design. Many Americans had criticized the designs on other coins, so renowned artist Gilbert Stuart was commissioned to create an appealing image of Lady Liberty for the new quarter. The obverse side featured a bust of Liberty with flowing hair and a star for each of the 15 states. The reverse side showed a small eagle that was surrounded by olive and palm branches. The new quarter was, at first, not that popular because Americans were still using the familiar Spanish real. No other quarters were minted until a new design debuted in 1804.The new design featured the same Lady Liberty, but the reverse side contained a larger, more heraldic-looking eagle and only 13 stars for the original colonies. These two rare quarters are highly prized by coin collectors today. Because of their age, the quarters are especially valuable if they are in good condition.
Quarters were not struck again until 1815, and the image of Lady Liberty was also changed. She was shown wearing a cap with the word Liberty printed on it. Some quarters that were minted in 1815 and 1825 had either a large E or L printed above Liberty’s head, but there was no known reason for this. Because of the large amount of coins that were made, this particular series is not considered rare.
The quarter received a complete makeover in 1838, and Liberty was now sitting on a rock with 13 stars around her, looking more like a Roman statue. During the next few years, silver was worth more than gold, and many people were melting down coins in order to sell the silver. This led to a severe coin shortage and caused the amount of silver in the quarter to be reduced. Quarters minted in 1853 contained arrows on either side of the date to identify the ones with the lower silver content. Rare quarters from this series include those minted in New Orleans and San Francisco in 1855.
After the Civil War, congress decreed that the motto, In God We Trust, should be added to all coins. Since there was a shortage of silver, not many quarters in this series were made before 1874. Rare quarters from this series include those minted in Carson City, Nev. during 1870 and 1871, especially if they are in good condition. In fact, one of the rarest U.S. coins is the 1873 quarter that was minted in Carson City, and does not contain the arrows that were later added to signify a weight change.
The Barber Quarter was designed in 1892. Named after its designer, Charles Barber, this series featured 13 stars above the head of Lady Liberty and a heraldic-looking eagle on the back. Collectors value quarters made in 1892 because it was the first year of the series. Quarters from the 1909 O series are valued because this was the last year for the New Orleans mint. Collectors also view 1896 S, 1901 S and 1913 S as rare quarters because of the relatively low numbers that were minted.
The Standing Liberty Quarter was designed in 1916 and depicted Liberty holding a shield in one hand and an olive branch in the other. Valued by numismatists for its overall beauty, this design also featured a soaring eagle on the reverse side. Collectors consider coins from 1916 rare because of the low numbers minted. Other rare quarters from this series are those from 1918 S that have the number seven from the previous year partially covering the number eight by mistake.
The Washington Head Quarter was created in 1932 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. Quarters from 1932 D and S mints are worth a fair amount of money if they are in good condition. The last silver coins were made in 1964, and then the composition changed to a copper-nickel alloy.
Washington quarters have continued to change over time. A Revolutionary War era drummer boy replaced the eagle during the bicentennial year of 1976, and the extremely popular state quarter series began in 1999. Although no other rare quarters have been identified, quarters have continued to be popular with collectors.