Barber Quarters (1892-1916)

Barber Quarters (1892-1916)

U.S. Treasury Department officials wanted a new design for U.S. coinage since the Liberty Seated design was first minted in 1836 and struck continuously until 1891. There was no standing requirement stating that coin designs should be changed every 25 years. On September 26, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation making all denominations of currently circulating U.S. coins available for redesign by the U.S. Mint pending the Secretary of the Treasury's approval. The law also stated that in the future, any coin could be altered in design from the 25th year after it was first produced.

With that law in hand, a competition was ordered to decide the new design. The Treasury Department wished to award a cash prize only to the winner of the competition. To avoid offending Barber by asking outside artists to compete for this contest, U.S. Mint Director Edward O. Leech sought Barber’s advice as to who to invite to compete. A number of invited artists declined to participate, so the U.S. Mint looked inward for inspiration. The Chief Engraver of the Mint, Charles E. Barber, was ordered to prepare new designs for the dime, quarter and half dollar.

European-Inspired Designs

Barber originally felt that the U.S. coin designs needed some European classical influence, so he created patterns that closely resembled some existing French coinage. The European-inspired designs were not approved, so Barber went back to the drawing board. He sketched designs that contained numerous elements of existing U.S. coinage.

Barber Quarter Reverse

Barber Quarters Design 

In November of 1891, Leech approved the designs for all three coins and received President Benjamin Harrison’s approval. Although Barber requested additional time to prepare and test more dies, none was awarded. The new coins were struck on January 2, 1892 at the Philadelphia Mint. All three denominations had been minted by the end of that first day. The branch mints in San Francisco and New Orleans would eventually strike coins of the new design shortly thereafter.  

The approved design for the Quarter had an allegorical depiction of Miss Liberty, facing right on the obverse. She wears a crown composed of olive branches with a headband inscribed with the word "LIBERTY". The motto "IN GOD WE TRUST" encircles her head, while 13 stars with seven in front of her face and six behind her, with the date below. The reverse depicts a heraldic style American eagle. With a scroll in its beak on which is inscribed “E PLURIBUS UNUM.” In her left talon are 13 arrows and right talon is an olive branch.


Barber Quarters Future Value

As the coins were distributed, merchants began to complain to the U.S. Mint that the coins were not stacking properly as. After accessing the issue, Barber made some adjustments to the reverse die to reduce the thickness of a portion of the design which remedied the problem. Throughout the life of the Barber coinage, Barber would modify the designs multiple times, aiming to always improve the coinage that bears his name.

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