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Key-Date Standing Liberty Quarters

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The Renaissance of American Coinage, an artistic reinvention of United States coins during the first decades of the 20th century, inspired many beautiful coin series, including several that remain top collector favorites today. But one of the shortest-lived of these beloved early 20th-century United States coins is the Standing Liberty Quarter. Designed by Hermon A. MacNeil and in production from 1916 through 1930, it ran for only 15 years inclusive yet spawned one of the great numismatic rarities and yielded several other challenging issues, too.

The 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter

Standing Liberty Quarter, 1916 25C Standing Liberty, FH, PCGS MS67+FH. Click image to enlarge.

Ranking as one of the rarest and most sought-after coins of the 20th century is the 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter, a first-year coin that kicked off the series with a fair bit of controversy, too. The likeness of Miss Liberty on the obverse, showing her partially uncovered upper chest, was more revealing than many in the public cared to see. The negative reaction spurred the United States Mint to slightly redesign the quarter in 1917 with a more modest rendition of Miss Liberty wearing a chain mail; the revision also brought some significant changes to the reverse, where the eagle was moved closer to the center of the coin and three of the 13 stars were relocated to just below the national bird.

While the public outcry that befell the early Standing Liberty Quarters prompted changes to the coin, it wasn’t the controversy that kept the mintage to a tiny 52,000 for the 1916 issues. In fact, the public never even had the chance to see these coins in-hand the year they were minted. The United States Mint struck the entire run of 1916 Standing Liberty Quarters during the last two weeks of the year, from December 16-31, 1916. They were released into channels of commerce on January 17, 1917, along with the first batch of 1917 Standing Liberty Quarters – which also feature the coin’s original (Type I, No Stars Below Eagle) design. Modifications to the design came along during the middle of the year, resulting in the Type II motif with a redesigned Miss Liberty and relocated eagle and stars on the reverse.

According to PCGS CoinFacts, approximately 10,750 examples of the 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter survive, with the vast majority – perhaps 90% – in circulated grades. About 1,100 are known in uncirculated grades, with 600 uncirculated Full Head (FH) examples showing virtually complete strike in Liberty’s hairlines, with minimal breaks. Even G4 examples take around $3,000, while in XF40 they take $9,000. An MS63FH commands nearly $20,000. The record price to date goes to a PCGS MS67+FH that fetched $195,500 in a 2010 auction.

The 1918/7-S Overdate

Standing Liberty Quarter, 1918/7-S 25C, FH, PCGS MS64+FH. Click image to enlarge.

Among Type II Standing Liberty Quarter rarities, the greatest is the 1918/7-S Overdate. It was created during a period of busy World War I-era coin production, with 1917-dated coins coming off the presses and 1918-dated hubs hastily being prepared; apparently a 1917 working die was erroneously struck with a 1918 hub. This rare variety, which numbers around 3,000 survivors, came to prominence during the rise of date-and-mintmark collecting in the 1930s. Around 250 are known in uncirculated grades, with approximately 50 Full Head specimens. While the 1916 is the series key date by mintage, the 1918/7-S – a variety without a known mintage – is by far the overall rarest coin in the series.

In G4, the 1918/7-S is a $1,700 coin, though most of the moderately circulated examples turn up in the broad range of F12 to XF40, where prices climb from around $3,000 on the lower end of that scale to nearly $7,000 on the upper end. Those desiring an uncirculated specimen will need to shell out $20,000 or more, with any of the few Mint State Full Head examples routinely realizing around $50,000 and up; Type II Full Head designations require that Liberty have complete hairlines, three distinct leaf sprigs, and a visible ear hole. The record price was achieved by a PCGS MS64+FH that traded hands for $336,000 in a 2020 auction.

Other Scarce Standing Liberty Quarters

Standing Liberty Quarter, 1921 25C, FH, PCGS MS67FH. Click image to enlarge.

In addition to the 1916 and 1918/7-S Standing Liberty Quarters, there are a few regular-issue dates from later in the series that are categorical semi-keys and conditional rarities in the uncirculated grades. The first of these is the 1921, struck during a pronounced post-WWI recession that helped stunt coin mintages at the US Mint across the board. The 1921 Standing Liberty Quarter saw a modest mintage of 1,916,000 pieces, of which around 10,000 survive. A $150 in G4, the 1921 is a $300 coin in F12 and commands $700 in XF40. A low-end MS specimen can be had for about $1,500, while one needs to spend some $3,000 for an MS63FH.

Standing Liberty Quarter, 1923-S 25C, FH, PCGS MS67+FH. Click image to enlarge.

The 1923-S Standing Liberty Quarter is another notably scarce issue, with a mintage of 1,360,000. It’s decidedly tougher to locate nice examples, and the PCGS CoinFacts report also points to lower overall availability than the 1921 – about 8,500 for the 1923-S versus the aforementioned 10,000 (more or less) for the earlier-minted counterpart. Values range from a low-end mark of $400 for G4 specimens to $550 in F12. An XF40 will set the collector back by over $1,000, while entry-level uncirculated pieces notch around $2,500. A typical MS63FH retails for nearly $4,000.

Standing Liberty Quarter, 1927-S 25C, FH, PCGS MS66+FH. Click image to enlarge.

The 1927-S is the most significant rarity for the Type III Standing Liberty Quarters, which debuted in 1925 and are distinctive for their recessed date – modified after the 1924 production run to help eliminate obliteration of the date through extensive wear. While most of the Type III Standing Liberty Quarters (which saw the series to its conclusion in 1930) are essentially common up through low Mint State grades, the branch-mint issues of 1927 aren’t so much. To be sure, the 1927-D has a sub-million mintage of 976,000 but posts values that are only marginally elevated from its grade-relevant Type III peers. However, the 1927-S saw a mintage of just 396,000. Trading for $50 to $75 in the G4-VG8 range, it becomes noticeably scarce in F12 or better, where prices track into the three digits or beyond. A lower-end MS specimen will go for $5,000 to $7,000. Meanwhile, Full Head specimens are extraordinarily rare, with even an MS63FH coming in at a lofty $47,500.

Sources
  • Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coins. Doubleday, 1988.
  • Burdette, Roger W. Renaissance of American Coinage, 1916-1921. Seneca Mills Press, 2005.
  • Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco, 1966.

Standing Liberty Quarters (1916-1930)