By Kathleen Duncan
Standing Liberty Quarters were struck at the Philadelphia Mint from 1916 until 1930 with the exception of only 1922, when no quarters were produced at any Mint. Strikings at Denver and San Francisco were more sporadic. This is the only 20thcentury regular issue U.S. coin for which no Proof coins were produced. Altogether, there are 37 regular issues as well as the 1918/7-S overdate, the most elusive date in the series. While containing many challenges for the advanced collector, the other two most notable keys are the 1916 and the 1927-S, one of the foremost condition rarities in all of 20th century U.S. numismatics and the toughest date to find with a fully struck head.
Particularly beginning with the Type 2 format (a redesign by Chief Engraver George Morgan mid-way through 1917) coins graded Full Head (FH) are much scarcer and more valuable than those lacking this feature. To qualify, a coin must possess these attributes: the three leaves in Liberty’s hair must be visible; her hairline must be complete; and her ear indentations must be evident. Other areas prone to striking weakness on some issues are Liberty’s right knee, the date, the eagle’s breast feathers, and the rivets as well as the center of the shield.
For an in depth look at both historical and design details of this popular series, please refer to Part 1 of this article. Part 1 also contains collecting insights for the dates 1916 through 1918-S. Here in Part 2, the article continues a date-by-date analysis beginning with the ever-elusive 1918/7-S and proceeding to the final issue, the 1930-S.
1918/7-S: To help meet the high demand of the San Francisco Mint and the wartime economy, an old Type 2 1917-dated die was re-engraved with an 8 over the final digit in the date. This practice was supposed to have been abandoned around the turn of the century, but once in a while it is still practiced, and usually results in a very low mintage. The mintage figure of this quarter is unknown, but obviously miniscule. These pieces circulated freely, and were not discovered until nearly 20 years after they entered commerce. Accordingly few mint state survivors are known today, and it is one of the key silver rarities of 20th century numismatics. Two notable characteristics can be found on these coins, struck from a single obverse die: a die clash in the area next to Liberty’s right knee, from the E in E PLURIBUS UNUM on the reverse; and a small dot of extra metal above and to the right of the last digit of the date.
The 1918/7-S is rare and relatively expensive even in the lowest grades. Mint state specimens are extreme rarities and specimens with fully struck heads are almost non-existent. Combining the populations, there are a total of 136 PCGS and NGC graded uncirculated examples. As a certain percentage of these are certainly resubmissions, it is likely less than 100 mint state survivors exist. The two services have graded only 11 MS65 or better specimens (again a number certainly inflated) and none that have received the coveted Full Head designation. The highest graded Full Heads are MS64s. There are only 14 Full Head uncirculated examples in all grades combined on the population reports of the two major services.
1919: This is one of the most available issues in the teens in high-grade due to its mintage exceeding 11 million. High quality examples with strong striking characteristics are among the most available for issues before 1925.
1919-D: For unknown reasons the Denver Mint coinage of 1919, across all denominations, was poorly made, creating Key dates for the nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar. Liberty’s head is almost always weak and the rivets along the left side of the shield are usually poorly defined. Like its sister 1919-S coin, there are often interesting die breaks on the obverse around the date.
1919-S: Like the 1919-D of similar mintage, the 1919-S is a key to the series and rare in high-grade, particularly with full striking characteristics. Rarity and price in high-grade examples with Full Head attributes run parallel with the 1919-D, both of which are quite a bit rarer than the more famous 1916.
1920: Even though the 1920 has the highest mintage of the entire series (more than double any other issue) its availability in the better grades of uncirculated is surprisingly low. The government’s need for 27.8 million quarters this year overwhelmed the usually competent production staff in Philadelphia making Full Heads surprisingly scarce. It was another situation where quantity ruled over quality.
1920-D: In high-grade, particularly with Full Head attributes, this ranks amongst the most challenging of issues in the series. Most examples display striking weakness at the top of the date and the third and fourth rivets are usually missing from Liberty’s shield.
1920-S: Taken as a whole, the Roaring Twenties witnessed some of the poorest produced coins in the history of the San Francisco mint. This is true not just of the Standing Liberty quarters, but also of the nickels, dimes and half dollars produced at the time. Both obverse and reverse almost always display weak strikes, making it one of the top strike rarities in the series, eclipsing even the 1919-D and 1919-S. It is second only to the 1927-S in terms of fewest high-grade survivors, with and without Full Head status. The elusiveness of Gem quality and finer Full Head examples has lead to pricing pressure on non Full Heads as well, particularly in the upper uncirculated grades.
1921: A relatively low mintage (1,916,000) may account for the fact that mint state survivors are usually well-struck. However, whereas many Standing Liberty quarters display striking softness through the top of the date, the 1921 displays this feature along the bottom of the digits. The first and second 1 in the date are slightly different when compared to other issues, leading some to believe that the design was again modified in this year, as was absolutely the case with the 1921 Walker.
1923: Albeit a high mintage issue, this date is quite scarce in Gem, Full Head condition. Although the San Francisco issue of this year gets much more recognition as a Key date, in gem and finer Full Head condition, this coin has far fewer examples graded. As it sells for a fraction of the price, this issue should be considered a sleeper. When found, high-grade survivors can be located with razor sharp striking detail.
1923-S: This date is elusive from the standpoint of both absolute and condition rarity. It is more available than one would expect, however, and is perhaps one of the more over-rated dates in the series. Gem and finer examples, even with Full Head details, trade relatively frequently.
1924: As if foreshadowing the date modification the following year, the 1924 was one of the most poorly produced issues in the entire series. Furthermore, the obverse die cracked early in production, resulting in most mint state survivors missing the top portion of their dates. Although over 10 million coins were produced, Gem and better examples are not easy to acquire. This is another relative sleeper in MS66FH and better conditions, although prices are beginning to escalate.
1924-D: As was the case in Philadelphia this year, this Denver issue was also one of the worst produced in the series. Many examples come weakly struck, not only on Liberty’s head but on the date and shield rivets. It is not uncommon to find the top third or half of the date missing from a broken die. This is a date that has many survivors in uncirculated condition, even in very high-grade, but almost all are Flat Heads. Full Heads are quite rare in Gem and finer.
1924-S: Nearly 3 million were minted but the vast majority were poorly produced. Full Head examples are rare but the striking problems did not stop with Liberty’s head, as the shield detail is also typically abysmal, as are the eagle’s feathers on the reverse. The lack of availability of Full Heads has lead to Flat Heads in the higher uncirculated grades commanding strong prices. A mere dozen MS66FHs have been graded between PCGS and NGC combined, a surprisingly low number for a date not recognized as a Key.
1925: The date positioned on the first step of the passway was one of the designs highest features and wore away quickly, leading to the entire area of the first step being recessed in 1925. This was a high production issue with a mintage of over 12 million, so not surprisingly examples grading up to MS66FH are readily available.
1926: This issue is poorly produced by Philadelphia standards. Although over 11 million were minted, a low percentage of those display strong striking characteristics. Finding Gem and finer examples in Full Head, while not especially difficult, is harder than one would think given the high mintage, the Philly Mint’s usual better attention to detail, and the previous year’s design change.
1926-D: This is one of the rarest issues of the series in Gem Full Head and finer conditions, although locating an example that is high-grade with a Flat Strike is extremely easy. Indeed, it is branded as the classic Flat Head of the series by Standing Liberty Quarter specialist J. Cline. The reverse strike also proves problematic, with typical examples displaying few, if any feathers on the eagle’s wings.
1926-S: This issue is several times rarer than its already elusive Denver cousin. The San Francisco mint had problems striking up any coin designs in the twenties, and the 1926-S quarter is no exception. Besides displaying weakness on Liberty’s head, her shield and the eagle’s breast feathers are notoriously soft. The third and forth rivets are always missing from the shield.
1927: Although not as common as the 1929 and 1930, this issue was well produced in high numbers, with a mintage of nearly 12 million. Finding a high-quality example, while not necessarily easy, is not overly challenging. However, finding a superb Gem with Full Head details, is a feat, as it is with nearly all but a handful of dates in this challenging series.
1927-D: Although this issue and its famous San Francisco sibling are the only ones in the series boasting mintages of less than a million besides the 1916, it is surprisingly easy to locate a high quality example, up to and including coins at the Gem, Full Head level.
1927-S: With only a paltry 396,000 produced, the 1927-S is the premier rarity among the regular issue Standing Liberty quarters. It is even rarer than the 1916, even though almost eight times as many coins were struck since it wasn’t saved in the substantial way witnessed by the first date of the series. The 1927-S is one of the foremost condition rarities in all of 20th century U.S. numismatics and aside from the overdate, the most expensive of all Standing Liberty quarters. Even Flat Head examples in mint state command considerable sums.
1928: This date is amongst the most common, and is readily available in all grades Flat Head and Full Head, up to MS66FH. The obverse and reverse of this issue are amongst the better struck in the series. As with nearly every Standing Liberty quarter it becomes rare at the MS67FH level.
1928-D: This issue was poorly produced and the striking characteristics tend to be weak in all of the usual problem areas. Accordingly Full Head examples bring strong premiums and are fairly elusive.
1928-S: Large and small mintmark varieties of this year exist, with the small mintmark being three to five times rarer according to J. Cline. The small mintmark is further to the right and down toward the date and does not touch the star. This issue is relatively common and easy to acquire up to the MS67FH level.
1929: This is the second most common issue in the series behind the 1930. All grades up to MS66FH are readily available and reasonably affordable, making it a popular choice for type collectors.
1929-D: The mintage of 1,358,000 coins was the fourth lowest of any date and mintmark issue in the entire Standing Liberty quarter series. The low production in combination with the typical poor strike of Denver Mint issues during the ‘20s makes the 1929-D is an important condition and strike rarity. Gem and higher examples with Full Head details are elusive, although not as rare as several of the Denver and San Francisco issues from earlier in the decade.
1929-S: This issue was better produced than any other San Francisco issue from the ’20s, and finding high-quality examples should not be a problem.
1930: This is the most readily available of all issues in the series, except for the 1917 Type 1. Strike is not a problem, nor is finding an example in any condition. It is most often the type collector’s issue of choice.
1930-S: While not as well produced as its Philly counterpart, this date is still easy to acquire in any condition, albeit with weaker striking attributes, particularly on Liberty’s head and the inner shield, as well as the third and fourth shield rivets.
The Standing Liberty quarter was discontinued in 1931, a year in which no quarters were struck. Although the Law of 1890 mandated that coinage designs should not be changed more often than each 25 years, the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth in 1932 seemed an important enough event to issue what was conceived as a one-year commemorative quarter. The Washington quarter, obviously, ended up continuing as a regular issue. MacNeil’s Liberty, carrying both shield and olive branch, is a poignant reminder of a time when the United States was on the brink of joining the Allied Forces in the World War that had begun in 1914. Although it was produced for a mere 15 years, it remains one of American numismatics most beloved.