The First United States Quarters: History Of Our Quarter Dollar Coin

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By Joshua

It all had to start somewhere… What has become the most important coin in United States currency hasn’t been around forever.

The United States quarter wasn’t even the first denomination of coin made in our nation when, in 1793, the U.S. Mint began making coins for mass production… that distinction goes to the half-cent and one-cent coins.

However, when the first U.S. quarters were made in 1796, they quickly became an integral part of the national monetary system.

The First U.S. Quarters

Those first quarters in 1796 look nothing like the quarters we use today.

Back in the day, a U.S. quarter looked like the other silver denomination coins.

On the obverse of these first U.S. quarters is a profile of the bust of Miss Liberty.

The reverse of the first quarter shows a small eagle standing inside a wreath.

Quarters weren’t minted from 1797 through 1803. When quarter production was resumed in 1804, the eagle on the reverse was larger and heraldic in design.

The 1796 Liberty design on the obverse was used through 1807.

These early quarters today are among the rare U.S. coins and are worth at least $200 to $300 each, even in well worn grades.

An example of the 1796 quarter in well worn grades will set you back $10,000 to $20,000!

The Quarters That Came After

In 1815, quarter production resumed once again. With a new portrait of Liberty on the obverse and a revised eagle on the reverse, the U.S. quarter was produced in large numbers — hundreds of thousands each year in most cases — right through 1840s.

By the 1850s (by then, a Seated Liberty design had been on the coin for over a decade), the quarter was commonly made by the millions.  You can buy a typical specimen of a Seated Liberty quarter for around $20 to $30.

In 1892, a new Liberty head design created by Charles E. Barber (the ‘Barber’ quarter is named after the designer) was placed on the quarter. This was replaced in 1916 by the Standing Liberty quarter. Either will cost you less than $15 to buy.

So, When Was The Washington Quarter First Made?

If you’re like many people who probably thought Washington had always been on the quarter, you’re probably shocked to find out he didn’t appear on the quarter until 1932.

In fact, the 1932 Washington quarter was really designed as a commemorative coin meant to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth! It wasn’t intended to be a long-running design.

However, the 1932 Washington quarter proved to be so popular, when quarter production resumed in 1934, he reappeared, completely replacing the Standing Liberty design that had last been used in 1930.

Quarter Fun Fact

Why is the U.S. quarter often referred to as ‘two bits’? Because Spanish Milled dollars (which were widely used in our nation during its young years) would be divided into eight pieces to be used in small transactions.

Each ‘bit’ equals 12-1/2 cents, so two of these bits equal 25 cents… and that’s why the quarter is often called ‘two bits’!