1855-S Liberty Seated Quarter Dollar - Late Die State Reverse

by Greg Johnson

One of the appealing things about collecting seated coinage is the number and diversity of the varieties within each of the series. The overuse and re-working of dies, as well as other struggles at the early mints, have given us recut, doubled, scratched, chipped, polished, clashed, cracked, crumbled, and even shattered dies. The most spectacularly deteriorated seated quarter die that I have ever seen, however, really doesn’t fit any of those descriptions. My first sighting of this particular issue, a very late die state of the 1855-S reverse A, was during 2006 at a large show. I was at a dealer’s table standing next to another seated quarter collector. When I saw the striking die deterioration evidenced by the reverse of the coin, I asked the other collector to take a look. After examining the coin he handed it to the dealer offering it for sale (Dick Osburn) and asked, “is that die deterioration?” Dick took a quick look and responded with the comment, “more like disintegration.” The term so accurately described the appearance of the reverse that since that day I have referred to this die state as the “1855-S disintegrated reverse die.“

Note in the figure, which depicts an intermediate die state, the crumbling or “disintegration” of the die around the eagle and “STATES OF AMERICA”. After looking for these coins for more than 4 years I think, with enough patience, it is possible for the interested collector to put together a die progression of this reverse die if one is not too picky about the condition and grade of the coins. Such a progression would begin with early die states that show no abnormal wear or deterioration and proceed through intermediate die states that show the beginning of the deterioration around the eagle and legend, concluding with very late die states in which there appears to be nearly as much metal in the “halo” around the eagle as there is making up the eagle itself.

The 1855-S quarter is a numismatically important issue for several reasons: 1) it is the first quarter struck at the San Francisco mint; 2) it is quite probably the first silver coin of any denomination struck at the San Francisco mint; and 3) it is the only no motto, with arrows quarter struck at the San Francisco mint. It is also interesting to note that the single branch mint proof was struck from the same die pair (Briggs 1-A) as the coins discussed here. Apparently, reverse die A was the first die used at the new mint and was used until it quite literally disintegrated.

Back to Quarter of Month Topic List