1856-S Seated Liberty Quarter, Large S over Small S

According to the Cherrypickers' Guide, the Seated Liberty 1856-S/S quarter "is one of the more desirable mintmark varieties in the Liberty Seated series.”(1) Considering the Seated Liberty quarter series ran for 54 years from 1838 to 1891, that’s saying something!

It was the job of the Philadelphia Mint to prepare dies for the branch mints, and this included the addition of mintmarks.(2) Whoever sank the “S” on one particular quarter reverse die bound for San Francisco mistakenly utilized a punch intended for the smaller half dime.(3)

When the blunder was discovered, the correctly sized, larger “S” was punched over the smaller “S”, but vestiges of the initial mintmark remained visible. Even to the unaided eye, the small “S” under the large “S” is readily discernible.(4)

Despite its obvious existence, the 1856-S/S quarter is a relative newcomer to widely followed price guides. The popular Redbook didn’t start listing this overmintmark variety until the late 1970’s.

Important Note: Professional numismatists associate the 1856-S/S quarter with the FS-501 die variety, so be watchful for that.(5)

Prices for the 1856-S/S absolutely exploded around 2010 but slid downhill in 2020. This slump may be directly related to the recovery of the shipwrecked SS Central America.

The SS Central America, called the “Ship of Gold” was a sidewheel steamer that perished in a September 1857 hurricane 160 miles off the coast of the Carolinas. The ship went down carrying 15 tons of gold and thousands of gold and silver coins.(6)

Among the coins salvaged in 2014 were nine examples of the rare 1856-S/S quarter. Most of them were found in a canvas bag sealed in the purser’s iron box in the ship’s safe, more than 7,000 feet below the ocean surface.(7)

Prior to 2014, PCGS had certified only 38 examples of the 1856-S/S, so this finding significantly increased the available supply of this rarity.

The coins in the purser’s box were among the last curated and sold, finally hitting the market in 2020.(8)

Even factoring in the so-so performance over the last few years, this dramatic Seated Liberty variety still ranks among the finest in the Rare Coins 101 survey of U.S. coinage. It’s doubtful we’ll ever see another “hoard” of this rarity surface again, meaning the current pricing is about as attractive as ever for prospective buyers.

Estimated survivors in all grades: 50
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
PCGS Rarity Scale: 8.5
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
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1856-S Seated Liberty quarter, Large S over Small S value trends
Trendline Avg = 60.18 BEST
Last updated 4-9-24
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1. Heritage Auctions.  1856-S/S 25C Large Over Small S, FS-501.  Apr 2021 Auction.

2. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1854-O Liberty Seated Quarter. Huge O.  Aug 2017 Auction.

3. Heritage Auctions.  1856-S/S 25C Large Over Small S, FS-501.  Aug 2016 Auction.

4. Heritage Auctions.  1856-S/S 25C Large Over Small S, FS-501.  Aug 2020 Auction.

5. Heritage Auctions.  1856-S/S 25C Large Over Small S, FS-501.  Aug 2016 Auction.

6. PCGS.  The History of the S.S. Central America “Ship of Gold”.

7. Gilkes, Paul.  Rare Seated Liberty Repunched Mint Mark Quarters on Shipwreck.  Sidney, OH. Amos Media Company. Dec 14, 2019.

8. Gilkes, Paul.  SS Central America Silver Comes to Market.  Sidney, OH. Amos Media Company. Feb 14, 2019.

**Many very fine coin dealers sell on eBay. At any point in time, there may be over one million search results for United States coins. This includes quite a few of the recommendations on our Key Date Coin List.

If you’re thinking about purchasing a rare coin, eBay is certainly worth a look. For your convenience, the links from this site to eBay are coded to bring up only coins certified by PCGS and NGC.

As is always, always the case, never buy a valuable coin from a seller whose trustworthiness cannot be verified. Learn more about this at our chapter Best Places to Buy Coins, which also has a section on doing business on eBay.

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Coin images by PCGS.