1861-S Seated Liberty Quarter

On April 12, 1861, Confederate guns shelled the federal position at Fort Sumter, SC. Two days later, the Union defenders surrendered. As news of the fall of Fort Sumter spread, men in both the North and South rushed to volunteer for military duty. The American Civil War was underway, but most expected a short conflict.(1)

The first major battle was fought on July 21, 1861, in northern Virginia near a small river called Bull Run. The South won a decisive victory, badly shaking the North’s confidence and casting an uncertain future.

Facing the reality of a long, costly war, people held onto hard currency tightly, beginning with gold and silver coins. As the war entered its second year, copper coinage likewise vanished from circulation.(2)

The situation in the American West was dramatically different. Far removed from the cannon fire and staggering death tolls, hard money circulated readily with little hoarding. As the fighting in the East intensified, the San Francisco Mint boosted output in a struggle to meet coinage demands, just as Philadelphia production was trending downward.

The half dollar was certainly the most preferred silver coin denomination in the West. In 1861, the ”S” mint cranked out 939,500 of the fifty-cent coins. 1861-S Seated Liberty quarter production was barely one-tenth this number, with just 96,000 pieces issued.(3)

In those years, few coin collectors lived in the Pacific Coast region. Apparently, not many representative 1861-S quarters were rescued from the rigors of circulation. Instead, they were absorbed into the local economies where they travelled extensively for decades.

By the time numismatists came to understand their desirability, only a tiny handful of 1861-S examples remained. Today, we estimate only 60 survivors of this Civil War relic are extant. Another way of looking at it is 99.94% of the original mintage has perished.(4)

Despite exhaustive searching, no one has ever found an 1861-S quarter in Mint State condition. Should one ever surface, it would generate massive headlines in the numismatic press.

Obviously, the 1861-S Seated Liberty quarter is rare in all grades. The lack of availability hasn’t stopped collectors from beating down doors to acquire an example. The long-term value trends of the 1861-S are rather impressive, strongly foreshadowing future prospects for this remarkable coin.

Buying Advice: Experts report many of the surviving population of 1861-S quarters are plagued by problems.(5) Examples that are original, undamaged, and problem-free with overall good eye appeal are well worth the added cost upfront, for they will command very high premiums for the happy owner when selling time approaches.

Estimated survivors in all grades: 60
? 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: 8.4
? 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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1861-S Seated Liberty quarter pics Value trend history of 1861-S Seated Liberty quarter
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1. Todd, Lewis P. and Curti, Merle.  Rise of the American Nation, 3rd ed.  New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1972.

2. Heritage Auctions. 1864 50C.  Oct 2011 Auction. 

3. Heritage Auctions.  1861-S 25C.  Jan 2020 Auction.

4. PCGS.  1861-S 25C (Regular Strike).

5. Heritage Auctions.  1861-S 25C.  Sep 2010 Auction.

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Coin images by Stack's Bowers Galleries.