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Scarce or Rare, 1916 Quarter is Key
By Paul M. Green, Numismatic News
June 07, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The slot in the Whitman folder was not even punched out. Instead, the circular part deliberately left in simply said, “Rare.”

We might today dispute the idea that the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter is actually rare. The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is rare. The 1822 half eagle is rare. The 1916 quarter is not in this class. It is simply one of the key coins of the 20th century.

Actually, when you think about it, Whitman was not really inaccurate in terms of its audience. Those buying folders in 1959 wanted to fill them with coins obtained in circulation. When you compared a 1916 S.L. quarter to a 1916-D Mercury dime, it was rare. Perhaps the classic hoard from circulation was the Littleton purchase of the New York Subway Hoard. In it were 19 examples of the 1916 quarter, but 241 1916-D Mercury dimes. That’s a huge difference. It shows that chances of finding a 1916 S.L. quarter in change were between slim and none.

The first thing that jumps out at you about the quarter is its mintage of just 52,000. Compared to mintages today, that is slightly on the low side by hundreds of millions of coins. At the time, low quarter mintages were 1 million pieces and remained that way for many years. The 1932-D and 1932-S Washington quarters at less than half a million each are low mintage coins, but by comparison, that puts the 1916 S.L. quarter in the ridiculously low range.

It is one of the assorted ironies about the 1916 quarter that despite its low mintage, it was not even the lowest mintage quarter for the period 1910-1920 as the 1913-S was even lower at 40,000. The 1913-S was a Barber design and as such it is actually worth less in many grades than the 1916 S.L. piece.

The reason for the low mintage might not be immediately obvious. There were 1916 and 1916-D Barber quarters. The Standing Liberty quarter did not appear until very late in the year. That limited the mintage.

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By mid 1917 the design of 1916 was modified. Chain mail was added to cover the bare breast of Miss Liberty. Three stars were placed under the eagle on the reverse. That makes the 1916 coin and some 1917 pieces one type while the later pieces are another.

The nation might not be crawling with Standing Liberty quarter collectors, but the 1916 still has strong demand as evidenced by high prices. The VG-8 is $5,650. In MS-60 it is $14,500. In 1998 it was just $4,300 in this grade. In MS-65, it is $26,500, more than twice the value of any other nonerror issue. Only its $37,500 price in MS-65 Full Head is overshadowed by a higher value for a 1927-S.

As a first year of issue, the 1916 was probably saved in greater quantities than might otherwise have been the case.

At current prices, it is hard for the 1916 S.L. quarter to move dramatically in price. In recent years it has been strong. How high can it go before everybody is priced out of the market?

However, some collectors will always have the funds to afford the coin and they will focus on the very top grades.

Whatever its price, there is no doubt that the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter is a tough coin. It has a permanent spot on the list of most important coins.

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