The Seated Liberty Quarter was issued during a lengthy time frame that was turbulent and evolving in both American and world history. The denomination experienced changes of its own with multiple modifications to the design and weight of the coins until the conclusion of the series.
During the first few years after the introduction of the series in 1838, it appeared that the design process had not yet finished, as relief, sharpness, and execution were still being refined. In 1840, this resulted in the addition of drapery to the elbow of Liberty, creating the second type of the series. The added drapery appears between the elbow of the arm holding the pole and Liberty’s knee.
Although short-lived, the most prominent design change occurred in 1853 and was only struck during that year. The Mint Act of February 21, 1853 lowered the weight and silver content of virtually all silver coins. Congress mandated the change in an attempt to prevent massive melting in response to rising silver prices. To denote the coins struck with the new specifications, two arrows were placed alongside the date on the obverse, while the reverse saw the addition of rays around the eagle.
The rays were removed the next year, however for 1854 and part of 1855, the arrows remained alongside the obverse. After the arrows were eventually removed, the coins continued to be struck with the new weight.
The next major change occurred to the reverse in 1866, a year after the American Civil War had ended. As had been done on the 2 cent piece in 1864, the motto “In God We Trust” was placed on a scroll above the eagle’s head on the reverse. Other denominations would also see this addition.
In 1873, arrows once again appeared next to the date on the obverse. This time, it was to indicate a slight increase in weight. The arrows were removed in 1875 and the coins continued to be struck with the increased weight. This would represent the final design modification until the series concluded in 1891, an amazing 53 years after the design had been introduced.