Market Analysis: 1853 Arrows & Rays Quarters

The old adage goes, “buy the best you can afford.”

Yeah, well, not always.

1853 Arrows & Rays, a true favorite of many collectors, have proven a fascinating market study. There’s no question the reverse twinkling flashes coming off lustrous rays surrounding the eagle are absolutely captivating and unique in U.S. coinage, even going back to the beginning. Just beautiful.

1853 Arrows & Rays Seated Liberty Quarter, Mint State 63. The only year of the type, but with a healthy mintage and plenty of availability in all grades but 67.

1853 Arrows & Rays Seated Liberty Quarter, Mint State 63. The only year of the type, but with a healthy mintage and plenty of availability in all grades but 67.

So many times we see people try to pass off 1853s as key dates. Which I suppose technically speaking, they are, as it’s a single year type. This is the only year of the rays eagle. So it’s a type coin you should have. But with a mintage of 15M, this is no key date for the Seated Quarter set. It’s not a scarce coin – especially as so many were saved. There are some wonderful varieties of the type, too – making this single year an interesting piece to collect on its own.

Looking back to the 1960s, Good 1853 quarters could be bought for under $5. Today, problem-free goods can still be bought around or even under $20. So that’s a multiple of 4x in over 50 years. Not fantastic.

VFs are the same. XFs and AUs aren’t far off.

But Uncs are a different story. In the early 1960s, the market was around or under $30 for a nice 1853 Arrows & Rays Quarter. Along with the silver spike in the early 1980s, 1853s topped out at $1600 for an uncirculated example.

Unfortunately, since then, they haven’t done much to keep their luster – depending on the grade you’re looking at. A decent low-end Mint State example will cost you under $1000 these days. But who wants low-end MS?

To get into the choice range, 63-ish, we’ve been looking at around $1500. And to go back to the premise of the article, “buy the best you can afford”, if 63 is the best you can afford then as long as you love your coin, you’re doing great! But from an investment, 1853 A&R Quarters have been pretty flat going back 10 – 15 years. Calling 63s ‘Uncs’, they’ve been flat since the early ’70s, or almost 50 years.

Now, again, if you got into one in the 1960s, good on ya! As discussed in an earlier article though, you’d have been better off in a GTO or a Master painting.

There are some 63s out there, and there is sufficient supply (a couple hundred total pop) that a few come up at major auctions every year. So for the patient collector, there are plenty of options.

So what about the pointy end of the pop? Oddly, they haven’t done much better. 67s (of which there are few), of course, should always do well because of Registry Set collectors. But looking at the past 15 years of public auction, the data is noisy, but does show a slight upward trend. Since the early-to-mid 2000’s, a 7 can be bought for $50k. And that really hasn’t changed much. The last record was just under $70k, but that was back in 2013. Hard to say what one would bring today. Now if you got your spectacular gem in the ’70s or even 1990s, you’ve done fine.

So, if you’re really interested in investing in coins, don’t always buy the best you can afford. Do your research before you jump in. In general, it’s a true-ism – but not always!

What is true is that you should love what you collect. If money can be secondary, the joy of curating the beautiful will always be paramount.

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