The 1893 Isabella Quarter holds an important place among early commemorative coins of the United States. It represents the first legal tender U.S. coin to depict an actual woman, as opposed to the allegorical Liberty. Additionally, it was the first to depict a foreign monarch and the first and only commemorative quarter dollar.
The coins were created at the suggestion of the Board of Lady Managers for the World’s Columbian Exposition. At the time, the Columbian Half Dollar had already been authorized, produced, and was still being sold to the public as a souvenir coin for the exposition. The authorized production for the quarters was a relatively low 40,000 pieces with identical specifications to circulating quarters.
The obverse design of the Isabella Quarter features a left facing portrait of Queen Isabella of Spain who had sponsored Columbus’s voyages to the New World. Inscriptions include “United States of America” and the date “1893”. The reverse design represents women’s industry with a depiction of a female holding a distaff and spindle. Inscriptions include “Board of Lady Managers” and “Columbian Quar. Dol.” The designs for the coin were prepared by Charles E. Barber based on sketches from Kenyon Cox.
The 1893 Isabella Quarters were sold for $1 each in the Women’s Building. Compared to the Columbian Half Dollars, which were also sold for $1, the quarter dollars presented a worse value. Correspondingly, sales were much lower with a portion of the mintage returned to the Mint for melting. The final mintage for the coins after subtracting those melted was a low 24,214.
Isabella Quarter Coin Specifications
Designer: Charles E. Barber after Kenyon Cox
Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 6.25 grams
Diameter: 24.3 mm
Authorization: authority granted
Maximum Authorized Mintage: 40,000
Isabella Quarter Mintage