The Isabella Quarter, Authorized on May 3, 1893 owes its existence as much to the changing political climate of the late 1800 as to the world’s fair it was minted to Commemorate. The Fair itself was an incredible extravaganza meant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovery of the new world. As such, “all the countries of the world” as well as “all of the states of the union” were invited to participate (and over 50 countries and every state existent at the time did participate). When it was all said and done, over 23 million people (a number equal to half the population of the United States in 1893) had attended to view the many buildings and exhibits lit by the new Edison Electric Light. In addition to the many sight, they were also amazed by the sounds coming from the new Edison Phonograph, Mr Bell's new Telephone and many other state of the art machines….
The politics came into play when congress authorized the minting of the Columbian Exposition Half Dollar and turned over the distribution of same to the “Board of Gentleman Manager” to help offset the cost of the exposition. Upon hearing that the Gentlemen were contributing, Suffragette Susan B. Anthony began lobbying for a similar arrangement for a “Board of Lady Managers”. Once she convinced Chicago Socialite Mrs. Potter Palmer to climb on to the band wagon, the ball got rolling. Mrs. Palmer approached the House Appropriations committee and suggested that $10,000 that was to be appropriate to the fair (and managed by the Ladies) be given in the form of souvenir Quarter dollars that could then be sold for a profit and the proceeds used to help fund the fair. Eventually, congress authorized the minting of the 40,000 quarters (plus an additional 23 for assay) with a design emblematic of the woman’s contribution!
Mr. Kenyon Cox, a commercial illustrator of the era was commissioned to create the design sketches which were the executed by the Mint’s chief engraver Charles Barber. The design that was eventually settled on shows a bust of Spain’s Queen Isabella on the obverse (Isabella of course is known for having sponsored Columbus’s expedition to the new world). The Queen faces Left and wears a crown which divides the inscriptions “UNITED STATES” (on the left) and “OF AMERICA” on the right. The date 1893 is on the right as a second ring of text.
The reverse design is an allegory for woman’s labor, and shows a woman in simple work dress kneeling with a distaff in her left hand and a spinal in her right. (A distaff is the part of a spinning wheel that holds the un-spun fiber). The inscriptions include a single ring of text along the outer edge. From about 8 o’clock going clockwise to just past 3 o’clock is the inscription “BOARD OF LADY MANAGERS” and running counterclockwise “COLUMBIAN QUAR. DOL.” The two inscriptions are separated by dots.
General Market Notes
The Quarters, which sold for $1, did not sell anywhere near as well as the halves (which sold for the same price). Eventually 15,809 quarters were returned to the Philadelphia Mint to be melted, leaving a net mintage of 24,214. In addition the 400th, 1492nd and 1892nd coins were reserved and sent with certificates to the Board of Lady Managers. The much smaller mintage also resulted in generally better handling both by the mint and by the people that purchased them. In general, the Coins are well struck with full details and since the remaindered coins were melted, rather than released into circulation, most of the coins existent today are in varying degrees of mint state.