There have been a number of reverse designs during the history of the denomination.
The first design, known as the Small Eagle was only issued in 1796. The main device on the reverse is an eagle, standing on a rock, with open wings, looking to right. Around the eagle, a laurel wreath tied with a ribbon below. Around, the name of the country: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The rim is denticled (toothed). Value and denomination are not displayed on the coin.
The second design is known as the Heraldic Eagle and was issued from 1804 to 1807. At centre, it shows the main part of the obverse (or front) of the Great Seal of the United States, which displays the full achievement of the national coat of arms. The design has the Union Shield at centre. The supporter of the shield is a bald eagle with its wings outstretched; it holds a bundle of seven arrows in its right talon, and an olive branch in its left talon. In its beak, the eagle clutches a scroll with the motto E pluribus unum ("Out of Many, One"). Over its head there appears a "glory" with of clouds and 13 mullets (stars). Below, divided by the lowest part of the eagle, the abbreviated value and denomination given in cents: 25 C. (25 cents).
The recurring number 13 refers to the 13 original states. The arrows and olive branch together symbolise that the United States has "a strong desire for peace, but will always be ready for war". The eagle has its head turned towards the arrows - unlike later versions where it looks towards the olive branch, to symbolise a preference for peace. Around, the name of the country: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The rim is denticled (toothed).
From 1815 to 1891, the reverse showed a different eagle, perched, with open wings, looking to left. On its breast, the Union Shield at centre, with thirteen vertical stripes, with a horizontal bar on top. Around above, a scroll inscribed with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM ("Out of Many, One"). Around the outer rim, the name of the country: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Below the eagle, the abbreviated value and denomination: 25 C. (Twenty-five Cents) until 1838, then abbreviated as QUAR. DOL. (quarter dollar) 1838 to 1891.
The Barber Quarter Dollar (1892 - 1916) shows the main part of the obverse (or front) of the Great Seal of the United States, being the Union Shield at centre, the supporter of which is a bald eagle with its wings outstretched. From the eagle's perspective, it holds a bundle of thirteen arrows in its left talon, and an olive branch with thirteen leaves in its right talon. In its beak, the eagle clutches a scroll with the motto E · PLURIBUS UNUM ("Out of Many, One"). Over its head there appears a "glory" of 13 mullets (stars).
Around above, the name of the country: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Around below, the value and denomination: · QUARTER DOLLAR ·.
The reverse of the Standing Liberty Quarter Dollar (1916 - 1930) has as its central device an eagle flying to right. Above, the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, with the first two words around near the rim and "OF AMERICA" on two lines horizontally below. In small letters below that, the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM; the letters U are rendered as V, so: E PLVRIBVS VNVM. Around below, the value and denomination in words: QUARTER DOLLAR. The design also includes thirteen stars representing the original thirteen States of the Union - five on the left, five on the right, and three below the eagle.
The best known design is the Washington Quarter Dollar (1932 - 1998); the central device on the reverse is the American eagle with outspread wings, facing the viewer; it is perched on a bundle of arrows framed below by two olive branches. Above, the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. In small letters below that, on two lines the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (translated from Latin: Out of many, one). Around below, the value and denomination in words: QUARTER DOLLAR.
This design was issued in silver from 1932 to 1964, and was then debased to copper-nickel.
In 1999, the U.S. Mint stopped issuing the same "definitive" quarter dollar type every year, and embarked on a program of issuing a large variety of circulating commemorative designs (five or six different one every year), grouped around a general theme running for several years. These are:
- State Quarter (1999 - 2008) - 50 designs, each representing one of the 50 states of the United States
- DC and U.S. Territories Quarter (2009) - six designs, representing the federal District of Columbia, and five territories associated with the United States
- America the Beautiful (2010 - 2021) - 56 designs representing national parks and other national sites in each state, federal district or territory of the US; for the first time, this was running in parallel with a series of five-ounce bullion coins with the same designs
- American Women Quarter Dollar (2022 - 2025) - with a total of 20 designs, the program honours five women on five reverse designs per year, selected for "contributions to the United States in a wide spectrum of accomplishments and fields, including but not limited to suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and arts".