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1998: The Last of the Heraldic Eagle Washington Quarters

1998: The Last of the Heraldic Eagle Washington Quarters

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for PCGS ……
The inaugural release of the first 50 State Quarters in 1999 meant big changes were coming to the Washington quarter, a coin that had seen relatively few major changes since its debut in 1932. When the 50 States Commemorative Coin Program Act (link to PDF) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on December 1, 1997, it promised 50 new reverse designs that were to be unveiled on the quarter about every 10 weeks from 1999 through 2008.

The new coin long-running coin program also meant changes were coming to the obverse, which would be receiving some of the inscriptions formerly on the reverse to make more room on that side of the coin for the new designs. And that called for a redesigned bust of George Washington, designed in 1932 by John Flanagan and retooled by William Cousins, in time for the first 50 State Quarters in 1999.

While Washington remained on the 50 State Quarters and beyond into other quarter programs that followed, one element of the coin seen on the Washington quarter from 1932 through 1998 was not coming back: the Heraldic Eagle reverse.

The Heraldic Eagle had one prior hiatus, and that was during the years 1975 and 1976 to accommodate for the Colonial Drummer Boy design by Jack L. Ahr, a commemorative motif seen on the Washington quarter reverse as part of the three-coin Bicentennial Commemorative program, which also celebrated the 200th birthday of the United States in 1976 with special designs for the half dollar and dollar coin.

And while the Heraldic Eagle flew back onto the scene in 1977 to live out its days on the reverse of the Washington quarter for 21 more years, there appears to be no future on the coin for the bird. The 50 State Quarters program ended in 2008 and was followed by the D.C. and U.S. Territories Quarters in 2009 and the America the Beautiful Quarters from 2010 through 2021. But all plans for the foreseeable future of the Washington Quarter are being made sans Heraldic Eagle.

The United States Mint, in conjunction with the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC), appears on track to introduce a new reverse design in 2021 depicting George Washington crossing the Delaware River with his troops on the night of December 25, 1776, during the Revolutionary War.

This design is to follow the 56th and final America the Beautiful quarter, honoring Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama.

Following the proposed release of the Washington Crossing the Delaware River reverse, the Washington Quarter may again play host to a new series of commemorative reverse designs honoring a variety of subjects. There is also ongoing discussion about honoring the United States Semiquincentennial, with a special design honoring the nation’s 250th anniversary on 2026-dated Washington Quarters.

Collecting the 1998 Quarter

The bottom line is the 1998 Washington quarter marks the last of the traditional Heraldic Eagle motif, despite having been a popular design for many decades. Thankfully, coin collectors longing for the days of the Washington quarter with Heraldic Eagle reverse can get their fill of the 1998 Washington Quarter for relatively little cost. Mintages for the coin render all 1998 Washington Quarters common, with the Philadelphia and Denver regular issues remaining widely available in circulation.

The 1998-P Washington Quarter has a mintage of 896,268,000 and is readily obtainable up to PCGS MS66 for less than $10, with PCGS MS67 examples scarce and MS68 specimens rare – the latter offers fewer than 50 graded by PCGS, and these trade for around $200. The 1998-D saw a mintage of 821,000,000 and is common through MS65, with prices of around $10. Examples in MS66 go for $50 and MS67 specimens trade for $250, and just one specimen represents the finest grade of PCGS MS67+, and it last sold in 2015 for $1,528 in a Heritage Auctions sale.

While business-strikes are characteristically challenging in the upper Mint State grades, proofs receive the utmost of care throughout their journey of manufacture at the United States Mint and are easily available in grades up to PR70DCAM. The Copper-Nickel 1998-S Proof Washington Quarter can be had in PR70DCAM for around $40 – the same price a collector can expect to pay for a 90% Silver 1998-S Proof Washington Quarter in PR70DCAM.

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