The 1999 Delaware quarter, released on January 1, was the first issue in the 50 States Quarters series and honors the first state to ratify the United States Constitution. Delaware became the first state on December 7, 1787, when all 30 delegates of the Delaware Constitutional Convention ratified the U.S. Constitution.
11 years earlier, key votes on the call for independence were deadlocked; Caesar Rodney, who served in the Continental Congress, received word about the impasse while he was in Dover, Delaware. Determined to break the gridlock, Rodney jumped on his horse and galloped north 70 miles to Philadelphia on July 2, just as the voting process went underway for the Declaration of Independence, which Rodney signed on August 2.
On February 2, 1998, Delaware Governor Tom Carper held a statewide competition to come up with design finalists for what would be the first circulating United States quarter commemorative since the Bicentennial quarter.
Of the approximately 300 entries, 40 came from Caesar Rodney High School and the art class of Eddy Seger. Among the submitted designs was one executed by Seger himself. Seger’s design featured a right-facing Caesar Rodney riding a galloping horse. Behind him, the outline of the shape of the state of Delaware. Vegetal ornamentation wrapped around the rim. The inscriptions UNITED STATES of AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM remain unchanged from the Heraldic Eagle reverse in Seger’s concept.
The format of the 50 States Quarters obverse and reverse had not been made public at this point in time.
The final design would mirror Seger’s design but improve upon it by stripping out unnecessary design elements. The vegetal wreaths and the outline of the state would not carry over, and the horse-riding Rodney would face left instead of right in the finished work, his horse elongated, his figure more sinewy and upright.
Engraver William Cousins, who took Seger’s concept and adapted it for coining is credited as the coin’s designer. Cousins’ “WC” initials feature to the left of the horse’s lead hoof.
Initially, the United States Mint gave Seger credit for submitting the winning design but has since scrubbed any reference to him on their website. More recently it has been alleged that Seger’s design was one of several submitted that featured Caeser Rodney. But this claim is dubious in light of the available facts and was likely put forward in an effort by the government to take design credit away from state artists.
The ensuing controversy surrounding 50 States Quarter designs erupted publicly in 2002, when the national and numismatic media brought artists’ complaints surrounding design attribution to the public’s attention. The dustup is known as “Quartergate”.
As an aside, PCGS did promote Seger’s involvement in the design of the coin by producing a limited-edition insert label featuring his autograph.
Coin Launch Ceremony and Special Holder
A special launch ceremony was held on December 7, 1998 at the Philadelphia Mint. At this event, the first coins from the historic 50 State Quarters program were struck. VIPs in attendance were presented two examples of the coin in a special plastic US Mint holder. The holders were unsealed and were unknown to hobbyists until an example surfaced in 2019. The coins in that set were removed from the holder, conserved by NGC, and individually encapsulated with a special pedigree.
Post-Release Price Bubble
The 50 State Quarters Program kicked off on January 4, 1999. That evening, BU rolls of P and D-Mint quarters were being offered on TV coin shows for several times face value. Within weeks, the new quarters were readily available to the general public at face value.
The 1999 Silver Proof Set, including the first five State Quarters, was highly sought after by collectors in the first few years following its release. By 2002, the set was trading in excess of $150. Today the set trades for about $75.
The obverse of the 1999 Delaware quarter is the first to show a modified portrait of George Washington, a design by John Flanagan based on a 1786 plaster bust by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. Sculptor-engraver William Cousins designed the newer rendition of Washington.
The redesign was necessary, in part, to accommodate new inscriptions on the obverse that previously were featured on the reverse of the quarter; these obverse inscriptions on the 1999 Delaware quarter include UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in a semi-circular arrangement over Washington’s head, IN GOD WE TRUST to his right, LIBERTY to his left, below his chin, and QUARTER DOLLAR along the bottom side of the rim, under the first president’s bust. The words QUARTER DOLLAR and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA were previously located on the reverse of Washington quarters made from 1932 through 1998, but they were relocated to the obverse to allow a wider reverse canvas area for the changing 50 States Quarter designs. The mintmark is seen to the right of Washington’s ponytail.
Caesar Rodney is seen riding his horse on the reverse of the 1999 Delaware quarter. The design captures the nighttime ride Rodney made during a thunderstorm from Dover to Philadelphia to cast a deciding vote for independence. DELAWARE and the date of the coin, 1999, are seen above Rodney; above the trailing tail of the galloping horse are the words “THE FIRST STATE,” which serves as Delaware’s proud nickname. To the left of the horse is the inscription CAESAR RODNEY. Below are the initials of engraver William Cousins.
The edge of the 1999 Delaware 50 State quarter is reeded, as are the edges of all Washington quarters.
American sculptor John Flanagan’s work in the medallic and metal arts ranks him as one of the best artists of his generation. For generations of coin collectors, he is best known for his Washington quarter design (View Designer’s Profile).
William Cousins is a sculptor-engraver at the United States Mint.
|United States of America
|Year Of Issue:
|Quarter Dollar (USD)
|P (Philadelphia), D (Denver), S (San Francisco)
|P: 373,400,000; D: 401,424,000; S (Proofs): 3,713,359
|Silver: 90% silver, 10% copper; Clad: 75% copper, 25% nickel
|5.67 g (clad); 6.25 g (silver)
|John Flanagan | William Cousins
|Business Strike, Uncirculated, Proof
* * *