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Bullion Shark: Collecting Classic, Modern, and Silver American Quarters

By Bullion Shark LLC ……
The United States Mint was founded in 1792 and began striking pattern coins that year. The first regular issue coins were not produced until 1793. The first quarter dollars, however, were not issued until 1796 because Spanish colonial coins denominated in Reales, which still circulated in the U.S., filled the commercial “niche” that a quarter dollar would also serve. One Real was made by cutting one of the 8 Reales coins into eight pieces, each worth 12 ½ cents. Two of them, or two bits, were worth a quarter dollar.

Early and Classic Quarters: 1796-1930

Quarters made of 90% silver and 10% copper were issued for circulation from 1796 to 1964. Since then, they have only been issued in this alloy for annual Proof sets or other collectors coins.

The first quarters used the Draped Bust design with a right-facing bust of Liberty on the obverse while a small eagle appeared on their reverse. Those coins were only issued in 1796. From 1804 to 1807, the prior obverse was paired with a new reverse featuring a larger, heraldic eagle. Then from 1815 to 1838, the quarter featured a new design with a left-facing Capped Bust Liberty paired with a reverse showing an eagle clutching arrows and olive branches in its talons. In 1831 the diameter was reduced.

Then, from 1838 all the way to 1891, Liberty Seated quarters were issued that showed Liberty sitting on a rock wearing a flowing dress and a Phrygian cap with a Liberty pole in one hand and a striped shield with “Liberty” on it in the other. Five major subtypes exist of these quarters.

Charles Barber created a design for dimes, quarters, and halves that debuted in 1892 and featured a right-facing profile of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap with laurel and LIBERTY inscribed on a band above her forehead. Six stars appear to her right, and seven to her left. The reverse has a heraldic eagle that is holding an olive branch and arrows in its talons, symbolizing the desire for peace while being prepared for war. These coins were issued on an annual basis at branch mints in Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco (not at each mint every year) through 1916 and remained in circulation until the 1950s.

Rolls of circulated Barber quarters can be had for about twice their silver value.

1916 Standing Liberty Quarter
1916 Standing Liberty quarter. Image composite: CoinWeek.

One of the coins that came out President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Renaissance” of American coinage is the Standing Liberty quarter designed by sculptor and engraver Hermon A. MacNeil that featured a design of Liberty with her head facing eastward, bearing an upraised shield in her left hand and an olive branch in her right hand. The reverse features an eagle in full flight with its wings extended.

This design was intended to show that Liberty wanted peace but was prepared to defend herself against the problems brewing in Europe. Issued from 1916 through 1930 except for 1922, there are two types of the design: the first type featured Liberty with one of her breasts exposed and was issued in 1916 and 1917. The second type, which debuted later in 1917, had chain mail covering the breast.

Rolls of circulated Standing Liberty quarters are also about twice spot value.

Washington Quarters: 1932-Present

The Washington quarter, which was originally intended to honor the bicentennial of Washington’s birth in 1732, features a left-facing bust of President George Washington by New Jersey sculptor John F. Flanagan on its obverse, debuted in 1932. The coins are made of 90% silver and 10% copper like all previous quarters issued through 1964. Since then they have been made of a 75% copper-10% nickel alloy plus a 99.5% copper core, commonly known as a cupro-nickel composition.

1932-D Washington Quarter
A key date 1932-D Washington quarter in Mint State.

The reverse design features an eagle with its wings outstretched and perched on a bundle of arrows in a style that many consider representative of Art Deco. The coin was issued unchanged until 1976 when a special one-year-only reverse was used for the nation’s Bicentennial that featured a colonial drummer. No coins were issued in 1975.

The series then continued with the original 1932 design until 1999, when the 50 State Quarters series debuted. This was the first modern circulating coin program with a new reverse on each coin. The series saw the issuance of 50 quarters – one for each state – through 2008 in the order in which they either ratified the U.S. Constitution or were admitted into the Union.

In 2009, the state quarters were followed by a related series of coins issued for the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.

In 2010, a new series devoted to coins commemorating national parks and major historic sites in each state and territory debuted called the America the Beautiful series. These coins are also issued in a 5 oz silver bullion version and a second version with a vapor-blasted finish and “P” mintmark for the Philadelphia Mint, where all ATB silver coins are produced. The final and 56th coin of this series will be issued in early 2021.

Silver versions are still produced for annual collector sets, which through 2018 were made of the same composition as pre-1965 quarters but are now composed of .999 fine silver.

In 2019, the Mint delighted quarter collectors with the first coins struck at the West Point Mint that carry a “W” mintmark with a mintage of just two million for each of the five 2019 coins. They are only available in circulation.

How Much is a Silver Quarter Worth?

90% Silver quarters issued until 1964 are still occasionally found in change, though much less often than they were in the past.

2020 U.S. Mint Silver Proof Set.
2020 U.S. Mint Silver Proof Set.

At today’s spot price of about $18 per ounce, one of these coins has a silver value of about $3.30, which is based on a pure silver weight of about .18 ounces. Rolls of 40 uncirculated quarters can be purchased for $200 today.

The values of Washington silver quarters vary greatly depending on the year of the coin and its condition. A complete set that includes circulated examples of the scarcer and older coins and Almost Uncirculated examples of the later dates can be had for $650.

On the other hand, a nice graded set of MS63 coins runs almost 10 times that amount at $6,000, and that does not include variety coins, such as the 1937, 1942-D, and 1943-S Double Die Obverse (DDO) coins. When varieties are added, the same set runs about $30,000.

The clad coins are much more affordable apart from high-grade examples and most dates still circulate.

1964 Silver Quarter

The final silver quarter ever struck, the 1964 quarter, runs $10 in MS63 but reaches $850 in MS67.

An interesting aspect of the 1964 coin is that the Philadelphia Mint continued striking the coin in early 1965 due to a coin shortage that then-Mint Director Eva Adams blamed on collectors. And in 1965 the San Francisco Mint struck 15 million 1964 quarters with no mint mark and another 4,640,865 1964 coins in early 1966. This was all due to the date freeze mandate of the United States Mint.

1967 Silver Quarter

With a mintage of over 1.5 billion coins, the 1967 clad quarter has the second-highest mintage of the series after 1965 and is mainly valuable in MS67 examples worth $160 and especially in the top grade of MS68 worth over $6,000.

However, it is also a year when Special Mint Sets were issued instead of Proof sets at the San Francisco Mint but with no mint marks. The SMS coins have partially mirrored surfaces, but high-quality examples of the regular 1967 coins look very similar.

The Washington quarter series is fun to collect, not only for the silver coins but also for the wide variety of designs issued in copper-nickel since 1965. This is especially true if you are lucky enough to find high-quality examples in change.

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