Description – Washington Quarter
Intended to be a circulating commemorative coin honoring the bicentennial of the birth of America’s first president, the Washington quarter as originally designed was struck from 1932 to 1998 – save for a two-year run in 1975 and ’76, when the coin’s reverse was swapped out for the “drummer boy” design of Jack Ahr.
The backstory behind the Washington quarter is the stuff of myth and intrigue. Anticipating the release of a half dollar honoring Washington, the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), in collaboration with the George Washington Bicentennial Commission, held a contest to find a winning design for the coin. The competition called for the artists to base their portrait of George Washington on Jean-Antoine Houdon’s (1741-1828) famous bust. Houdon’s elegantly-executed sculpture was derived, in part, from a 1786 life mask of the future first president.
According to a contemporaneous report in the January 1932 issue of The Numismatist, 99 designs were submitted. Of those, five finalists were sent back to the artists for revision. A committee convened to review the revised designs and selected the designs of Laura Gardin Fraser. By law, the Secretary of the Treasury had final say, and despite the protests of the CFA and the Bicentennial Commission, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon chose the designs of John Flanagan.
This led to a bitter public back-and-forth between partisans on the side of Fraser and the Treasury – the extent of which has been blown out of proportion over the years by scholars and experts in the numismatic field.
The controversy, however, was potent enough to delay the coin’s issue, as the February 22 target release date came and went. The first coins were struck near the end of May or perhaps on or about June 1. They entered into circulation on August 1, 1932.
Flanagan’s obverse design features a left-facing bust of George Washington. On the reverse, Flanagan renders America’s heraldic eagle in Art Deco style.
The Washington quarter series can be subdivided as follows:
- Silver Heraldic Eagle era (1932, 1934-1964)
- Clad Heraldic Eagle era (1965-1974)
- Bicentennial Quarter (1975-1976)
- Clad Heraldic Eagle era resumed (1977-1998; Spaghetti hair 1989-1998)
- 50 State Quarters era (1999-2008)
- US Territories & DC reverses (2009)
- America the Beautiful era (2009-2021)
The Washington quarter was struck in .900 silver from 1932 through 1966. The 90% pure silver quarters struck in 1965 and 1966 are backdated 1964 (the last “1964” quarter was struck in January 1966). The first copper-nickel clad quarter was struck in August of 1965. Copper-nickel clad has been the circulating coin composition of the quarter dollar ever since.
A New Era of American Numismatics
The 1950 Proof Set is best described as the first of the “modern” 20th-century Proof sets.
It’s true that the U.S. Mint produced Proof coinage throughout the first half of the 20th century, and even produced Proof sets from 1936 to 1942 that included Lincoln cents, later Jefferson nickels, and Washington quarters. But these pre-World War II sets have a much different place in the market than Proof issues struck from 1950 onward. These early sets have Buffalo nickels, Winged Liberty dimes, and Walking Liberty half dollars. Thematically, these sets are more in line with the late classic US coin period than the modern one.
As it stands, the 1950 Proof Set is the quintessential modern Proof set. It is the first Proof Set to contain no representation of the allegorical Liberty on the obverse of any coin. In her place are the effigies of Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Washington. All of these should be well familiar to anybody who looks closely at the designs of today’s coinage.
This set is also the debut release of Proof strikings of the Franklin half dollar, a coin that stands above all others a singular triumph of simplicity and design in the modern period.
The US Mint sold 51,386 Proof sets in 1950. This is more than the total number of all sets that the Mint produced and sold in 1940, 1941, and 1942. At the time of the set’s release, this mintage would have been considered astronomical and overproduced, but by the end of the decade, the Mint would produce well over a million Proof sets. The coin hobby in the United States was ready to hit on all cylinders and the 1950 Proof Set set the stage for a massive explosion in the popularity of collecting modern coins.
What is a 1950 Washington Quarter Proof Coin Worth?
There is no single correct price for a 1950 Washington quarter in Proof.
As is the case with certified coins, which we will go into detail about in a moment, collectors pay a premium price for raw coins of this issue in instances where the coin has outstanding eye appeal.
While most collectors do not have the grading eye of a professional, generally speaking, most can differentiate between a mediocre quality coin and one that has good or great eye appeal. The professional grading scale accounts for these differences in a numerical form, with 70 being the absolute highest grade, but the regular collector considers these differences in more subtle and fluid ways. And one of these ways is the spread at which a 1950 Washington quarter in Proof can command in an online auction.
A coin with clear fields, no fingerprints or evidence of mishandling, if properly photographed and listed on eBay, will sell for about as much money as a certified coin in grades up to Proof 66.
Our survey of recent eBay listings shows a price range of between $33 and $68 for raw 1950 Proof Washington quarters. This is remarkable when you consider that the going rate for Proofs of this issue graded Proof 64 to Proof 66 aligns almost exactly with this number. In other words, the market has a pretty decent grading eye and will pay premium money, up to a point, for coins even if they do not have an “official” grade as applied by one of the two major grading services.
Things change dramatically, of course, once you get beyond the grade of Proof 67 and when 1950 Washington quarters in Proof display cameo frost.
NGC reports 2,216 grading events of the 1950 Washington quarter in Proof. 8.89% of this total earned the Cameo designation, while a minuscule total of 11 grading events earned Ultra Cameo. The typical grade for a submitted coin was in the Proof 65 to Proof 67 range, this is a much lower range on the Sheldon scale than Proof issues struck from 1953 forward. NGC has certified 603 examples in Proof 67, 104 examples in Proof 68, and just five examples in Proof 69. Cameo or not, these five examples represent the five finest 1950 Franklin Proofs certified by NGC.
Cameos follow the same grading pattern, with the exception that the highest grade certified with the designation is Proof 68, with sixteen pieces reported. Ten of the eleven Ultra Cameo examples exceed the grade of Proof 65, and the grades are dispersed in threes and twos up to 68. Franklin half dollars in Proof 68 Ultra Cameo are among the most coveted and elusive modern proof issues in the U.S. series.
PCGS reports 2,681 grading events of the 1950 Washington quarter in Proof. From that pool, PCGS has attributed their Cameo designation to 4.7% of coins submitted, while just nine have earned the company’s Deep Cameo attribution. PCGS’ grade distribution mirrors that of NGC.
Combining the populations of coins submitted to the two grading services yields a certified population of approximately 9.5% of the total mintage. It is certainly reasonable to assume that the census for 1950 Washington quarter Proofs has room to expand, but when one considers the size of the highly profitable 1950 half dollar is only double this size, it is safe to assume that dramatic increases in the coin’s upper range populations are simply unlikely given the vintage and popularity of the coin.
Certified Coin Prices Realized
As we mentioned before, a problem-free raw example can trade for as little as $33 and as much as $68, depending on the eye appeal of the coin, the quality of photography, and the professionalism of the listing.
Certified examples follow their own logic.
In Proof 65, an NGC or PCGS-certified coin is likely to bring between $50 and $60 in an online auction, less for unattractively toned examples. In Proof 66, the value steps up to $60 to $80, while Proof 67s sell for $100 and up. A February 2018 Heritage sale realized a fantastical sum of $660 for a PCGS PR67. The premium paid for this piece is the result of a bidding war over a coin that is likely (in the minds of the bidders) to upgrade to the next grade, or better. This example was an attractive and original piece in a PCGS Old Green Holder.
In Proof 68, the 1950 Washington quarter in Proof sells for about $550 to $600. Some examples with spectacular toning can often time carry what appears to be illogical premiums. It’s very difficult to assign a value to a snowflake and collectors, who choose to participate in this sophisticated niche of the market are advised to do their due diligence before making a purchasing decision.
Cameos and Deep/Ultra Cameos are worth many times more than their brilliant counterparts. A Proof 65 in Cameo is worth double the price of a brilliant Proof 67, while a Cameo in 66 commands a price between $300 and $350.
Auction records for Proof 67 Cameo examples vary wildly. Some of this is due to the quality, or thickness, of the cameo frost on the coin’s devices. The low end of the market for Proof 67 Cameos yields $700 to $800 apiece, while better examples may realize thousands of dollars, as evidenced by the $3,360 that the Michael Fuller Collection specimen brought in a February 2018 Heritage Auctions sale.
In Deep/Ultra Cameo, in 65, expect to pay between $2,500 and $2,800. In grades beyond 65, public auction records are scarce, but examples sell for $3,000 and above at 66, and one would assume that the price for 67s and 68s are well into the low five figures.
John Flanagan’s obverse design features a left-facing portrait of George Washington based on the Jean-Antoine Houdon bust of 1786. LIBERTY wraps around the top of the coin, above Washington’s hair. The date “1972” wraps around the bottom, below Washington’s bust truncation. To the left of Washington is the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
A heraldic eagle, rendered in Art Deco, style is perched atop a sheaf of arrows. The arrows and the eagle’s head are facing left. Two sprays of olive branches form a “U” shape wrapping around the bottom of the eagle. Wrapping around the top of the coin is the following text: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Below that, the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Wrapping around the bottom of the coin, the denomination QUARTER DOLLAR is inscribed.
The edge of the 1964 Proof Washington quarter, like all Washington quarters, is reeded.
|Year Of Issue:||1950|
|Mint Mark:||N/A (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||John Flanagan|
|REV Designer||John Flanagan|