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 1976, 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 the Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) bust of George Washington. 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, 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 did lead to the delay of 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. The coin 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 can be broken down 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)
- 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. .900 silver quarters struck in 1965 and 1966 bear are antedated 1964. The last “1964” quarter was struck in January 1966. The first copper-nickel clad quarter was struck in August 1965. Copper-nickel clad has been the circulating coin composition of the quarter dollar since August 1965.
The 1972-D Washington Quarter in Specific
The Denver Mint of the 1970s produced circulating coins of a quality far superior than their Philadelphia Mint counterparts. When found, original BU rolls will yield nice coins, but the highest concentration of superb gem uncirculated (MS67) 1972-D quarters come from Mint Sets. The United States issued 2.75 million Mint Sets in 1972. The number of intact sets still existent is unknown, but it is likely that a non-insignificant percentage of the sets have been broken up – either to be spent or to be sold or collected as individual coins.
Still, the market price for 1972 Mint Sets is about 3x the set’s face value of $1.83 (the sets of that year did not include the Eisenhower dollar), which makes the set a loser as it’s $3.50 issue price equates to $19.91 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation.
Most Mint Set 1972-D quarters exhibit a strong, mostly complete strike with chest feather detail on the reverse and sharp well-defined lettering on the obverse and reverse. The coin’s reverse is busier than the obverse, which typically means that post-production hits are concealed in the detail of the design.
The obverse is clean and simple. Flanagan’s bust of Washington swoops out of a faintly curved bowl, leaving the coin’s primary focal areas exposed to all manner of contact marks. Most Washington quarters will have visible hits on the chin, eyebrow, forehead, and bust truncation. A well-struck coin that has avoided contact in these areas will likely qualify for a grade of MS66 or MS67. Both PCGS and NGC report that MS66 is the most common grade given for this issue – but keep in mind that most submissions of coins from this date will be of coins pre-sorted for quality. MS-67 coins are scarcer but readily available in the marketplace. The current market price for an MS67 1972-D quarter from either service is about $30. Both services have awarded the MS68 grade, with a combined population from both services sitting at 18 pieces at the time of publication of this article.
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. To the right is the D mintmark of the Denver Mint.
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 1972-D Washington quarter is reeded.
|Year Of Issue:||1972|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||75% Copper, 25% Nickel; Copper center.|
|OBV Designer||John Flanagan|
|REV Designer||John Flanagan|