To honor the 200th anniversary of President and General George Washington’s birthday, Congress passed a joint resolution in 1924 that was signed by then-President Calvin Coolidge. The resolution was to ensure the country hosted adequate celebrations in 1932, the deceased president’s bicentennial year. One of the sponsored actions was to replace the Standing Liberty series quarter.
While the Washington quarter was originally meant to be a commemorative half dollar, the Great Depression forced the commission to shelve the idea. Since the Standing Liberty quarter was difficult to strike and the dies wore out too quickly, necessitating a higher level of effort by mint officials, there was little official Mint pushback when Representative Randolph Perkins (R-NJ7) introduced a bill to change the Washington commemorative denomination. This decision, however, came after the Bicentennial Commission had already held a design competition and selected one by the well-known coin designer Laura Gardin Fraser.
But instead of adapting Fraser’s medallic submission for the half-dollar commemorative, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon decided to hold a second design competition. American sculptor John Flanagan’s design began as an entry in this second 1931 competition. In a controversial move, Secretary Mellon overruled the Commission’s selection of Fraser’s design for a second time and instead chose Flanagan’s design. This decision caused a minor scandal at the time, and has continued to reverberate through numismatics to this day.
Perhaps to placate members of the Bicentennial Commission, Mellon agreed to allow the designers additional time to adjust and possibly improve their designs. In the end, this did not change anything and Ogden L. Mills, Mellon’s successor as Treasury Secretary, did not overrule the decision and awarded Flanagan
Walter Breen, the noted and controversial numismatic historian, even accused Mellon of sexism for his decision to ignore Fraser’s design. While not totally accurate, it is true that Fraser did not receive just recognition until her design was used on the 1999 $5 George Washington commemorative gold coin.
Production of the Washington quarter began in 1932, with 6,248,800 coins being struck–a mintage that far outstripped demand thanks to the Great Depression. As a result, no coins were struck in 1933. In 1935, the third year of issue, the United States Mint ordered an increase in production over the previous year. The Philadelphia Mint struck 35,484,000 coins; the San Francisco Mint struck 5,660,000; and the Denver Mint struck 5,780,000 for a grand total of 46,924,000 coins – as opposed to the previous years’ total of 35,439,252 coins.
In these early years of production, the Mint adjusted the obverse design slightly. Since Flanagan engraved the obverse motto IN GOD WE TRUST “too softly” on his models, the hubs needed to be adjusted if the lettering were not to wear off the dies too quickly. Experimenting with the font weight of the motto, the Mint eventually settled on the heavy style seen on Washington quarters struck in 1936 and later. However, when striking the 1935-D, mint workers employed dies cut from the second transitional type of 1935 hub. While the lettering on these coins was still slim, the motto was, however “much sharper.”
At the time this article was written, the spot price of silver was $22.79 (USD) per ounce, which means that the 1935-D quarter currently has a melt value of $4.08. This bullion value is less than the numismatic value of even the coin’s lowest grades. The Greysheet estimates an average price of $5 in AG (About Good), which rises to upwards of $20-25 in VF (Very Fine). Prices for the 1935-D jump to $150-200 in the various AU grades (About Uncirculated) and $200 to $300 in the low MS grades (Mint State). High MS-graded pieces regularly go for $500 to $3,000, with examples of the highest recorded grade (MS67+ in PCGS Coin Facts) selling for $7,050 in September 2014.
Designed by John Flanagan, the obverse of the 1935-D Washington quarter is based on a bust of the general created by the neoclassical French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1785. However, Flanagan’s design differs from the original bust in several ways, such as a slightly different head shape and several curls of hair that are not on the bust; for comparison, the bust can be viewed at the late president’s estate, Mount Vernon. Under the left-facing bust’s chin is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, the 1935-D using the transitional medium weight motto. The legend LIBERTY runs along the top of the coin’s field and the date 1935 below. In small letters, Flanagan’s initials “JF” can be found above the “5” in 1935 at the base of the bust.
Unlike the obverse, there were no restrictions placed on the candidate sculptors when designing the Washington quarter reverse. Flanagan’s reverse is dominated by a heraldic eagle with outstretched wings and a left-facing head. The eagle is perched on a neat bundle of arrows with two intertwined olive branches below and the D mintmark centered between the two olive branch stems. Above the eagle can be read the two main inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM. Finally, at six o’clock on the design is the denomination written out as QUARTER DOLLAR.
The edge of the 1935 D Washington quarter is reeded, as is the edge of all Washington quarters
Born in New Jersey in 1865, John Flanagan lived in New York for most of his life. He began working with Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1884 at the age of 20 and quickly became a well-known sculptor and medallic artist in his own right. Saint-Gaudens made introductions for Flanagan at the United States Mint. While the Washington quarter was his sole numismatic design, Flanagan designed numerous famous medals and sculptures, including the official medal of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the official Verdun medal gifted to France by the U.S. Government, and the 1924 bust of Saint-Gaudens. Flanagan was also a member of the American Numismatic Society (ANS).
|Year Of Issue:||1935|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||John Flanagan|
|REV Designer||John Flanagan|