1935 marked the third year of production for the Washington quarter. The coin design was introduced in 1932 to honor the 200th anniversary of President and General George Washington’s birthday. Then-President Calvin Coolidge signed the authorizing legislation in 1924, eight years before the planned commemoration was to take place and just eight years into the production of Hermon MacNeil’s Liberty Standing quarter design.
The intent of the legislation was to ensure the country hosted adequate celebrations in 1932, the deceased president’s bicentennial year.
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, there was little Mint pushback when Representative Randolph Perkins (R-NJ7) introduced a bill to change the Washington commemorative denomination from half to quarter dollar. This decision, however, came after the Bicentennial Commission had already held a design competition and selected a design submitted by the well-known sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser.
Design Controversy and Giving Flanagan and Fraser Their Due
Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon did not accept the commission’s guidance and opted to hold a second design competition. When Fraser’s design was selected for a second time, Mellon short-circuited the process and instead chose a design submitted by sculptor John Flanagan. Members of the Bicentennial Commission were outraged, but Mellon was unmoved. Chauvinism is the reason cited by Walter Breen and others for Mellon’s refusal to accept the Fraser design.
But while criticism of Mellon’s heavy-handed actions was certainly warranted, the Flanagan design was not without merit. The Flanagan version of the Washington quarter was struck from 1932 to 1998 when the obverse was modified to allow for the reverse to be used to celebrate each of the 50 states of the Union.
Fraser’s slighted design would eventually get proper recognition. First, it was used as the design for the 1999 George Washington $5 Commemorative gold coin– issued on the 200th anniversary of the first President’s death. In 2022, the Treasury will give Fraser’s obverse an encore performance, when the Mint’s American Women Quarters Program debuts.
The 1935-S Quarter Up Close
In 1935, the United States Mint struck quarters at all three mints. 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.
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-S, 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 is $22.30 (USD) per ounce – which means that the 1935-S quarter currently has a melt value of $4.03. This bullion value is less than the numismatic value of even the coin’s lowest grades. Recent eBay sales show that the typical Good example sells for about $8, while coins graded Very Fine to Extra Fine can bring between $20 and $30. Prices jump for the 1935-S Washington Quarter in Mint State, with uncertified examples selling for $80 or more.
For roughly the same price, collectors can secure a certified example in the grade of MS63.
Some price guides published online suggest that MS65 examples can bring as much as $200, while recent sales show that most quarters at this grade are bringing between $130 and $150. In the highest certified grades, the 1935-S is cheaper than the 1935-D. More 1935-S quarters were saved at high grade apparently, and this is reflected in the fact that several recent sales of MS67+ quarters certified by PCGS and NGC have been reported at the $1,500 to $2,000 range. During the same period, 1935-D quarters in the same grade have traded hands for $4,000 and up.
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:||S (San Francisco)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||John Flanagan|
|REV Designer||John Flanagan|