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 the two-year run of Bicentennial quarters 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 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 respective 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 to 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.
An Era Draws to a Close
The 1963 Proof set is the last of a 14-set run of sets to include the Franklin half dollar. In 1964, the United States Mint would introduce the Kennedy half dollar, a coin struck to honor the slain president. The 1964 issue would prove to be a one-year type, as the Mint eliminated silver from the dime and quarter starting in 1965, and reduced silver content in the half dollar to 40%.
The 1963 set is a high-mintage set, with over three million produced. This number represents the explosion in popularity that the coin hobby enjoyed in the 1960s, where sales for the Mint’s annual set doubled from 1960 to 1961. Sales for Proof Sets would remain strong for the next three decades and would only see material declines in the back half of the 2000s.
The quality of the coins in the 1963 Proof Set is typically high with a significant number (albeit a minority) of pieces displaying sufficient cameo frosting to earn the Cameo or Deep/Ultra Cameo designations by the two major grading services.
Due to this, the numismatic premium over spot price is modest for 1963 Proof issues, with the exception of pieces in ultra-high grade with very thick cameo frost. The current market price for an intact 1963 Proof Set is approximately $20. As a standalone item, an uncertified Proof quarter from the set has a value of approximately $5.
NGC reports 10,596 grading events of the 1963 Washington quarter in Proof. 18.95% of this total earned the Cameo designation, while a modest 8.5% earned Ultra Cameo. The typical grade for a submitted coin was in the Proof 67 to Proof 68 range, with a sizable population in Proof 69. Assume that coins submitted for grading were handpicked for quality. On average, a fresh Proof set that was well cared for will yield a quarter in this grade range. Expect worse if the coin was mishandled, the set’s packaging is brittle or damaged, or if the coin was removed and put into a Capital holder.
PCGS has graded 6,613 1963 Washington quarters in Proof. From that pool, PCGS has attributed their Deep Cameo designation to 15% of coins submitted, while 24.75% earned the company’s Cameo attribution. PCGS’ grade distribution mirrors that of NGC with the notable exception that PCGS has to date certified four examples in the 70 grade. NGC has given no coins of this issue their ultimate grade.
What’s It Worth?
Regardless of condition, a Proof 1963 Washington quarter is made of 90% silver and has an actual silver weight of 0.1808 ounces. This means that if silver is $14.68 USD an ounce, then a Washington quarter struck before 1964 has a melt value of $2.65.
The numismatic premium for a well-preserved Washington quarter is worth approximately two times melt, or $6.00.
Coin certification by PCGS or NGC can add significant numismatic value to the coin, especially if the coin exhibits thick cameo frosting and has virtually flawless fields and devices. PCGS has certified four Brilliant 1964 Washington quarters as Proof 70, but to date, no Cameo or Deep Cameo has earned higher than Proof 69. A PCGS Proof 70 with great eye appeal should trade in excess of $1,000. The last example to sell at public auction brought $345 when it sold at a Heritage auction in February 2003. PCGS has not certified an example in the 70 grade in more than 15 years.
Brilliant examples in 69 routinely trade for $30. In Cameo, a 1963 Washington quarter in Proof sells between $60 to $80. In Deep Cameo, prices realized are disparate. Typically, the range is between $180 and $200, but there are outliers that have brought $500 and up. These higher-priced examples do not stand out as being particularly exceptional, so we categorize these results as outliers. Of course, the dividing line between Cameo and Deep/Ultra Cameo can be arbitrary. A superior Cameo may very well exceed the eye appeal of a run-of-the-mill Deep Cameo, so caveat emptor.
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:||1963|
|Mint Mark:||N/A (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||John Flanagan|
|REV Designer||John Flanagan|