Type B Proof Reverse Washington Quarters…….
By Dr. Richard S. Appel – UniqueRareCoins.com ……
Beginning in 1956 and continuing through 1964, the Philadelphia Mint produced a remarkable nine-coin series of major Washington Quarter varieties ( the Proof Reverse Washington Quarters). They were unlike anything earlier coined in the history of the U.S. Mint.
I stumbled upon my first example at a coin show in the late 1990s.
At first glance, I was amazed with the coin’s appearance. Its obverse was similar to all other Washington Quarters. But, when I turned the coin over, I was presented with a reverse that appeared to have been struck with a Proof Die. It even had slightly mirrored fields. I’m not sure if my mouth dropped, but I was startled that the Mint could have produced such an impressive coin. It apparently struck other coin enthusiasts in a like fashion because I’ve heard similar statements from a number of others.
Surprisingly, then as now, only a limited number of rare coin experts and collectors even know they exist.
It was quite some time later when I began to question whether these remarkable coins were actually coined in error or with the approval of the Mint. Even today, it remains an enigma to those who know of their existence. Controversy among numismatic experts continues to surround how and why the quarters were actually made.
The first mention of these striking coins that I can trace is in A Guide Book of United States Coins (the “Red Book”) in the mid-1970s. They attest to their significance by continuing to comment on them each year, but have yet to list their values.
From their initial discovery they were referred to as Type B Reverse or Variety II Reverse coins. The usual Washington Quarter reverse was called Type A or Variety I. These possessed the original legend, eagle and other elements that were the hallmark of the Washington Quarter series since its 1932 debut. It was first postulated, and later generally but blindly accepted, that they were produced from dies made from Proof hubs. The few that knew referred to them as errors, mistakes, accidents or even mules. It didn’t cross the mind of even the most astute numismatist, expert or collector that they were possibly made with intent. No one considered the possibility that they actually were coined from proof dies. ANACS was the first grading service to attribute them. They stated on their holders, “Proof Reverse Hub Design”.
It is my intent to present sufficient new information to finally dispel the notion that they were made in error, or by a die from a proof hub.
After exhaustive research and consideration, I believe there are only three possible minting processes that could have produced these exceptional coins. First, a mint employee mistakenly took a proof hub to make working dies to coin circulation strikes in each of these nine years. This is the theory that has been passed along in the numismatic community since they were discovered. Next, rather than destroying faulty proof dies they were used in the business strike process. Finally, actual Proof dies that were earlier used to mint Proof coins were utilized for their creation. This is what I and an increasing number of numismatic experts now believe. And this makes all the difference!
In the first two scenarios it is plausible that in 1956 a mistake was made in the production of a limited number of business strike coins. However, the likelihood that the same error could occur in nine consecutive years, and solely at the Philadelphia Mint, is extremely low. This is why I believe the coins were made with intent.
One of my specialties for at least the last few decades has been the Washington Quarter series. Business strike examples of these quarters rarely appear with even a hint of Proof or mirror-like surfaces. I have seen a few proof-like San Francisco Mint coins from the 1940s and early ’50s–and some 1964 Philadelphia examples–but less than a handful in total.
However, it isn’t unusual for coins possessing the Proof Reverse of 1956-1964 to display a proof-like surface. In fact, I have seen a number of examples that displayed a nearly fully-mirrored, Proof appearance. This indicates that in addition to the Proof art-work, the dies initially had some remaining proof surface attributes when they coined their first Proof Reverse specimens.
The more I pondered the origin of the Proof Reverse Washington Quarters, the more convinced I became that the earlier beliefs regarding their minting were dead wrong. Further, because of the general misconceptions surrounding their existence, their importance to the numismatic community has been enormously understated. If I’m correct then all of these questions will be resolved in time, and the quarters’ great merit and standing among other important rare coin varieties will be recognized by all numismatists.
The U.S. Mint began operations in 1792. Their mission was to produce coinage for our nation’s citizens and business enterprises. These are generally referred to as business strike or regular issue coins.
In the early years, some coins were occasionally produced from specially made dies. They were meticulously minted with the intent to be given as gifts to dignitaries or other persons of note. These coins normally had mirror-like surfaces and displayed higher relief and greater detail than their business struck counterparts.
Later, as the coinage process continued to improve, so did the quality of these special coins, as well as their frequency and mintage totals.
Many things can go wrong during the minting process. Throughout the Mint’s tenure mistakes or errors have occurred. These were the result of using the wrong planchets, improperly striking coins, the slip of a sculptor or engraver’s hand, or a myriad of other reasons. Modifications, alterations or refinements to hubs or dies also occurred.
Emissions generated in any of these fashions are normally referred to as mint errors or varieties. Some of these differences are subtle while many are quite impressive, but all are different from the intended, original designs.
Proof Reverse Washington Quarters were not made in error but out of necessity. First, to correct a miscalculation, and later for expediency and cost-saving reasons. Furthermore, they were coined with the intent of placing them into circulation along with the other business strike Washington Quarters of their respective years.
They were a calculated, conscious decision by Mint officials!
For these reasons I believe they fall into the category of regular business strike coins. I am convinced their birth was conceived out of fear by Mint officials. It was this fear that led them to pair the historic Washington obverse with a Proof reverse die rather than a customary one.
Events Leading Up to the Origin of Proof Reverse Washington Quarters
1955 witnessed the final year of production at the San Francisco Mint. It had been in continuous operation since 1854. Mint officials apparently believed the remaining two mints in Philadelphia and Denver were sufficient to handle the coinage needs of our nation. They appeared confident because production figures from that year were substantially lower than earlier. In fact, The San Francisco Mint only produced cents and dimes while the Denver Mint suspended its half dollar coin in 1955.
The new San Francisco Mint building, built in 1937
Unfortunately, their prescience was both wrong and short-lived. The very next year witnessed the public’s demand for coinage substantially increase. By the end of 1956, the combined production from the Denver and Philadelphia facilities saw nearly four times the number of Washington Quarters produced than in the prior year.
As 1956 progressed, the pressure on the mint to coin a sufficient number of quarters to meet the unexpected demand must have been immense. Because they misjudged the public’s demand, I believe they underestimated the number of Washington Quarter reverse dies they would need for their 1956 production run. In their haste to correct the error, the Proof Reverse Washington Quarter was born.
I believe as 1956 wore on and the country’s demand for quarters soared, the Mint’s officers began to panic. They were running out of business strike reverse dies and didn’t have sufficient time to produce new ones. I suspect that in the 11th hour, sometime in December, someone at the Philadelphia Mint came up with a solution. Why not substitute earlier used but worn Proof reverse dies to make up the deficit? The employee not only avoided a possible disaster and saved the day, but he was serendipitously responsible for the creation of the first of this unique nine-coin series.
The quarter dollar is the workhorse of our coinage so it is needed in large quantities. The lower or reverse die acts as an anvil. It receives the brunt of stress created during the coining process. When the upper die is driven with extreme pressure onto the top of the planchet, the enormous force is transferred to the lower one. This causes reverse dies to wear out faster than obverse ones, and why they are required in larger quantities.
The various Proof Reverse Washington Quarters are either very scarce or rare and are virtually unattainable in high grade. It is generally believed that most if not all were produced in the last month if not the last days of their respective years. They were manufactured exclusively at the Philadelphia Mint. Proof dies were readily available at that location because this was the facility that coined Proof coinage during that era.
Proof dies had a brief lifespan. They are normally retired after they generated a few thousand coins.
Prior to use Proof die surfaces are highly polished–this imparts the desired mirror surface to the coins they produce. Unfortunately, they strike each coin twice which causes the mirrored surfaces to quickly deteriorate. They require frequent re-polishing before being replaced. The polishing revitalizes their mirrored surfaces, but simultaneously reduces the strength of the artwork. When the design details have sufficiently degraded the die is retired and eventually destroyed. This is long before it shows any sign of structural deterioration.
The first year (1956) is by far the rarest of the nine-coin series. It is generally believed that production of Washington Quarters would be forced to cease in December due to a lack of reverse dies unless an alternative plan was developed. The decision to use retired Proof Reverse dies must have been given at that time. They simply picked up a used Proof die and paired it with a regular business strike obverse die.
The result? The numismatic community was blessed with a new, striking and unique class of Washington Quarters.
Dies are costly and time-consuming to make. This new ability became an asset to the Mint. They no longer had to precisely determine the number of reverse Washington Quarter dies they would need for a given year, and they would save money to boot. The following eight years witnessed a duplication of 1956. I believe when the Mint ran out of reverse dies they just reused worn-out Proof ones. To the benefit of the coin collecting public, the Mint’s error created an exciting nine-coin series of rarities to reflect upon, discuss and enjoy.
In Part II, I discuss reasons why I believe Proof Reverse Washington Quarters are so limited in availability. I will also present my reasoning why the U.S. Mint’s subsequent actions negatively influenced the perceptions of the numismatic community regarding these exceptional mint products.
ABOUT DR. RICHARD S. APPEL
I offer my personal services to both beginner and experienced consumers alike and can be reached through my website at www.uniquerarecoin.com and by phone at 800-782-2646.
Coin dealers typically buy and sell through their inventories. This creates a conflict of interest when they are approached by a buyer. Will the dealer look elsewhere to obtain something special, or just sell the person a coin he wanted to get rid of? Rather than buying or selling a client’s coins using my own inventory I perform this through the rare coin market.
I am totally impartial and have no conflict of interest, because I have absolutely nothing that I have to sell! My tenured experience and vast network of contacts, including membership in all major dealer communication networks, allows me to locate virtually any coin offered on the market, and many that are not.
I have been a numismatic expert for 50 years. For a modest fee I will treat every purchase or sale of your coins as if they were my own, and will negotiate the best possible price on your behalf.
- Began dealing in rare coins in 1962
- Member of every major numismatic dealer communication network, connecting all significant rare coin dealers
- Continuous contributor since 1992 to, “A Guide Book of United States Rare Coins”. First published in 1947, The Red Book is the oldest and most widely used rare coin price guide
- Author of “Financial Insights”, 1995-2006; a subscription based financial newsletter
- Instrumental in developing the rare date Liberty Gold Coin market, 1985-1995
- Author of numerous articles on various rare coin topics in major numismatic publications
- Prolific and widely followed writer of internet distributed articles discussing financial and economic issues
- American Numismatic Association (ANA) member since 1973, along with many other numismatic organizations
- Practiced Optometry, 1970-1985. Retired and sold his practice in 1980
- Founder and First President of the New Jersey Society of Optometry
- Appointed to the New Jersey State Board of Optometrists by Governor Brendan T. Byrne, 1979
- Elected Chairman of the New Jersey State Board of Optometrists, 1980
- His first rare coin investment was in 1957, when he purchased a brilliant uncirculated $5.00 roll of 1955 Philadelphia Roosevelt Dimes. He paid $7.50 for the 50 coins. A few years later his mother needed $2.30 to pay a postman. She apparently had difficulty finding the money so she took 23 of his beautiful coins for payment. Dr. Appel sold the 27 remaining coins in 1964 for $100, and was hooked!