The Washington Quarter By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
Two hundred and forty-four years to the day that General George Washington and his Continental Army forces crossed the Delaware River to stage a surprise attack on British-aligned Hessian soldiers, the United States Mint pushed out a press release announcing the new reverse that will make its debut on the 2021 Washington quarter. It features a design that honors Washington’s historic yet often mythologized 300-yard voyage.
Given that we are fast approaching the end of the year, I would not be surprised to find out that the new design was already in production.
Assuming my math is correct, this will be the 114th reverse that has been married to some version of John Flanagan’s Washington quarter obverse. The Heraldic Eagle, the Washington quarter’s original backside, appeared uninterrupted from 1932 to 1974. Jack Ahr’s Drummer Boy reverse was struck for circulating quarters in 1975 and 1976 and continued to be produced through the early ’80s as the Mint manufactured a small number of Bicentennial silver-clad Proof and Uncirculated sets until the products were removed from their catalog in 1981. In 1977, the Heraldic Eagle returned to its perch on the reverse of the quarter and stayed there until 1998.
In 1999, the United States Mint embarked on its longest and most successful public relations program ever launching the Congressionally-mandated 50 State Quarters Program. For the next 10 years, the Mint produced five quarter designs a year to honor each state in the order in which they were admitted to the Union. The early days of the program brought renewed interest in the coin hobby. There was speculation, to be sure, but an entirely new generation of Americans got to experience the thrill of filling coin boards in an attempt to complete a set.
The third design of 1999, released on May 17, featured a scene of Washington crossing the Delaware River.
Maybe it was inevitable, but collector enthusiasm for the program waned by the end of the series. After the first two years of brisk sales, the Mint began to report declining sales numbers for Proof and Mint Sets. The crude, almost clip-art nature of some if not most of the designs didn’t help, but the length of the 50 State Quarters program probably worked to its detriment.
Still, the effort made money and was a good public relations program. Congress doubled down on the circulating commemorative concept by authorizing the Presidential dollar coin program starting in 2007, the production of quarters for the District of Columbia and U.S. territories for 2009, and a new 56-coin quarter program–America the Beautiful–starting in 2010.
When the Mint issues the new (second) Washington Crossing the Delaware design in 2021, it will mark 23 years since the quarter has had a consistent design year-to-year.
Which begs the question: why are we stuck with Flanagan’s Washington quarter design in the first place? Granted, I felt some sense of nostalgia seeing the obverse revert back to the quarter as I remember it from my youth, but that quickly wore off once I realized that 2021 would mark the return of the garish “Spaghetti Hair” iteration of the design that the Mint adopted in the mid-1990s. What makes the 2021 Spaghetti Hair obverse worse than the 1998 one is that the Mint’s die-making technology is much improved today and the fact that NOBODY who collects Washington quarters holds this version of the coin in high regard.
Obviously, it will take an Act of Congress to correct course and see to it that we get a revitalized coinage that fits the aspirations and needs of 21st-century Americans. Given Congress’s track record on any number of issues important to the furtherance of the American experiment, I’m not holding my breath.
Still, the release of the 2021 quarter is indicative of something collectors have known for quite a while: it’s time to change our change. The Lincoln cent, the Jefferson nickel, the Roosevelt dime, the Washington quarter, the Kennedy half, and whatever passes these days for the “golden dollar” have all had their day. It’s time to move on.
Sorry, George. But it’s not like you ever wanted your likeness to appear on our coins, anyway.