By Dr. Richard S. Appel – UniqueRareCoins.com ……
In Part I and Part II of this article I discussed the history, attributes, legends, intrigue, and ongoing controversy surrounding these exceptional coins. I described how I and an increasing number of noted numismatists believe the Philadelphia Mint’s error in judgement led to their creation and relegation to relative obscurity, despite their great significance and appeal.
A YEAR-BY-YEAR ANALYSIS
Most remaining examples of the Proof Reverse Philadelphia issues are in circulated grades.
In mint-state they are all very scarce and, in the case of the 1956 issue, rare. Most uncirculated specimens fall into the MS64 and lower categories. All MS65 coins are extremely elusive and, at the MS66 level, all but the 1957 issue are quite scarce if not very rare. Presently, most dates of the nine-coin series are unknown in MS67 grade. Not a single specimen has attained the lofty MS68 title. All references to condition, grade or populations in this article refer to coins attributed by NGC or PCGS.
I believe the reasons most Proof Reverse Washington Quarters are unavailable in the higher grades are twofold.
First, in the latter part of the 1950s, the Mint employees handling coins weren’t as careful as earlier. This condition continued through 1964. The result is that all coin denominations produced at the two Mints during that era tend to display many abrasions or bag marks.
Second, this problem was compounded in 1963 and ’64 by an enormous increase in mintages due to a soaring demand for Washington Quarters. Not only were they not terribly careful, but the employees were likely overworked as well. As poor as the quality of the 1959-62 issues are, those from 1963 and 1964 are as bad or worse. Significantly, due to their mishandling, very few regular 1959-64 business strike coins reach the MS67 level, and none have yet been graded finer. For these reasons, and because the Proof Reverse Philadelphia quarters are far rarer than their business strike counterparts, it is unlikely that more than a few Proof Reverse Washington Quarters will ever be graded MS67, and we may never see one better. Due to their rarity and especially their unavailability in high grade, I consider high-grade Proof Reverse coins the Holy Grails of the entire Washington Quarter series.
… This is by far the rarest in both availability and condition of the entire nine-coin series. They are seldom found in circulation and are rare in mint state. Like the other Proof Reverse issues, the majority have been melted. I doubt if more than a few thousand remain in existence (and likely far fewer in mint state). PCGS and NGC have certified less than 150 combined coins in all grades. Only 10 pieces have been graded MS66, while the finest graded is a lone MS66+ PCGS coin. It is a true Condition Rarity!
… This issue is very scarce in mint-state. Fortunately for collectors this date is occasionally available in MS67. Most of these were originally found in U.S. government-issued mint sets, so they are nicely toned. NGC and PCGS have reported a combined 258 total specimens, with 30 grading MS67 and none are finer.
… This is one of the four most available of the nine issues, yet they are by no means common. The grading services report a total of 582 specimens in all circulated and uncirculated grades. The highest graded by either service are a few MS66 coins, with not even a lone MS67 example noted. A few have been found in mint sets.
… This is the most common issue, if you can call an NGC and PCGS total of 805 coins in all grades common. In comparison, both services have graded combined totals of over 10,000 coins for each of the 1932-D and 1932-S dates which are currently regarded as the rarest issues of the series. Neither NGC nor PCGS have reported a single 1959 quarter grading MS67, so the 35 MS66 coins must suffice to satisfy the entire numismatic community. A lone MS66+ has been graded by PCGS. This appears to be the most frequently found Proof Reverse issue in mint sets.
U.S. government-issued mint sets were produced in each of the nine years when Proof Reverse coins were minted. They were compiled and mailed to the collecting public in the first three or four months of the following year. The Philadelphia Mint had already begun using the current year’s date, so the coins that were available for inclusion in the sets were left over from the previous year. They have been found in mint sets of each year. This confirms that most or all Proof Reverse coins were made at year’s-end, and therefore were produced in limited quantities. It is important to recognize that mint-set-derived Proof Reverse coins rarely grade higher than MS65. This is yet another testament to the rarity of high grade examples of these great coins. It must be noted that other coins will be found in mint sets. Few coin enthusiasts know of their existence so many sets remain to be searched.
… This is the third of the four most available issues. PCGS and NGC have graded a combined total of 664 specimens in all grades. The highest coins graded are two MS67 examples by NGC. PCGS has yet to see its first coin certified at that lofty level. They are occasionally found in mint sets.
… This is probably the third-rarest issue. It boasts a mere 295 certified coins in all circulated and mint state grades. NGC has certified a single coin in MS67, and PCGS a sole MS66+ with none finer. It is occasionally available in MS66 (the services have graded 22 specimens at this level). A few have been located in mint sets.
… This is likely the second-rarest issue of the nine-coin series. This was first pointed out to me several years ago by Jose Cortez. A miniscule 197 coins have been certified in all conditions, with a surprising two examples graded MS67 by PCGS. In MS66 it is quite rare, with only 10 coins certified by the services. For comparison, PCGS has only graded 19 regular business strike coins in MS67. Thus attesting to its present and future rarity in high grade. Another great Condition Rarity! It is rarely found in mint sets.
… This issue is the scarcest of the 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1963 group. It boasts a total of 535 specimens in all circulated and mint-state grades. There are 39 coins in MS66, and the Finest Known is a lone MS67 example by NGC, despite 74 million minted. A few have been located in mint sets.
… This is the final coin of this immensely desirable and impressive series. I believe its rarity compares favorably with the 1961 Proof Reverse issue. In high grade it is definitely rarer! In fact, it is another Condition Rarity of the series. An incredibly small total of 271 coins in all circulated and uncirculated conditions has been certified. The finest graded are nine examples in MS66, with a MS67 specimen yet to be certified by either NGC or PCGS. It is occasionally found in mint sets.
A huge 560 million business strike Washington Quarters were coined in Philadelphia that year. However, as earlier discussed, the coins were so badly treated at the Mint that few escaped damaging bag marks. For good or bad, this forever limited the availability of high-grade coins of this and most other Proof Reverse issues.
Why Proof Reverse Washington Quarters Bear Such Great Significance to Numismatists
When I first learned of these impressive, stunning coins my excitement was quickly arrested by the dogma that was handed down from earlier experts. I, like every collector or student of numismatics I spoke with who knew of them, thought they were unusual if not incredible. But to the person, they all believed they were made by accident or in error. They all repeated the mantra that a Proof Hub was used to create a working die, which was somehow used to manufacture business strike coins. In fact, ANACS helped perpetuate this idea because they labeled them, “Proof Reverse Hub Design(s)”.
Everyone thought they were extraordinary, but no one seemed to question how this “mistake” could have been similarly made in each of nine consecutive years. Further, due to this universal belief, their great significance was overlooked (if not ignored) by everyone–including most price guides.
I believe this misconception originated and was passed on because of statements that emanated from Mint officials.
Whenever questioned about the Proof Reverse coins, Mint executives always ”fervently denied” that their genesis was from earlier used but worn-out Proof dies. If ANACS and the Mint said they were made by a Proof Hub, why would any numismatist, even an expert, question them? But the more I studied and thought about them the more convinced I became that all of the experts were wrong. Further, if they were indeed produced from earlier used Proof dies their importance to numismatics was egregiously understated.
The definition of a “set” of coins is one specimen of each issue that is produced at every Mint for a given series. When referring to a complete set of business strike coins we refer to coins that were made for and with the intent of being placed into circulation. Exceptional, highly regarded varieties are often also included in the most memorable sets. As discussed earlier in this series, I believe these impressive coins were coined with such intent. From their inception, they were destined to be used for our nation’s general business transactions. Further, I believe they are imminently important and have a storied history of disagreement, controversy and intrigue that sets them apart from even the most highly regarded varieties. This greatly enhances their desirability. For these reasons, I believe they should be included to complete every set of Washington Quarters.
Proof Reverse Washington Quarters Are Members of the Elite Group of Desirable Numismatic Varieties
The Proof Reverse coins are indeed varieties. Their reverse detail is decidedly different from the “normal” reverse artwork that was intended for our quarter’s design. If I am correct and they were intentionally produced, their importance to the numismatic community cannot be overstated. This would be the first time that earlier used but retired Proof Dies were utilized to produce coins for general circulation. Combine these points with the events surrounding them, and coin enthusiasts are offered not only a unique nine-year set of coins, but an exceptional multi-faceted history to attend it.
In their tenure the U.S. Mint produced a number of significant errors and varieties that universally became considered integral members of their respective series’, and are present in all major sets and collections. Impressive and popular over-dates, doubled dies, and large and small letter pairs are present in numerous rare coin types. The 1839 $10 gold coin with the 1838 obverse, the “no motto” $10 Indian and $20 Saint-Gaudens gold coins as well as the 1883 “no cents” Liberty Nickel are all noted varieties needed to grace and complete a great set.
Similar varieties are the Pacquet Reverse 1861-S $20, 1859-61 “old reverse” $2.50 gold coins, Type I Standing Liberty Quarters, 1878 Morgan Dollars with an 8 tail feather reverse, or 1879-S with the reverse of 1878 silver dollars.
These all display different reverse artwork from the customary designs. The fabulous 1849-C open wreath gold dollar is yet another example of a recognized, sought after rarity that offers different reverse artwork from the ordinary. All of these, and numerous other wonderful varieties, are universally treasured and coveted, and have a place in all important collections. Given the distinct, obvious difference that the Proof Reverse artwork displays, I feel these nine coins reside perfectly with the other above mentioned great varieties, and should adorn all great, and complete collections of Washington Quarters.
How the Proof Reverse Coins Compare with the Recognized Washington Quarter Rarities
From the birth of the Washington series, the 1932-D and 1932-S issues were always deemed the rarest and most desirable. They have miniscule mintages of 436,800 and 408,000 coins respectively. Combined, NGC and PCGS have graded about 10,000 1932-D and 12,000 1932-S coins in all conditions. From a price standpoint, mint-state 1932-D coins begin at around $1,000 and the 1932-S claims about $400. Their Finest Known examples (which grade MS66) bring near $150,000 for the 1932-D and about $15,000 for the 1932-S.
In contrast, I believe it is highly unlikely if the mintage of even the most common 1959 Proof Reverse issue was 25% of either the 1932 Denver or San Francisco coins, while the others boast decidedly lower total coinages. Further, given their virtually unknown status, the great coin melts–which I discussed earlier at length–have likely reduced their meager original numbers by 75% or more. For price comparisons, mint-state Proof Reverse coins begin below $25. The Finest Known examples of each issue range from several hundred dollars if their highest grade is MS66, to the mid-five figures for the few dates that boast any MS67 coins. They will never be valued in high grade near that of the 1932-D issue, but to my mind they present an exceptional opportunity for the astute collector or investor.
Proof Reverse Philadelphia Washington Quarters offer a great opportunity for today’s collectors and investors. As more numismatists become aware of not only their existence but also the history, controversy and the intrigue surrounding them, their desirably can only increase. Combine this with their outstanding visual appearance and rarity, and I believe one day they will be desired like the most important, noted varieties of today. They will be actively sought to complete not only the finest Washington Quarter collections, but also as members of any significant collection of U.S. coinage. When this occurs I am confident their prices will be far higher. This will reflect the universal recognition of their indisputable importance to numismatists, from beginners to experts.
I believe that as the knowledge of their existence spreads their demand will rise. This will be augmented as an increasing number of numismatics recognize their true genesis, and admit their unquestioned importance to the numismatic community.
Today, collectors can complete nine-coin sets at reasonable prices. The only problem may be that their availability is too limited, especially in the upper grades. In any event, I believe coin collectors, investors and numismatic experts alike will look back in the not-too-distant future and wonder why these treasures were not appreciated earlier for their beauty, history and importance.
Only time will tell how numismatists will ultimately regard and value the Philadelphia Mint’s Proof Reverse Washington Quarter series. I am confident in my analysis of the reason they came into existence, and of their unquestionable merit.
However, it is up to all numismatists to decide how future generations will regard these coins. How will the controversy be resolved? Will they agree with me regarding their origin and great significance, or will they agree with the earlier Mint officials? A major key for me is that they were produced for nine consecutive years. If the Mint used a Proof hub by mistake in 1956, could they possibly make the same error in each of next eight years? I know what I believe. What do you think?