By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek …..
When PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) announced earlier this year a special initiative called Quarter Quest, offering incentives and rewards for the earliest-discovered examples of West Point-minted 2019 America The Beautiful quarters, the news stirred coin collectors and even countless non-numismatists to check their change. Now, as the popular W-mint quarter challenge wraps up with the release of the 2019-W Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness quarter representing the state of Idaho, it is time to look back on this innovative program.
For those who unfamiliar with the PCGS Quarter Quest, it could perhaps best be compared to the “Golden Ticket” concept that author Roald Dahl’s famous fictional chocolatier Willy Wonka offered to five lucky customers. As the 1964 story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory goes, Wonka inserted in the wrappers of five individual chocolate bars one golden-colored certificate redeemable for a special tour of his majestic chocolate factory – the ultimate prize being a lifetime supply of chocolate. The Golden Ticket promotion caused pandemonium among the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and to an extent so, too, did PCGS Quarter Quest and its five “golden” – er…, cupro-nickel clad – “tickets”.
Imagine finding a quarter in pocket change worth up to $5,000–that’s how much the first 2019-W quarter, representing Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts, was worth to the first person to submit an example of the coin to PCGS.
“After PCGS announced the Quarter Quest competition on Friday, April 5, 2019, the entire office buzzed with anticipation,” recalled PCGS President Brett Charville earlier this year.
On April 9, 2019, within days of announcing Quarter Quest, PCGS received the first two qualifying 2019-W Lowell National Historical Park quarters. The two quarters were submitted by collectors in Virginia and Kansas, and the two winners split the $5,000 prize and received “First Discovery” pedigrees on their encapsulated 2019-W Lowell National Historical Park quarters.
While the first W-minted quarter of the year was worth $5,000, the other four to come each carried a respectable bounty of $2,000, and eager submissions filtered in over the days immediately following the release of each subsequent quarter.
But the incentives weren’t restricted to only cash rewards. PCGS also offered two special grading pedigrees for all W-mint quarters that arrived in the grading office within the first weeks of each coin’s release.
Any 2019-W quarter submitted within the first seven days after the PCGS First Discovery had been confirmed automatically received the “First Week of Discovery” pedigree. Meanwhile, pieces submitted within the first 45 days after the First Discovery were granted an “Early Find” pedigree. Even many months after Quarter Quest began, PCGS-certified specimens with these pedigrees are trading for huge premiums in the secondary marketplace. This response in the marketplace not only speaks to the organic demand for pedigreed 2019-W America The Beautiful quarters but also helps to ensure that the legacy of Quarter Quest will live on well beyond 2019.
Of course, Quarter Quest would not have been possible without the United States Mint striking these special 2019-W quarters. A mere 10 million were made in total, with just two million for each of the five designs released in 2019.
What’s more, the 2019-W quarters were released to the public only via circulation. None were struck for inclusion in mint sets, proof sets, or other numismatic products, meaning those who wanted to score an early example of the 2019-W quarters had to find it the old-fashioned way. And the public looked, indeed: in pocket change, in bank rolls… wherever new quarters could be found. It wasn’t easy to locate the 2019-W quarters, either. With their low mintages of just two million, each of the five different 2019-W quarters became the lowest-mintage regular-issue business-strike quarters since the 1937-S Washington quarter, which had a mintage of just 1,652,000.
It’s fair to say that the 2019-W quarters rated more attention than any other United States Mint quarter-dollar initiative since the 50 State Quarters program, which ran from 1999 through 2008. Not only was the U.S. Mint’s W-mint quarter initiative successful in luring new collectors, it did wonders for coin dealers, too. Many offered their own cash bounties on the first W-mint quarters to walk through their doors, and numerous dealers reported huge boosts in business once the 2019-W quarter program kicked off in earnest.
Today, the various 2019-W quarters are still worth well more than face value – even those without the First Discovery, First Week of Discovery, or Early Find pedigrees. According to PCGS CoinFacts, a 2019-W Lowell National Historical Park quarter – the one that helped jump Quarter Quest into gear – is worth $50 in MS-65. Similar values are seen for the other four 2019-W quarters in a grade of MS-65, including the 2019-W American Memorial (Northern Mariana Islands), War in the Pacific National Historical Park Quarter (Guam), San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Texas), and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (Idaho).
As the America The Beautiful Quarters program marches into its next-to-last year in 2020, many numismatists wonder if the Mint will unveil yet another “circulating rarities” program similar to the 2019-W quarter initiative. Perhaps. If so, we can imagine that the U.S. numismatic community and millions of other Americans will keep their eyes on their change, just as we saw with Quarter Quest in 2019. Maybe – just maybe – all of this spotlight on our hobby will help add a few more lifelong coin collectors to the ranks.