By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek.com ……
Has it really been nearly 20 years since the 50 State Quarters program kicked off? Time has certainly flown since the Delaware quarter marked the first installment, yet these popular coins still show up with some frequency.
Between January 1, 1999 and November 3, 2008, the United States Mint released a new 50 State quarter about every 10 weeks. This kept collectors on their toes and promised a newsworthy numismatic event on a periodic basis. Official coin unveilings were gala public events, with representatives from the Mint and other government agencies convening in each state amid joyous ceremonies festooned with colors, symbols and culturally significant icons. Schoolchildren were present at these events and were often given free quarters bearing the reverse of their home state. Grade-school lesson plans were offered to teachers free of charge, and the U.S. Mint provided state quarter swag through its child-centric H.I.P. Pocket Change program.
There were plenty of 50 State quarters for everybody. Looking at the mintage figures, one can see why none of the regular-issue business-strike state quarters will probably ever be worth much over face value in circulated or low-end uncirculated grades. A staggering 33.9 billion circulation-strike 50 State quarters were made over the course of 10 years. Throw in the various copper-nickel clad Proof and silver Proof issues (137.8 million and 54.5 million pieces, respectively), and the total figure for all statehood quarters stands at an incredible 34 billion.
So with mintage figures so high for the series, a collector wonders: Which state quarters are the scarcest? How have Proof 50 State quarters performed over the years? What are population figures and values like for super-gems? Are there any high-end valuables to be found among these popular though grossly common coins?
Let’s do some deeper analysis…
Clad Proof Issues
In general, the copper-nickel clad Proof and 90 percent silver Proof 50 State quarters have always been the most expensive regular-issue coins of the series. Of these, the 1999-S and 2001-S Proof quarters, both clad and silver, have historically been the priciest. 50 State Quarters proof sets were issued in various forms, including five-piece copper-nickel clad sets containing only the quarters; five-piece silver proof sets (beginning in 2004); and multi-denomination proof sets with denominations above five cents that included that year’s state quarters, issued either in the standard copper-nickel clad composition or the 90 percent silver collector’s format.
For the most part, collectors who ordered state quarter Proof sets during the first years of the series could have done quite well for themselves if they sold their Mint-issued state quarter products by the mid-2000s. Five-piece copper-nickel clad proof sets were issued for $13.95 USD each, and at least two of these sets were, for a while, huge winners on the investment front.
The 1999-S and 2001-S five-piece clad proof sets were going for $70 and $50 respectively by the time 2003 rolled around. Prices for these and other quarter proof sets stayed lofty for the duration of the 50 State Quarter program but tapered off soon after the series ended and widespread interest in the quarters waned. Today, those same proof sets are offered on eBay for Buy-it-Now prices of $5 or less each, representing a drastic, virtually complete, loss in value for those who held on to those sets for the long term. The fact that several vendors on eBay are selling entire 10-piece runs of the five-coin clad state quarter proof sets for less than $60 brings the value deflation of the clad sets into clearer perspective still.
Interestingly, the 2008-S five-piece clad proof set is the most expensive of the state quarter clad sets these days. It was issued for $13.95 and now sells on eBay for around $18. While it is the lowest-mintage clad five-piece proof set from the state quarters series (672,438 of the 2008 sets were produced), it isn’t notably scarcer than other modern sets of similar mintage and could potentially see further price declines if interest in the state quarters further subsides.
The multi-denomination clad proof sets from the 50 State Quarters era didn’t fare any better than their five-piece quarter set counterparts. The 1999-S nine-piece and 2001-S 10-piece clad proof sets were issued for $19.95 each and increased to $95 and $75, respectively, in the secondary market by 2003. Today, the two sets sell for less than $10 each. The 2008-S 14-piece clad proof set has done the best at holding its value, at least to this point. That set, which was issued for $26.95, currently trades for around $27 on eBay.
Silver Proof Sets Maintained Value Better
If there’s any good news for those who bought 50 State Quarters proof sets during their heyday in the dawning years of the 21st century, it may be found among some of the 90 percent silver proof sets. Several of these sell for at least as much, if not substantially more, than their original issue prices.
The 1999-S nine-coin proof set provided the best long-term returns. The set, which the Mint sold for $31.95 and which peaked on the secondary market at nearly $300 during the mid-2000s (according to the Coin Dealer Newsletter (CDN) or “Greysheet”), is offered on eBay for around $85.
The 2001-S and 2002-S 10-coin silver proof sets, which were also issued for $31.95 each, hit $125 and $50 in the CDN during the mid-2000s. Those same sets retail today for $45 and $35, respectively. The other silver state quarter proof sets generally retail for close to their original Mint issue prices, which range from $31.95 during the early years of the series to $44.95 during the last years of the program.
To say that any of the 50 State Quarters proof sets are scarce is a rather dubious claim. The 1999-S and 2008-S silver proof sets, which were made to the tune of 804,565 and 763,887 sets (according to the Red Book), have the lowest mintages of the multi-denomination silver sets issued during the 50 State Quarters run. Yet, neither is necessarily scarce even in terms of modern Mint products. Except for clad variants, most U.S. proof sets made since 2011 have numbered less than 400,000 each, but the secondary market values for those silver sets are not significantly higher than the issue prices of those sets.
Is lingering demand for the 50 State Quarters still putting upward pressure on the silver state quarter proof sets? Perhaps. Is it that the number of intact state quarter proof sets from certain years has fallen to insufficiency in meeting current demand? Are some collectors who have crossed over to bullion investing finding the 50 State Quarters proof sets attractive vehicles for storing silver? For whatever reasons, be they actual or perceived, collectors are still willing to pay considerable premiums on particular 50 State Quarters silver proof sets. Whether or not prices have bottomed out on any of the state quarter proof sets remains to be seen.
Uncirculated Sets Obtainable at Face
The numismatic objective of collecting uncirculated sets has fallen out of favor with many collectors. But for those who still enjoy this classic pursuit in the hobby, there is little financial challenge in collecting the mint sets issued from 1999 through 2008.
When the 1999 mint set was released, some collectors may have experienced a sense of sticker shock upon learning of its $14.95 issue price – nearly double the $8 issue price of the previous year’s mint set. Of course, the 1999 mint set also 18 coins versus 10 in the 1998 mint set. The face value of the 1999 set is $3.82, as compared to only $1.82 of face value among the coins in the 1998 mint set. Collectors enjoyed a bonus in 2000, when the Philadelphia and Denver Sacagawea dollars were also included with the mint set without any increase on the issue price.
By the time the 50 State Quarters series ended in 2008, mint sets incorporated 28 coins worth a total of $13.82 in face value. But the expansion of the mint set wasn’t the only change that had come to the popular U.S. Mint uncirculated coin product. Three years earlier, in 2005, the Mint announced the coins in the uncirculated sets would be struck with a satin, matte finish. Therefore, all 50 State Quarters in uncirculated sets from 2005 until the end of the series in 2008 have a satin finish as opposed to the usual brilliant finish. This poses an extra wrinkle for collectors who are purists in recognizing that a satin finish does not a business-strike coin make.
For many collectors, the satin-finish 50 State Quarters represent an entirely separate collecting objective, and thus during the last four years of the hobby, the number of non-Proof quarters necessary to complete a collection goes from the two Philadelphia and Denver business-strikes to four, which include the Brilliant Uncirculated coins and the two from Philadelphia and Denver with the satin finish.
At this point, there appears to be relatively little market interest in specifically collecting the matte-finish 50 State Quarters versus business-strike clad pieces. Still, many collectors regard the business-strikes and matte finish coins as two separate types of issues, much as they would Uncirculated strikes versus Proof coins. The Mint, citing quality-control issues with surface marks on its satin-finish coins, discontinued matte coins in mint sets beginning with the 2011 sets.
All uncirculated sets from 1999 through 2005 are obtainable for less than $10 each on eBay. Uncirculated sets from 2006 command $10 to $14, while 2007 and 2008 mint sets, which contain a $13.82 in face value, sell for higher prices; the 2007 mint set generally retails for about $16 while the low-mintage (745,464) 2008 mint set sells for $27 to $30. At one point, most of these sets retailed for twice or more than present prices, meaning these sets – many selling for barely above face value – may be undervalued if the 50 State Quarter market ever heats up again.
Business-Strikes, Varieties, Errors & More
Neither the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) nor Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) has certified a Mint State-70 business-strike state quarter, but NGC, which recognizes certain satin-finish mint set quarters with an SMS designation, has graded a tiny handful of the former mint set pieces as MS-70. For the record, NGC also looks for proof-like qualities with the satin-finish mint set coins of that era and will award a “PL” grade modifier when the company’s graders deem that necessary.
The 2005-P SMS California has a population of one in MS-70, whereas there are three examples in that grade of the 2005-P SMS Minnesota quarter; there is also presently just one 2005-P SMS Oregon quarter. MS-69 state quarters are far more common than their NGC-graded SMS MS-70 counterparts, but even in MS-69 representatives are scarce. Most MS-69s are satin set breakouts dating between 2005 and 2008. As most collectors will find, certified business-strikes tend to fall in the MS-64 to MS-66 range, with ample representation of MS-67s, sporadic MS-68s, and scarce MS-69s.
According to PCGS, MS-69s vary in price from about $275 for an Ohio quarter to $14,000 for a Delaware example graded MS-69. Another MS-69 standout is the 1999-P Connecticut quarter, which is worth approximately $10,500 according to PCGS. MS-68s are challenging, but less so than their seemingly esoteric MS-69 counterparts. MS-68 prices are all over the board, with some valued lower than $50 and others selling for upward of $500. Auction records show mixed results for the MS-68 and MS-69 crowd, especially among the earlier state quarters. A PCGS-graded MS-68 1999-P Delaware crossed the auction block for $1,472 in December 2007, while NGC versions of the same coin have traded hands more recently for between $94 and $253.
Many MS-67s trade for between $10 and $50, while state quarters in the MS-66 range and below usually retailing for less than $7. Most typical uncirculated examples – those in the MS-60 to MS-64 tier, are available for $1 or less each. [This info on MS-66, MS-67 coins verified through the same PCGS Coin Facts pages listed above; the MS-60-64 pricing is based on dealer surveys and personal market experience).
Meanwhile, the relatively few well-known 50 States Quarters error coins and varieties still grab numismatic attention, just as they did several years ago during the zenith of popularity for the series. Perhaps the most important varieties are found among certain 2004-D Wisconsin quarters. Some contain a die flaw that appears to render an extra leaf on the left side of the stalk of the corn. The “Low Leaf” variety is worth about $115 and up in uncirculated grades. The scarcer “High Leaf” variety sells for closer to $180 in uncirculated grades and is tough to find in grades of bout Uncirculated or better. In circulated grades, both varieties are worth $40 to $65 each.
The most popular error for the series was the popular State Quarter Obverse/Sacagawea Dollar Reverse mule that was struck in 2000. This mule, a type of error ranked #1 in 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins by Nicholas Brown (Whitman, 2010), captured the interest of the general media and brought considerable embarrassment for U.S. Mint officials. The coin, among the only regular-strike mules authenticated by the U.S. government, skyrocketed in value during the summer of 2000, when a handful of these mules came to light. The first of these confirmed 11 mules sold for $29,900 in August 2000, and the highest price paid so far was $75,000 in May 2003. Most others have sold for upwards of $50,000.
The 50 State Quarters series was pioneering upon its release in that never before had the U.S. Mint embarked on such an ambitious coin design initiative. If one were to look for a numismatic precedent, it could be found in the Royal Canadian Mint’s 125th Canadian Anniversary campaign in 1992. That was when the nation’s quarter underwent a one-year redesign. The Canadian quarter sported 12 different designs, submitted by the public, honoring each of Canada’s then-12 provinces and territories. A new quarter was released each month during the course of 1992, each circulating design struck to the tune of about 10 million pieces.
The Canadian 125th Anniversary Quarter series is still a popular collectible, even among hobbyists in the United States. The now-vintage series has aged well. Collectors should have every reason to believe that the U.S. counterpart, the 50 State Quarters, will also remain a venerated collectible in the years ahead. The release of the first 50 State Quarters in 1999 proved a B-12 shot in the arm of a hobby that had seen better days.
At one point, U.S. Mint officials claimed more than 100 million people were collecting 50 States Quarters. Whether that figure is accurate cannot be determined with great numeric certainty, but it doesn’t take a proverbial numismatic rocket scientist to know that seemingly countless children, seniors and 30-somethings–seemingly every American–was collecting, or at least aware of, the 50 State Quarters at some point during the early 2000s.
The U.S. Mint has been hard-pressed to replicate the transcendent popularity of the 50 State Quarters. The 2009 D.C. & U.S. Territories Quarters came when enthusiasm for the original 50 State Quarters was petering out, and the now-retired Presidential $1 coin series–no longer issued for circulation after 2011–never came close to inspiring numismatic zeal in any but already diehard collectors.
The ongoing America the Beautiful Quarters have created some promising buzz. U.S. Mint and elected officials proudly stand shoulder to shoulder at launch events for each of the new quarters. Many young children, older adults in the general population, and hobbyists in established numismatic circles collect the coins from circulation and seem genuinely interested in the program.
But it’s safe to say that none of the multi-year coin initiatives launched by the U.S. Mint since the mid-2000s have captured the nation’s collective attention as did the 50 State Quarters more than a decade ago. The proposed American Innovation Dollar Coin program, which could be released as early as 2017 pending Congressional approval, may be the next best hope for sparking numismatic interest in the general public and rejuvenating the hobby. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, coin collectors both new and… “seasoned”… can acquire the 50 State Quarters series straight from circulation for a price of as little as $12.50 – 25 cents for each of the 50 different designs. Up the ante to $100, and one can grab an example of all the clad Proofs. For substantially less than $500, a collector can buy a complete set of all the 50 State Quarters, including the clad and silver coins in Uncirculated and Proof from the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. No matter one’s budget, the 50 State Quarter series is more financially obtainable than ever and is still just as fun to collect now as it was all those years ago.
50 State Quarters Currently Available on eBay