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The Washington Quarter Made Coin Collecting a Household Pursuit

By Mark Ferguson for PCGS ……
Most Americans living today have known only the Washington Quarter as our 25-cent coin. You’d have to be in your 90s or older to remember spending a newly issued Standing Liberty Quarter, the design that preceded the Washington Quarter series. First issued in 1932, the Washington Quarter was produced to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of our first president, George Washington, who lived from 1732 through 1799.

The Washington Quarter debuted in 1932 and has become one of the nation’s longest-running and most popular series. Image: PCGS.

The George Washington Bicentennial Committee, which was established by Congress in 1930, started a competition for the new coin’s design. With original intentions for a Washington Half Dollar, legislation was introduced for a Washington Quarter to replace the Standing Liberty Quarter, which proved difficult to strike. Passed by Congress on March 4, 1931, the new law called for the design to be based on a bust of Washington created by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828). A life mask of Washington, cast in 1786, was the model for Houdon’s bust of our first president.

The bust of George Washington by Jean-Antoine Houdon that inspired the design seen on the Washington Quarter. This sculpture resides in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Image: WikiMedia Commons.

Initially, the Bicentennial Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts agreed on a design by sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, wife of James Earle Fraser, the designer of the Buffalo Nickel, and several commemorative half dollars. But politics reigned and a design by sculptor John Flanagan was ultimately chosen. Previously, Flanagan was a studio assistant to famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Fraser’s design for the quarter dollar was eventually used for a 1999 Commemorative Half Eagle, produced to honor the bicentennial of Washington’s death.

Design and Metal Changes

Several major and minor design changes have been made to the Washington Quarter since it was first released into circulation on August 1, 1932.

During the mid-1930s, the Mint experimented with changes to the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST”. These changes produced the Light Motto, Medium Motto, and Heavy Motto varieties. The Heavy Motto worked out best, so beginning in 1936 that was the only style used on the coin. Several doubled die obverse Washington Quarter varieties and over-mintmarks are recognized by PCGS through 1950.

A comparison of the various 1934 Washington Quarter mottoes. Image: PCGS.
The 1934 Doubled Die Quarter is attributed through doubling in the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST,” the inscription “LIBERTY” and in the date “1934.” Image: PCGS.

The Washington Quarter was struck in silver through 1964. The following year, the composition of circulation-strike coins was changed to copper-nickel clad, eliminating silver. Essentially, the design of the quarter remained the same between 1965 and 1974 and again between 1977 and 1998, except beginning in 1968 the mint mark was moved to the obverse. No quarters are dated “1975”, in lieu of a special “1776-1976” dual-dating obverse feature honoring the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976, an event marked on the quarter by way of a special colonial drummer reverse by Jack L. Ahr; in addition to the 1.6 billion copper-nickel 1776-1976 Bicentennial Quarters produced for circulation, some 15 million 1776-1976 Bicentennial Quarters were struck in a 40% silver format for collectors.

In 1992, the United States Mint began offering 90% silver Proofs alongside the regular copper-nickel clad Proofs that had been offered since 1968.

The 1976 Washington Quarter boasts a 1776-1976 dual-dating feature on the obverse and a special design on the reverse by Jack L. Ahr depicting a colonial drummer to honor the nation’s 200th anniversary. Image: PCGS.
The 1992-S 90% Silver Proof Washington Quarter marked the first 90% Washington Quarter struck since 1964. Image: PCGS.

The 50 State Quarters Program

In 1995, several prominent numismatists testified at a congressional hearing advocating for the creation of circulating commemorative coins. This resulted in President Bill Clinton signing the United States Commemorative Coin Act of 1996 on October 20 of that year. The Act directed the Secretary of the Treasury to study the feasibility of a circulating commemorative coin program. The study concluded that the program would be successful and on December 1, 1997, President Clinton signed the 50 States Commemorative Coin Program Act.

Each of the 50 states was to be celebrated with its own design on the reverse of the quarter. The Secretary of the Treasury selected each design based on the recommendation of the governor of each state. Beginning in 1999, five states were honored each year for 10 years in the order in which they were admitted to the Union, kicking off with Delaware and ending with Hawaii. To accommodate the reverse design for each state, the bust of Washington was reduced in size by sculptor-engraver William Cousins, and the reverse legends were moved to the obverse.

The 1999 Delaware Quarter was the first issue of the 50 State Quarters, the most popular commemorative coin program ever endeavored by the United States Mint. Image: PCGS.

To encourage Americans to collect state quarters, the Mint sold proofs, some struck in silver, rolls, and bags of state quarters, and state quarter collector maps. The 50 State Quarters program became the most successful commemorative coin program ever for the U.S. Mint. By the end of the initiative in 2008, the Mint estimated that 147 million people collected state quarters. That figure far exceeded the 98 million estimated by the United States Commemorative Coin Act of 1996 study.

2004-D Wisconsin Extra Leaf Varieties of 50 States Washington Quarter

Variety collectors have several interesting 50 State Quarters to search for. These include the 2004-D Wisconsin Extra Leaf Low, the 2004-D Wisconsin Extra Leaf High, and the various 2005-P Minnesota Extra Tree varieties. State quarters from United States Mint Sets were struck with a satin finish from 2005 to the end of the series.

D.C. and U.S. Territories Quarters

After the successful completion of the 50 State Quarters Program in 2008, the U.S. Mint embarked on a plan to issue six coins in 2009 to honor the District of Columbia and the U.S. Territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands (in that order). The obverse of each coin saw a continuation of the modified Washington design that debuted with the 50 State Quarters in 1999; the reverses were designs approved by the Commission of Fine Arts, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC), and the Secretary of the Treasury.

The 2009 Washington, D.C., Quarter is one of six coins in the one-year only D.C. and U.S. Territories Quarters and honors District of Columbia jazz pianist Duke Ellington. Image: PCGS.

The Mint produced uncirculated and proof versions of each D.C. and U.S. Territories Quarter, as well as a proof 90% silver version. These coins were available in circulation and by purchase from the U.S. Mint in rolls, bags, and as parts of Mint Sets and Proof Sets.

America the Beautiful Quarters Program

The next series of circulating commemorative Washington Quarters is the America the Beautiful (ATB) Quarters Program. These coins were authorized by the America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008. The program called for 56 Washington Quarter issues commemorating natural or historic sites such as national parks, national landmarks, or national forests – one from each state, the federal district, and each territory.

The 2010 California Quarter pays homage to Yosemite, one of the earliest national parks in the United States. Image: PCGS.

ATB Quarters retained the same obverse as the 50 State Quarters. On a similar schedule, five ATB Quarters were released each year between 2010 and 2021. Beginning in 2019 the U.S. Mint issued a limited run of circulation-only W-mint Quarters originating from the West Point Mint and bearing a special “W” mint mark. Those issued in 2020 also included a “V75” privy mark commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, which concluded in 1945. Just one ATB Quarter was released during the final year. It commemorated the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama.

The 2019-W Massachusetts Quarter honoring Lowell National Park Quarter was the first of the America the Beautiful Quarters to bear a “W” mint mark.

General George Washington Crossing the Delaware Quarter

Following the conclusion of the ATB Quarters in early 2021, another Washington Quarter was released, a one-year-only design type depicting General George Washington and his troops crossing the Delaware River on December 25-26, 1776. The obverse depicts the original John Flanagan design first issued in 1932. The legends moved to the obverse for the state quarters were moved back to the reverse and incorporated into the Crossing the Delaware design. This design will be replaced in 2022 with reverse motifs dedicated to historic American women. They’ll be issued through 2025.

The 2021 Washington Crossing the Delaware Quarter is a one-year type bridging the America the Beautiful Quarters that ended in early 2021 and a new commemorative series honoring women that begins in 2022. Image: U.S. Mint.

Washington Quarter Key Dates & Rarities

Most of the key dates and rarities in the Washington Quarter series derive from the silver era, struck between 1932 and 1964. Of these, the two most famous rarities of the series are the 1932-D and 1932-S issues. These were the lowest-mintage circulation issues of the entire series, at 436,800 and 408,000, respectively. Compare those mintages to the highest mintage in the series, at 1,819,717,540 for the 1965 copper-nickel clad issue.

The 1932-D and 1932-S Washington Quarters trade in the mid-to-high-five figure range in top Mint State grades, but they’re readily available at modest prices, some less than $100 in the lower circulated grades.

The 1932-D and 1932-S Washington Quarters serve as the two main circulating key dates for the series. Image: PCGS.

Other key issues in the silver era are the doubled die obverse varieties of 1937, 1942-D, and 1943. The 1950-D/S and 1950-S/D over-mint marks are popular key issues as well. Condition rarities are scattered throughout the Washington Quarter series. For example, the PCGS Price Guide lists the value for a copper-nickel clad 1966 Quarter at $15,000 in MS68. This issue has a PCGS population of only three in MS68. In comparison, a PCGS MS67 is worth approximately $275.

A closeup of the 1950-D/S mintmark variety is seen here. Image: PCGS.
The 1950-S/D mintmark is evidenced here. Image: PCGS.
This 1966 Washington Quarter graded PCGS MS68 is one of a tiny few certified at this level. Image: PCGS.

With a PCGS population of six, the 1976-S Silver Bicentennial Washington Quarter has a PCGS Price Guide listing of $13,500 in MS69. However, 1,527 have been graded in MS68, and these are priced at a more affordable $65. A few other Proof Washington Quarters are similarly priced in top grades but are more modestly priced one grade point down. In Proof, collectors have choices of three designations: Proof (PR), Cameo Proof (CAM), and Deep Cameo Proof (DCAM).

PCGS Set Registry Collecting

The high prices mentioned above are mostly due to competitive auction bidding by PCGS Set Registry collectors. Again, many high-grade Washington Quarters can be purchased for modest prices in the next-lower grade.

Collecting Washington Quarters is a great way to get started in the PCGS Set Registry program. There are 21 major set combinations and 36 specialty set combinations for the series. There are more than 3,200 major sets registered and around 3,300 specialty sets registered for this series.

Visit www.PCGS.com/SetRegistry and follow the links to Washington Quarters. You’ll be able to peruse a list of the various set descriptions. If you click on the title of any of the sets, you’ll be able to follow a link to the “Set Composition”. Make collecting Washington Quarters more fun by registering your set in the PCGS Set Registry.

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Mark Ferguson
Mark Fergusonhttps://www.mfrarecoins.com/
Mark Ferguson was a coin grader for PCGS, a market analyst for Coin Values, and has been a coin dealer for more than 40 years. He has written for Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin World, Numismatic News, Coin Values, and The Numismatist.

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