By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
Walter Breen doesn’t mention it, and in A Guide Book of Washington and State Quarters (Whitman, 2006), Q. David Bowers offers up the generic (“Cherrypicking for quality is advised”) and the baffling (“In this era plastic holders … were a popular way to display sets of coins, including Washington quarters”). The 2013 edition of the Red Book notes that a MS-63 specimen is “worth” $3.00, while MS-65 commands a little more at $10.00. Fact is, you’ll have to search far and wide to find truly helpful advice about this modern issue.
Which is why we’re here to tell you that the 1969 Philly strike quarter is, without a doubt, one of the toughest clad coins to find in Gem condition, and it has the potential to be one of the key coins (taking quality into account) of the 20th century.
Of course, with a mintage of over 176 million business strikes, notions of scarcity do not apply to the 1969 quarter, even in mint state. When it comes to mint state examples, most of what you find is either in a mint set or pulled from a mint set, which is just as well, as the mint set coins are almost always better struck up than their working-strike counterparts. Original B.U. rolls of this issue are almost unheard of and it’s been that way for years, placing the likely surviving population of uncirculated coins at or below the 1.8 million mint set coins sold to collectors and dealers in 1969. From these sets, untold tens of thousands have already been scoped out by the handful of clad specialists who’ve been hunting for elusive high-end quarters since the 1970s and ‘80s. Their search hasn’t yielded much success after all these years, as PCGS has only graded three pieces at MS-67 since its founding in 1986, and fewer than 75 in MS-66.
The fact of the matter is, the 1969 quarter is one ugly coin, marred by poor strikes, poor die condition, poor planchet quality… you name it. Whereas most coins come nice in one or more respects but have some distracting feature that keeps them from being a desirable, highly graded coin, 1969s are almost uniformly awful in every respect. Mitch Spivack, a longtime clad specialist, calls the coin one of the toughest clad quarters to find in Gem, meaning one would have to look through a hundred or more fresh mint sets to even find one candidate for MS-65.
And Spivack is not alone. Another leading clad specialist, Sam Petry (known online as CladKing), agrees with Spivack’s assessment, saying that the ’69 was a continuation of the inferior quality output of the Mint in 1968, blaming the poorly annealed planchets and worker apathy as the primary culprits.
“In fact,” says Petry, “the only time I ever saw nice 1969 quarters was one time when I visited a dealer after he had received a roll of them from a customer. Not caring much for clad coins, he had just opened the roll and dumped them in the register… But he knew I liked clads and let me buy them from him for $1.00 a piece. They were the best-looking ’69s I had ever seen and had I not shown up at the right time, they would have all been handed off as change. This was a couple years ago.”
Unfortunately for people other than Sam Petry, finding quality 1969 quarters in clusters hasn’t been so easy. To illustrate just how weak the 1969 is compared to other issues from the same period, take a look at the table below. We arrive at the Arithmetic Mean Grade for each date by first multiplying the total number of coins within each MS grade by the value of that MS-grade (63, 64, 65, and so on…) and then dividing our total by the number of all mint state coins graded.
When looking at the data you have to take into account the “high grade” bias built into numbers that reflect the behavior of submitters aiming for high grades and not trying to accurately depict the typical range of grades. Scores above 65.5 demonstrate that a significant number of submitted quarters are grading MS-66, a profitable grade, and likely what the grade submitters are looking for, at a minimum. Mean grades below 65, such as what we find with the 1969 and the 1971 (another tough date for quality), indicate that the quality of the issue is so bad that dealers and collectors cannot consistently determine which coins from this year are Gems and are submitting the best candidates they find to no avail.
This sample size also illustrates the generally accepted opinion that Denver produced better coins in the ‘60s and ‘70s than the Philadelphia Mint. This carries over to other denominations as well, especially Eisenhower dollars.
|Arithmetic Mean Grade
|Percent Change of Quality
This sample size is illustrative of the generally accepted opinion that Denver produced better coins in the ‘60s and ‘70s than the Philadelphia Mint.
The 1969 quarter in MS-66 comes up for auction a couple of times a year. It’s not only a scarce coin to find in high grades, it’s a scarce coin to find up for sale, period. The second of three known MS-67’s last sold in February, 2001 for $825. The coin is a very early die state and has traces of frost on the devices with minimal distractions. It’s an accurately graded coin. We have no doubt that this piece would have no problem selling for three or four times that if offered today.
Recently, we discussed the price decline of the 2001-S Sacagawea dollar. At the peak of the market, the 2001-S achieved prices that were multiples of any price a 1969 quarter has commanded. The difference between the two coins should be immediately obvious. A modern proof coin comes exceptionally nice with a typical grade of PR-69DCAM. This means that the difference between a PR-70DCAM coin – in other words, one that is “perfect” from a marketing standpoint and one that is “nearly” perfect – is highly technical and more or less unidentifiable to most collectors and dealers. From a population standpoint, the 2001-S in PR-70DCAM represents the top 2.77% of coins submitted for grading.
The 1969 quarter, on the other hand, does not come nice. It’s likely that most collectors have never seen one in MS-65 or better. The typical 1969 quarter grades MS-63 or MS-64 with the occasional MS-65 popping up here and there. A technical MS-66 coin is scarce, and an attractive MS-66 is doubly scarce. In MS-67? Forget it.
If you want our advice as to where the greatest yield spread of investment versus return is, it would be in hunting out quality coins such as this. You will face stiff competition for quality pieces and we are running out of time in terms of finding fresh, unsearched mint sets and rolls. But your only competition will be clad specialists and certain types of dealers because, for the majority of the hobby, these coins are worth no special consideration.
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FLIP OF A COIN:
Although mintage of federal gold coins began nine years earlier, it wasn’t until 1804, when the Treasury purchased 11 million dollars in gold ingots from North Carolina-based Cabbarus Company, that the United States produced coins from virgin gold.
With the release of the third and final Batman movie by director Christopher Nolan, maybe it occurs to you that coins seem to pop up in Batman more frequently than in other comics (with the exception of Scrooge McDuck). There are at least two very famous examples: Two-Face’s coin and the giant penny in the Batcave. Two-Face has used various coins as part of his shtick over the years, most recently a Sac dollar. But the first was a double-headed (magician’s coin) 1922 Peace dollar, as first seen clearly in Detective Comics #68 (October 1942). The giant penny was courtesy of the Penny Plunderer, one of many neglected Batman villains from the Silver Age. Both he and the penny first appeared in World’s Finest Comics #30 (Sept.-Oct. 1947). Maybe give James Gunn a crack at the Plunderer?
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 Petry, Sam. (August 15, 2012). Telephone interview.
Quarters minted from 1965-1967 were produced in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco but bore no mint marks.