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Washington Quarter, Silver (1932-1964) | CoinWeek

1932-D Washington Quarter. Image: Stack's Bowers.
1932-D Washington Quarter. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

In the early 1930s, the United States suffered from a widespread economic depression that followed the 1929 stock market crash. The “Roaring Twenties” came to a grinding halt as millions of Americans found themselves out of work without prospects of finding a job. The crisis was made worse by a series of severe agricultural disasters caused by land erosion and southern plains dust storms due to several years of drought combined with poor farming practices. Against this backdrop of human tragedy, the Treasury Department proposed to issue a coin to mark the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth.

Originally, the Treasury proposed to honor Washington with a commemorative half-dollar and held a design competition to find a suitable design. The contest rules stipulated that artists must base their designs on French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon’s classic bust portrait of Washington. Houdon was considered one of the greatest European portrait sculptors of the latter half of the 18th century. Houdon’s piece was done in 1785 from a life mask of Washington he had taken during a trip to Mount Vernon, a visit promoted by Benjamin Franklin, whose portrait Houdon had sculpted in 1779. Houdon’s bust of Washington is on display at the Mount Vernon Visitor’s Center.

From the Washington Half Dollar to the Washington Quarter

Exercising its authority in coinage matters, Congress changed the denomination for the Washington commemorative from the half dollar to the quarter, but it was Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon who most compromised the process. Mellon was a wealthy but controversial banker and industrialist in the early 20th century. He was a top art collector, but he was also known for his stubbornness. Mellon refused to accept the Laura Gardin Fraser design chosen by the Washington Bicentennial Commission not once but twice, instead favoring the submission of New York sculptor John Flanagan.

Mellon left his post in early 1932, but his successor, Ogden L. Mills, refused to change Mellon’s decision regarding the quarter. The Flanagan design was chosen and would be the quarter’s design from 1932 to 1998, and the obverse returned for only one year, in 2021.

Upon its release, the Washington design proved popular with the public. Instead of being a one-year commemorative issue as originally intended, production of the coin continued beyond 1932. This decision marked the end of Herman MacNeil’s Standing Liberty design.

Though Flanagan’s low-relief Washington quarter design was easy to strike, the motto did not strike up well on the 1932 and early 1934 issues (no quarters were minted in 1931 or 1933), necessitating changes in the design to strengthen the impressions.

For the silver Washington quarter, 1933 marked the only year that the United States Mint did not produce the coin. The coin was struck at all three active mints, and the mint mark denoting that the coin was struck at either Denver or San Francisco was located below the center of the wreath on the reverse. This mint mark position would continue through to the end of the quarter’s production in .900 fine silver. In 1965, Congress changed the composition of the quarter to the copper-nickel sandwich metal used today. With the exception of a few off-metal errors and silver Proof coins struck for sale to collectors starting in 1992, all Washington quarters dated 1965 to the present are struck in clad, while all quarters struck from 1932 to 1964 are struck in silver.

The Silver Washington Quarter’s Certified Market

More than 100,000 business strike Washington quarters have been certified to date. Prices are moderate for most issues through Premium Gem and even through Superb Gem for many dates. The low-mintage 1932-D is considered the series’ key, while the lower-mintage 1932-S is considered the series’ semi-key. Other valuable issues include the 1934 Doubled Die Obverse, 1935-D, 1936-D, the 1937 Doubled Die Obverse, the 1942-D Doubled Die Obverse and Doubled Die Reverse, the 1943 Doubled Die Obverse, the 1950 D over S and S over D, and 1964 Special Mint Set coins.

Thousands of Proof Washington quarters have been certified by CAC, NGC, and PCGS, many as Cameo or Deep Cameo from the early 1950s onward. No Proof quarters were minted from 1932 through 1935 or from 1943 through 1949. Prices are modest for many dates, including Superb Gem. Higher-priced coins include Proofs from the 1930s and ’40s and Cameo and Deep Cameo examples from the early ’50s onward, some of which are very expensive at grades finer than near-Gem.

Silver Washington Quarter Date-by-Date Analysis

Additional CoinWeek Silver Washington Quarter Coverage

 

Test your grading skills with this video, where we ask viewers to guess the grade of this Mint State 1934-D Washington quarter.

Condition Rarity Silver Washington Quarters

1932-D Washington Quarter. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1932-D Washington Quarter. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

In this article from 2012, coin expert Greg Reynolds gives insights into collecting or investing in condition rarity silver Washington quarters. Greg looks at several record auction prices for top pop coins and weighs into the efficacy of paying such lofty prices for coins that still have a sizable mintage from where to draw new high-end pieces. Greg even gets a dust-up of opinion from CoinWeek Editor Charles Morgan and Coin Analyst Lou Golino over their positions. Worth reading.

Type B Proof Reverse Washington Quarters

Type B Washington Quarter Reverses.

Coin dealer Dr. Richard S. Appel wrote an informative series of articles about the Type B Proof Reverse and how it became a popularly-collected Washington quarter variety.

 

Retired coin dealer Fred Weinberg shares his incredible double-tailed Washington quarter error in the video above.

 

CoinWeek Editor Charles Morgan breaks down the 1976 Bicentennial quarter in this exclusive CoinWeek video titled On Collecting Bicentennial Quarters: Risks & Rewards.

Varieties

There are many known, including the 1934 Light Motto and Heavy Motto (“In God We Trust”); the 1934, 1936, 1937, 1942-D, and 1943 Doubled Die Obverses; the 1950 D over S and S over D; the 1953 Proof Doubled Die Obverse; and other minor die variations. The Cherrypicker’s Guide is a great resource for silver Washington quarter variety collectors.

Design

Obverse:

On the obverse, a left-facing portrait of Washington dominates the surface. Inside a flat rim is the word LIBERTY at the top, and the date at the bottom. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST is placed to the lower left of Washington, the words arranged in two lines. The designer’s initials JF are on the right side of the base of Washington’s neck.

Reverse:

On the reverse, a centered eagle with outstretched wings rests on a tightly bound bundle of arrows. The eagle’s wings curve on the outer edges to form a arc concentric with the raised rim. Between the wings and the rim, around approximately the top half of the coin, is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and below that text but above the eagle’s head is E PLURIBUS UNUM, also in two lines. The denomination QUARTER DOLLAR follows the rim at the bottom, and two short olive branches curve above the denomination but below the eagle, leaves partially overlapping other design elements. Silver Washington quarters were minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mint marks are located below the crossed ends of the olive branches, above ER in QUARTER.

Coin Specifications

Washington Silver Quarter
Years Of Issue: 1932-64
Mintage (Circulation): High: 704,135,528 (1964-D); Low: 408,000 (1932-S)
Mintage (Proof): High: 3,950,762 (1964); Low: 3,837 (1936)
Alloy: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Weight: 6.25
Diameter: 24.30 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: John Flanagan
REV Designer: John Flanagan

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Washington and State Quarters. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Guth, Ron, and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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