By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
Hard to believe but it’s been almost 20 years since the United States Mint inaugurated its 50 State Quarters program. For a certain generation, it was the first real change in U.S. coinage they had ever experienced–at once exciting as a variety of new designs began to pop up and bittersweet as the familiar heraldic eagle slowly disappeared. In the decades since, the series (and the unique experience it represents) has become something of a touchstone for collectors, many of whom got their start by looking for the latest state quarter in pocket change.
If you were there, then you might remember not just the excitement of the new program but also the speculation that occured at the very beginning. The first of the 50 States quarters, representing Delaware, was released on January 4, 1999. And on that first night, the anticipation was such that rolls of Uncirculated quarters from both Philadelphia and Denver were already selling on certain television programs at many times over face.
The market calmed down, of course, as the market often does. But many of us who were inspired to start collecting back then must surely wonder sometimes how the first circulating commemorative quarter released since America’s Bicentennial has fared in the intervening 19 years. Do those early speculators have any reason to be happy today? Or, perhaps a better question: Which of the four types of 1999 Delaware quarter has done best in the aftermarket, and in what grade or condition?
About the Coin
The 50 States Commemorative Coin Program Act was signed by President Clinton on December 1, 1997. Sponsored by Representative Michael Castle (R-DE) in the House and Senator John Chafee (R-RI) in the Senate, the Act authorized the production of 50 commemorative quarters released five per year over 10 years. Each quarter would feature a different reverse design as determined by the individual states themselves. As for the obverse, adjustments were made to John Flanagan’s effigy of George Washington (itself based on a bust by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon) and all of the inscriptions were repositioned to accomodate the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA at the top.
These revisions to the original quarter design were made by U.S. Mint sculptor/engraver William Cousins, and they appeared on all of the subsequent 50 State, U.S. Territories and America the Beautiful quarters. Cousins also designed the very first state quarter reverse for Delaware, featuring native son and Founding Father Caesar Rodney on horseback, who famously rode from Dover to Philadelphia during a thunderstorm to break a tie and ensure that Delware would vote for independence from Britain. The inscriptions “CAESAR RODNEY” and “THE FIRST STATE” are prominently displayed, and the inscription “DELAWARE” is at the top of the side. The date 1787–the year Delaware became a state–is immediately underneath, and the second part of the dual date–1999–is at the bottom, stating the coin’s year of issue.
By no means a rare coin, 373,400,000 clad business strike quarters were minted in Philadelphia and 401,424,000 were struck in Denver. The San Francisco Mint produced 3,713,359 Proofs in clad and 804,565 Proof quarters in 90% silver.
But before we look at grades, possible conditional rarities and how this may affect value, we must take note of the costs involved in getting a raw coin graded, certified and holdered. For convenience’s sake, we will limit our discussion of grades and grading to the two biggest companies: Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).
If you submit your coins to either PCGS or NGC and do not request any special labels or services, as modern specimens from the United States each coin would incur a $16 grading fee.
As for shipping, submitting to NGC means a flat $8 handling fee per submission, meaning an NGC holder will cost $24. PCGS shipping and handling fees are $23.05 for one to four coins and $28.30 for five to 25. Dividing each of these figures by five gives us a charge of either $4.61 or $5.66 per coin. Or, if you are submitting these coins as part of a larger consignment (at least 26 coins), then only $0.26 must be added to the $16 fee per coin when going with PCGS.
With this in mind, we can begin to examine the returns collectors can expect on the various issues, qualities and grades of 1999 Delaware state quarter.
First off, if we’re looking at achieving some kind of return on our Delaware state quarter, we can disregard all business strikes graded MS-66 and below (including plus grades). Even if we accept PCGS and NGC’s suggested values and ignore real prices paid on auction sites such as eBay), no 1999-P or 1999-D graded at these levels recoups the cost of certification.
As for MS-67, PCGS currently lists a population of 526 for 1999-P and 192 for 1999-D, giving respective values of $25 and $120. In contrast, NGC lists populations of 393 Philadelphia strikes and 340 Denver strikes. And with fewer P-mint coins and a good number more D-mint coins certified, we see respective NGC prices of $40 and $80.
Auction records for the P-mint issue demonstrate a peak of $115 at a November 2004 Heritage auction after two earlier Heritage sales where specimens went for $52.90 (December 2003) and $54.05 (May 2004). Results for the date hovered in the mid-$30s and low $40s until they begin to slip around August 2009 when an example went for $32 at another Heritage auction (at the time, PCGS listed a population of 493 at that grade, while NGC listed 352). A handful of eBay records since then have sold in the $20-$30 range, with the most recent entry–an August 2013 sale–going for $12.
Auction records for the Denver issue in 67 reveal quite a different story.
An August 2004 Heritage sale saw a 1999-D go for $184. Five years later, PCGS gave a total population of 180 while NGC reported almost twice as many at 321. Presumably this impacted sales prices because a specimen sold by Heritage at the time went for only $36. But in November 2010, a quarter sold on eBay for $169–and the trend continued in 2012 with two pieces going for $124 each. And despite a dip down into the $20 range in 2013, the most recent records from 2015 and ’16 see the coin’s value sitting in the low to mid-$90s.
One factor contributing to the chase in D-mint issues is the fact that Delaware quarters struck in Denver tended to be “worse for the wear” than their Philadelphia counterparts. This effect can be seen in the price differential for grades of PCGS MS-67 and above. In fact, the Denver issue tops out at PCGS MS-68, with a population of only one and a (PCGS) value of $9,500. The 1999-P tops out at PCGS MS-69, with one example certified and given a (very rough) estimated value by PCGS of $14,000.
Though to be fair, the 1999-P is still conditionally scarce at PCGS MS-68, with 25 certified to-date.
NGC, however, presents a much higher total population at 68, reporting a population of 59 Philly strikes and 35 Denver strikes. Respective values according to NGC are $225 and $285.
Now, what does this mean?
These numbers are further evidence of the overall quality of Denver Mint issues. It is reasonable to assume (at least in this instance) that if an NGC MS-68 possessed the same quality of strike as the PCGS population of the same grade, then the NGC D-mint coins would have been crossed or attempted to cross. The price differential of $285 (NGC) to $9,500 (PCGS) is too high for that not to be the case. Partisans of one grading service or the other may not want to hear it, but either PCGS is purposefully not grading D-mints in MS-68 or the NGC 68s would not qualify.
There is one auction record for a 1999-P PCGS MS-68 Delaware quarter (there are no records for Mint State 69 from either company): at a December 2007 Heritage sale, a specimen sold for $1,472. Both companies had the majority of their current population totals in place even then, with PCGS reporting 18 and NGC stating 31. The PCGS MS-69 had also already been made.
There are no historical records for the sale of a 1999-D PCGS MS-68.
Naturally, there are at least a few records for 1999-P and 1999-D NGC MS-68 coins. Starting in April of 2008, we see a Heritage result of $253 for a P-mint strike, which serves as the peak of value for the date and grade. GreatCollections auctions followed in 2012, with results of $97 (August) and $220 (November). Prices have came down for the Philadelphia in 68 since then, with one example going for $153 and another selling for $61–both in December 2016 and both from Heritage. NGC D-mint records start with $172.50 at a Heritage auction back in August of ’04, hit $253 in April of ’08, peak at $258.50 in January 2013, and most recently demonstrate the same elasticity as the latest P-mint sales: $223 and $79 at the same December 2016 auction already mentioned.
In Proofs, the only two grades you should concern yourself with are 69 and 70.
A 69 should be viewed as the typical condition of a modern Proof coin in its original holder–if cared for in its original state. A 70 represents naked eye “perfection”, and as such makes up a significantly lower portion of the total population of Proofs.
PCGS gives a total population of 5,282 grading events for the 1999-S P clad PR-69 and 7,865 for the 1999-S Proof silver at 69. Likewise, it estimates a value of $18 for the clad and $25 for the silver – with the 90% silver content obviously increasing the price in a way the population numbers cannot. As seen previously, NGC continues to outpace PCGS when it comes to grading populations. For the San Francisco quarters, NGC reports a total of 5,323 clad graded PF-69 (18 in Cameo and the remainder in Ultra Cameo) and 12,582 in silver (same grade; 13 in Cameo, the rest in Ultra). NGC’s estimated value for a clad PF-69 CAM is $13 and the company’s estimate for a clad Ultra Cameo (UCAM) in the same grade is $15. In silver PF-69, NGC lists prices of $25 for CAM and $50 for UCAM.
Auction records show that silver PCGS 69s were going for $80 by the year after release, and generally stayed in the $50 to $60 range until around 2011. By then, they were going for around $20-$30, and have only recently begun to sell for even less. 1999-S silver Proof 69s from NGC have shown a similar pattern, though the prices have been slightly lower. The NGC-graded example goes for roughly $20 today.
At PR-70, PCGS lists 394 clad quarters and 360 silver examples, with value estimates of $160 clad and $650 silver. Pops for perfect PF-70s from NGC are given as 1,326 clad (eight CAM; the rest UCAM) and 498 silver (all UCAM). Corresponding prices from NGC are $65 and $190 for clad Cameo and Ultra Cameo, respectively, and $1,750 for 1999-S silver UCAMs!
Which seems high when compared to today’s PCGS estimate of $650, but interestingly it is actually a significant drop from the all-time record price for a PCGS PR-70DCAM.
In December of 2007, a 1999-S silver PR-70 Deep Cameo belonging to Mike Fuller sold for $17,250 at a Heritage auction in Dallas, Texas. At the time, the coin was a PCGS pop 16; by 2010 the population had increased to 56 and a 1999-S silver quarter in the same condition was going for $3,450. By 2014, the price was down to $1,300. Now that the population sits at 360, the coin routinely trades these days around the $600 mark.
In other words, the value of a 1999-S silver DCAM has declined over 96% from the record price paid over 10 years ago while the population for such quarters at PCGS has increased about the same percentage.
This phenomenon–the increase in large increments of third party grading populations over relatively small periods of time–is a structural issue with collecting conditionally rare modern coins, and should be kept in mind when speculating on the latest and greatest. One should especially consider this possibility when only a miniscule number of the coins struck have been submitted for certification.
But there is, undeniably, downward pressure on coin populations, albeit of a slower kind. With age, coins degrade in their original packaging – there’s simply no getting around it. And this attrition is also somewhat apparent in several older holders you might find at auction, where coins develop a haze after being encapsulated. One should remember that coin holders are not perfectly airtight, and any contamination that might eventually change a coin’s appearance can be underway at the time of encapsulation and not be apparent to the grading services.
Either way, the farther away from the point of creation a coin gets the less likely perfect coins will remain perfect. But it will take several decades before we can close the door on the possibility of substantial increases to the “perfect” proof population report.
Many in the hobby have fond memories of first discovering the joy of coin collecting through putting together folders of 50 State Quarters, often with their parents or grandparents. A not insignificant number of those youths, swept up in the Mint’s most successful numismatic project in history, have since went on to devote themselves to a serious study of numismatics.
But no matter how “serious” one gets, the hobby has always had its share of romance and nostalgia. So it is not surprising to hope that the coins that first enticed you into the field are among the most valuable now, or have at least grown in value over the years. As far as the 1999 Delaware State quarter goes, it’s tempting to say that a price of $12 for a mid-range Mint State clad specimen from Philadelphia is a good if humble return for a coin you pulled raw some 30 years ago.
Yet no matter how confident of the grade you are, if you are in posession of a raw specimen and you wish to sell it for such a price then you will have to have it certified yourself. And as we have seen, this simply isn’t cost effective for business strikes below MS-67.
As for Proofs, the highs of the early 2000s are behind us. Expect modest returns on San Francisco clads only if they’re perfect or right close to being perfect. And for silver Proofs, you can’t do much better than perfection combined with a precious metal.
PCGS-Certified Silver Delaware Quarter Proofs Currently Available on eBay