1932 - 1998 Quarter Dollar Washington History

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The dark shadow of Depression fell across the U.S. in 1931, giving Americans little to celebrate. Soup kitchens, massive unemployment and the Dust Bowl all took their toll on the public's spirit. But the following year was the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth, and officials in our nation's capital were ready to mark the occasion. The Treasury Department had proposed that a half dollar be struck to honor the birth of the nation's founding father. Enlisting the cooperation of the Commission of Fine Arts and the Washington Bicentennial Commission, they went ahead with plans for a design competition.

Rules announced early in the year called for entries modeled after the "celebrated bust" of Washington by noted French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon. The bust, created from a life-mask taken at Mount Vernon in 1785, was uncannily accurate and nationally admired. Ninety-eight entrants fashioned some 100 designs: Most were amateurish, some were good, but one was exceptional, at least in the Commission's opinion. It was submitted by Laura Gardin Fraser, designer of the Oregon Trail commemorative and wife of James Earle Fraser, who created the Buffalo nickel. Mrs. Fraser's powerful, medallic design was far superior to the competition and reminiscent of the artistic works produced during the numismatically "golden years" inspired by Theodore Roosevelt. The Commission's decision was unanimous. Unfortunately, there were other people to please.

Initially, Congress got into the act. Since changing the design of the half dollar required their approval, once asked, they instead decided to change the quarter, thereby signaling an end to the acclaimed Standing Liberty design issued since 1916. No one argued with the denomination change, but a real problem was to arise with the man lawfully responsible for coinage designs, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon.

Mellon had his own views about art. Rich beyond imagination, he had amassed one of the world's foremost art collections, along with a reputation for stubbornness which was only exacerbated by his wealth and position. Some would later attribute it to Mellon's chauvinism, but he repeatedly refused to listen to the Commission's pleas for Fraser's design. Instead he chose one by John Flanagan, a medalist whose earlier works evoked his studies under Augustus Saint-Gaudens, but whose Washington design was an icon of the bland, conservative and frozen images that proliferated (especially in government sculpture) during the Depression. At first, Mellon placated the Commission, calling for a second contest. But ultimately, he chose the Flanagan design. While still fielding protests from the advisory panel, he left office to become Herbert Hoover's ambassador to Great Britain. His successor, Ogden Mills, would consider the matter no further. He brusquely reminded the Commissioners that they had a purely advisory role, and the final decision fell upon the Treasury Secretary, not the Commission.

Flanagan's design was simple but more appropriate to a portrait than medallic art, with exceptionally low relief. Washington faces left and dominates the obverse, with the date below and LIBERTY above. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST is in the left field, with the designer's initials on the base of the neck. A spread-winged heraldic eagle adorns the reverse, encircled by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM above, and Quarter Dollar and a wreath below. Mintmarks are found below the wreath on coins dated 1964 and earlier, and just to the right of Washington's ribbon on issues beginning in 1968.

From a production viewpoint, Mint officials must have loved the design. With such low relief, coins could be rapidly struck with only one blow from the press. The drawback, however, was not only an artistic loss, but the weak design elements required periodic alterations to the master hub. The motto was so weakly defined in 1932 and on some issues of 1934 that it could barely be read, even on uncirculated coins.


There have only been two significant changes in the series since its inception in 1932. In 1965, the composition was changed from 90% silver to a clad or "sandwich metal" of 75% copper and 25% nickel, bonded to a pure copper core. The second modification came in 1975, when Jack Ahr's Bicentennial "Drummer Boy" design appeared on the reverse, with the dual-date 1776-1976 on the obverse. In 1977, the regular design returned.

Continually gaining in popularity with collectors, Washington quarters are usually assembled by date and mint. Coins were issued every year except 1933, and the only break in the series recognized by collectors is 1964, the final year of silver coin production. Although not rare, the low-mintage 1932-D and S quarters are considered scarce issues, along with mint-state 1936 Denver coins which, despite their large mintage, somehow escaped the hoarder's nets. Fortunately for today's collectors, the renowned dealer Wayte Raymond and others were quite diligent in their accumulation of bank-wrapped rolls in the `30s, a time when most people couldn't even afford the $10 cost of a single roll. Many Americans didn't have a job, and most who did, like the decimated ranks of Detroit auto-workers, only made about $20 a week.

Since 1932, over 21 billion business strikes and 60 million proofs have been issued, an awesome quantity by any standards. Production took place in four mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point. Although collectors are focusing more attention lately on the business strikes, proofs have always been favorites, particularly the 1936-1942 issues and the scarce cameo-proof coins of 1950 to 1964. In recent years, the numismatic community has learned of a unique oddity in the series, a 1970-S proof Washington struck over a 1900 Barber quarter. Apparently the concoction of a creative mint employee, the piece somehow escaped into a 1970-S proof set, no doubt initially baffling its discoverer.

Washington quarters are collected in all grade ranges and are especially popular in XF, AU and mint state. With so many coins struck from so many dies, die-varieties, over-mintmarks and hubbing errors abound, making the series a fertile field of study for those delving into the intricacies of modern coinage production. Wear on the design will first show on Washington's hair at the ear and on the center of the eagle's breast. Struck counterfeits exist, but collectors are more likely to encounter altered mintmarks, especially on 1932-D and 1932-S issues. Authentication of any questionable specimens is highly recommended.

Bibliography


Boorstin, Daniel J., et. al., We Americans, The National Geographic Society, Washington, DC, 1975.
Bowers, Q. David, United States Coins by Design Types, An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor, Bowers and Merena, Wolfeboro, NH, 1986.
Breen, Walter, Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988.
Tomaska, Rick Jerry, Cameo and Brilliant Proof Coinage of the 1950 to 1970 Era, R &I Publications, Encinitas, CA, 1991.
Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966.
Vermeule, Cornelius, Numismatic Art in America, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971.
Feigenbaum, John, The Complete Guide to Washington Quarters, DLRC Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 1994.
Courtesy of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation An Historical Reference from the NGC PHOTO PROOF Series

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All Buy It Now Washington Quarters

1990 S WASHINGTON QUARTER GEM DEEP CAMEO PROOF CN CLAD COIN
1990 S WASHINGTON QUARTER GEM DEEP CAMEO PROOF CN CLAD COIN
1980 P WASHINGTON QUARTER CHOICE BU US COIN
1980 P WASHINGTON QUARTER CHOICE BU US COIN
1953 WASHINGTON QUARTER 90 SILVER ABOUT UNCIRCULATED AU
1953 WASHINGTON QUARTER 90  SILVER ABOUT UNCIRCULATED AU
1932 WASHINGTON SILVER QUARTER GRADES ALMOST UNCIRCULATED C2868
1932 WASHINGTON SILVER QUARTER GRADES ALMOST UNCIRCULATED C2868
1956 SILVER WASHINGTON QUARTER GRADES CH BU BLAZER C1499
1956 SILVER WASHINGTON QUARTER  GRADES  CH BU   BLAZER C1499
1935 S WASHINGTON SILVER QUARTER GRADES FINE C1510
1935 S WASHINGTON SILVER QUARTER GRADES FINE  C1510
1940 WASHINGTON QUARTER GRADES CHOICE BU C1497
1940 WASHINGTON QUARTER  GRADES CHOICE BU C1497
1964 D 25C WASHINGTON QUARTER {BRILLIANT UNCIRCULATED} 90 SILVER
1964 D 25C  WASHINGTON QUARTER {BRILLIANT UNCIRCULATED} 90  SILVER
1948 UNCIRCULATED WASHINGTON QUARTER GEM COIN SEE PHOTOS EASILY A 60
1948 UNCIRCULATED WASHINGTON QUARTER   GEM COIN    SEE PHOTOS    EASILY A 60
SUPER BU 1954 S SILVER WASHINGTON QUARTER STARTING TO SLIGHTLY TONE 1159
SUPER  BU 1954 S SILVER WASHINGTON QUARTER STARTING TO SLIGHTLY TONE 1159
1948 P WASHINGTON 90 SILVER QUARTER SHIPS FREE. BUY 5 FOR $2 OFF
1948 P WASHINGTON 90  SILVER QUARTER SHIPS FREE. BUY 5 FOR $2 OFF
1997 P & D WASHINGTON QUARTERS CIRCULATED COIN 1222
1997 P & D WASHINGTON QUARTERS   CIRCULATED COIN  1222
1957 D 25C NGC MS66 OH OLD NGC HOLDER WASHINGTON QUARTER
1957 D 25C NGC MS66  OH    OLD NGC HOLDER   WASHINGTON QUARTER
1952 S 25C NGC MS67 WASHINGTON QUARTER
1952 S 25C NGC MS67   WASHINGTON QUARTER
1954 25C NGC MS67 WASHINGTON QUARTER
1954 25C NGC MS67   WASHINGTON QUARTER
1969 S WASHINGTON QUARTER PCGS PR68 WITH ROTATED REVERSE ERROR
1969 S WASHINGTON QUARTER PCGS PR68 WITH ROTATED REVERSE ERROR

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