Interestingly, the Washington Quarter Dollar was only ever meant to be issued in 1932 to celebrate 200 years since the birth of America’s first president, George Washington. By being so popular, it was later decided that the design would replace the Standing Liberty Quarter and be used for the foreseeable future. All coins struck between 1932 and 1964 are composed of 90% silver and 10% copper. In 1965, the composition was changed to a clad of 75% copper and 25% nickel and remained this way until 1998.
Designed by John Flanagan, the obverse of the coin features the head of George Washington, facing left. The image was modelled after a bust by French sculptor, Jean Antoine Houdon. Washington is accompanied by the date below, as well as the inscriptions LIBERTY above and IN GOD WE TRUST to the left.
On the reverse is an eagle with outstretched wings, perched on a bundle of arrows above an olive branch. The bird is located below the engravings UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM and above QUARTER DOLLAR.
When the Washington Bicentennial Commission was coming up with ideas to mark the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, the committee suggested a Washington Half Dollar. It was also agreed that the coin should be a regular issue for one year only, rather than a standard commemorative piece. Without approval from Congress, the committee organized a competition to source designs for the coin.
The competition rules clearly stated that the obverse of the coin must be based on a bust of George Washington created by French sculptor, Jean Antoine Houdon. This particular bust was chosen because it had been created by a life mask of Washington’s face so that Houdon could preserve every detail. Around 100 people submitted sketches for the coin, and both the Washington Bicentennial Commission and Fine Arts Commission chose Laura Gardin Fraser’s artistic works. Fraser had designed many commemorative coins in the past and also happened to be the wife of James Earle Fraser, the creator of the Buffalo Nickel.
In March 1931, Congress passed legislation for the Washington Quarter, instead of a Washington Half Dollar. No one seemed to mind that the design would now feature on the Quarter, especially as it was not only going to be a 1932 coin but also a permanent replacement for the Standing Liberty Quarter. However, Treasury Secretary and art collector, Andrew Mellon had strong opinions about Fraser’s design and felt it was unsuitable for the coin.
Mellon called for a second competition, even though he had already chosen a design submitted by John Flanagan, a sculptor who had previously studied under Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The commission members did all they could to get Mellon to change his mind, but his decision was final. Mellon left office in February 1932 and was succeeded by Ogden L. Mills, who supported Mellon’s decision to feature Flanagan’s design on the Quarter.
As previously mentioned, the composition of Washington Quarters was changed in 1965 but some other important modifications have also occurred over the years. From 1975 to 1976, Bicentennial Washington Quarters were minted featuring a Colonial drummer and a victory torch on the reverse. The design was developed by Jack L. Ahr and was the result of a government-sponsored contest. The obverse remained almost identical to the earlier Washington Quarters, except for the dual date of 1776–1976. These coins were created to honor the United States Bicentennial and were issued for only two years, with the original reverse design returning in 1977.
In 1999, the United States Mint launched the 50 State Quarter series, a collection of coins each with a unique reverse honoring one of the nation’s states. The series consists of 50 designs and ended in 2008. A one year follow up series called The District of Columbia and United States Territories Quarter Program was issued in 2009, featuring 6 new designs.
While Washington Quarters are still minted today, they no longer feature the eagle on the reverse either. In 2010, the America the Beautiful Quarters (ATB) program of 56 coins was issued and is said to continue until at least 2021. Like every other Quarter struck since 1932, the obverse of these coins still depicts George Washington. On the reverse side of the ATB Quarters is a national site, landmark or monument located in the United States, the District of Columbia or U.S. Territories.
No one can be certain whether the original Washington Quarter design will appear on a coin again, which explains why so many collectors and investors purchase the earlier pieces. Regular strikes minted from 1932 to 1998 were coined at the mints in Philadelphia (no P mintmark until 1980), Denver (D) and San Francisco (S), however, no coins were issued in 1933. Earlier proofs were coined at the Philadelphia Mint and all proofs from 1968 were struck at the San Francisco Mint.
While some collectors enjoy buying Washington Quarters by mint and date, others prefer to focus their attention on rare issues. The low mintage 1932-D and 1932-S pieces remain particularly scarce and desirable. When it comes to rare proofs, the 1936 Proof Washington Quarter can be challenging to find, with the lowest mintage of just under 4,000. All proofs with the cameo contrast are also difficult to hunt down and come with a high price tag. Obviously, any rare coin or piece that has been well-preserved will command a significant premium above worn examples.
If you require further advice or have any questions about Washington Quarters, please feel free to reach out to Capital Gold Group. Our approachable experts can help to ensure you but only genuine pieces and are available by phone, email and our online message form.