What were the events leading up to the Washington Quarter?
Due to the Great Depression, no half dollars had been struck since 1929.
1932 was the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington. The Bicentennial Committee, appointed by Congress, wished to honor our first president on a coin. They held a contest for the new design of the Washington coin. The first idea was that Washington’s image would replace the Walking Liberty half dollar.
As the subject of the coin was not present for modeling, the artists in the contest were instructed to use sculpted works of George Washington that had been crafted by the sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon.
The artist John Flanagan’s design was chosen to be on the half dollar. However, Congress ruled that the depiction of Washington would grace the quarter, not the half dollar. Thus, you have the Washington quarter that we are all so familiar with.
In 1932, 6.2 million quarters were struck. 5.4 million were coined at the mint in Philadelphia. The Denver and San Francisco mints produced runs of just over 400,000 each. So, as a collector, you should know the low mintages of that year. The U.S. Mint struck no Washington quarters in 1933.
The Washington quarter struck exceptionally well, different from earlier quarters.
There were several versions of the obverse in the first three years of minting. In 1932, 1934 and 1935, the three different varieties refer to the “in god we trust” motto, to the left of Washington’s head. There is the Light Motto, Medium Motto, and Heavy Motto.
Only the first (Light Motto) was used in 1932. All three styles of motto were used on the 1934 Philadelphia strikes. Also in 1934, only the Medium and Heavy strikes were used on the Denver Mint coins. In 1935 only the Medium Motto was used at all three mints. In 1936 only the Heavy Motto was struck at all sites. From there on, the Heavy Motto was used.
Key Dates for the series are as follows:
- 1950-D D over S RPM (RPM stands for repunched mint mark)
- 1950-S S over D RPM
From 1932–1964 the quarters were comprised of .900 silver, .100 copper. Sadly, 1964 was the end of the era of the silver quarter.
The now common and now accepted copper-nickel clad Washington Quarter was for the very first time issued in the year of 1965 and as part of the switch from one metal content to another. What happened here was that, during the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the Federal government of the United States had been flooding the market with silver to keep the price of the metal down. Why did they do this? In doing so they wanted to keep U.S. coins’ intrinsic values from passing their face values. In the layman’s terms, they didn’t want the value of the metal in the coin to surpass the monetary value of the coin itself.
Something happened though that hadn’t necessarily been taken into account. By mass producing these coins and flooding the market with them, the overall level and supply of silver in the U.S. Reserves began to dip into low levels that the U.S. Government was not at all comfortable with.
Just how low were those levels? Dangerously low according to some reports. Silver was in fact estimated to only last another scant three, four, maybe five years at the rate the Mint was manufacturing the coins! This sort of crept up on the Mint, and fast action had to be taken to do something about it.
The solution was a simple one, and though a lot of people had been preparing for it, no one knew the silver reserves would run so low so quickly. To address the situation the U.S. Congress authorized the Mint to research, present, and produce alternative materials for the silver denominations of dimes, quarter dollars, half dollars, and dollars.
The Mint got to work right away and began coming up with different ideas. They also worked on different combinations of metal contents that would give the coins an entirely different look but would be made from metals that were not as valuable. The value of the metal of the coin would not come close to the monetary value of the coins. The result? After much research the material chosen was a 75% copper/ 25% nickel alloy (referred to as “cupronickel”). This alloy is the same as the five-cent coin. You could almost call quarters of this composition “big nickels”. (No one does that.)
This was the end of an era for not only the quarter but for other coins too and this change marked a significant leap into the future of coins.