American Coins – A Concise Overview of Washington Neighborhood Silver Emissions
Through Dan Duncan – Cutting-edge rarities ……
The long-standing obverse design of the Washington neighborhood is currently in its final year and will be changed in 2022 to an updated yet undecided representation of our founding father. We take this opportunity to revisit the series in Gem grades and better, dividing the article into decades discussing some of the best dates. For the sake of brevity, we exclude doubled dies as they are scarce in any quality.
The Washington motif was originally intended to be a half dollar and one year commemorative to mark the bicentennial of the birth of George washington. Approved in 1931 to the smaller denomination, the design competition met with heated debate. In 1932 a controversial decision was made and the designs of John flanagan were chosen. His obverse work, with some small improvements, lasted almost a century.
Overall, the series is divided into three distinct eras – the silver, the clothed, and the commemorative numbers. Silver quarters were produced from 1932 to 1964, when they were replaced by their clothed counterparts and eventually by commemorative numbers from the past two decades. The Silver Age set is extremely rare in MS68, with most dates rare in MS67, diligently obtainable in MS66, and readily available in MS65 and earlier.
All dates in the thirties are better than the last issues.
The first year presents the two keys of the series with the San Francisco and Denver Mint emissions. Both of these issues are extremely rare in Premium Gem and non-existent in MS67. The Philadelphia cream issue has a smaller print run than the following P-Mints in the series but is relatively available up to MS66. In Superb Gem, however, there are only 15 examples of PCGS, likely due to the fact that collectors and dealers have kept the alleged novelties.
The second year of production was 1934 after a one-year hiatus. The die was changed to improve the inscription of the motto, which was weak in previous issues and had become unreadable in the examples released in first year. The improvements created three varieties of currency – Light, Average, and Heavy. No coins were minted that year on the West Coast, and the Denver facility used only medium and heavy currency dies. The bulk of the examples were created in the medium format across the two workshops, with the rarer heavy currencies of the type. The two varieties of 1934-D are considered half hitches.
The 1936-D is also a semi-key with prices in Gem and better. Traditionally, the problem has been difficult and the current price guides for the date reflect this. With over 2,500 examples classified in all classes, the population for the problem is higher than some of the more common dates, but this is due to the overall value justifying certification and the statistical anomaly of reclassifications.
Most of the Philadelphia issues of the 1930s are quite available even in MS67. For the most part, 1935 – 1939 can be easily found in all grades up to MS66, with some stunning attractive gems on the market with some research. 1939-P is the most common in high quality for the whole pre-1965 series with over 1000 in MS66, over 325 in MS67 and a 22 series in MS68. Denver’s Issues of the Decade are more difficult but still available in Premium Gem, with several hundred of each date in MS66. The San Francisco copies are of good quality and have apparently survived in good condition. After the key date ’32 -S, quarters were not manufactured on the West Coast until 1935. All S-Mint examples are available in grades up to MS67. Overall, the bulk of the thirties have smaller prints than the remaining dates in the series and have market availability and prices that represent it. The 1930s are the most elusive part of the collection as a whole.
From the start of the series, copies were collected by a few dealers. These cherished examples are probably the most gems and the best collecting pool represented today. Scarcity still loosely follows the mintage numbers, and the 1940s saw an increase in production in all three currencies, including the war years.
The year the United States entered The Second World War, the denomination saw its first draw to exceed 100 million. The Philadelphia Mint produced 102,996,000 in 1942 and approached that turning point in 1943 with 99,700,000. It eclipsed the first issue in 1944 with 104,956,000 minted. It no longer comes close to these figures until the sixties.
The 1940-D is the lowest mintage of the decade and the prices reflect this inherent rarity. Provided they are affordable compared to previous years, even in superb gem condition. Apart from the dual-chain grape varieties, the entire decade is available in all grades up to MS67, with superb gems requiring a little patience.
Of course, as with the whole series, the MS68 examples are extremely rare and most of the numbers are less than five in the high grade.
The 1950s are considered a decade of prosperity. While much of the world was still wreaking havoc with World War II, the United States experienced intense growth and minimal inflation. As such, demand for cash has remained high and the circulation numbers for most of the 1950s reflect this. Large amounts combined with hoarding make most of the decade’s problems common. Despite the hordes of dealers, high demand meant heavy use, and much of the Mint’s output was distributed. Superb Gem survivors are rare considering the tens of millions produced.
Again, MS68 examples are rare with less than 10 for any date and less than five for most.
There are a few interesting varieties with the overdrive marks of 1950. The Denver and San Francisco facilities have marked each other by creating both a D over S and an S over D. These two varieties are resistant, with the D / S considerably rarer in Gem and better qualities. Both have less than 300 examples rated by PCGS in all classes. Neither have an MS68 example. In fact, finding a superb gem available would require a bit of luck with a combined population in MS67 of just 12.
The lowest mintage of the decade belongs to the 1955-D with only 3,182,400 products. Coins are hard to find in higher condition, despite an overall population of 3,494 people in all ranks. Most of the population resides in the holders of MS63 and MS64. Premium Gem qualities are rare and to date only six have obtained Superb Gem. There are no ’55 -D examples classified as MS68.
With the San Francisco Mint producing exclusively proof copies from 1968 and clothed issues taking over in 1965, the circulating dates of the Sixties have only 10 issues. All issues have seen strong production, with the past year accounting for over one billion coins in both active currencies.
But surprisingly, the ’60s offer a scarcity of population in the MS67 despite these high prints.
This is in part due to the fact that prices and demand have held back earlier submissions to the services. And what’s more, the early ’80s silver boom saw them included in 90% bags or simply thrown into crucibles for their contents. This loss due to attrition and the series’ general disregard for price has made Superb Gems very difficult to find and to date only three individual pieces have been rated MS68 out of the 10 shows.
Washington Silver Quarters are great to collect in any quality as they are affordable and always available raw in dealer boxes – perfect for enthusiasts to store in scrapbooks.
However, we do suggest that advanced collectors purchase certified examples with most of the dates in Premium Gem or better. The laws of supply and demand, coupled with the desire for quality, dictate that the best potential lies in the higher grades. Most of the dates in MS66 and to some extent MS67 are readily available with the exception of a few half-keys and 1932 numbers.
As noted, all varieties of doubled dies are extremely rare and may or may not be included at the collector’s discretion. 1950s overprints are also rare and their inclusion in the set is not mandatory.
We hope you enjoy this introduction to the series. This article is not intended to be a final discussion of the series, but rather a starting point for interested collectors to begin living one of the great numismatic adventures of the 20th century.
Our data was derived from the PCGS Population Report and we report exclusively from it. Nevertheless, we must note that the trends here are reflected in the NGC reports. We do not suggest any superiority of service but work towards simplicity in the big picture. We recognize that data is not absolute and is obviously tainted with value. The lower price of the gems in the series results in lower bid quantities, thus skewing the data where the numbers do not necessarily coincide with the overall scarcity. Keep in mind that fundraising at all levels is encouraged, but we stick with Gem and better ratings tailored to our specific clientele.