This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Sometimes we act like outside events have no influence on coin collecting. Many times they seem to have no impact, but the nation has had some momentous events and it is hard for coin collectors to not feel the impact of those events.
Normally speaking, economic situations seem to have the greatest impact. The hard economic times of the 1870s had a role in lower mintages and lower numbers of coins being saved. Some dates from the 1890s also show less saving than might be expected, again because of bad economic times. The Great Depression, however, seemed to have little negative impact due to a number of factors that caused significant numbers of people to take up coin collecting.
In other cases, conflicts have had an impact. The Civil War resulted in a great deal of hoarding, which included copper nickel cents. In later years, some of those hoards, especially of cents, managed to end up in the market instead of being spent. That has helped as the availability of especially nice early 1860s Indian Head cents is sometimes greater than we might suspect.
Then there was World War II. While it was not fought on American soil, it still required enormous sacrifice on the part of all Americans and we might see some small evidence that it had an impact on coin collecting in the form of dates like the 1942-S quarter.
The mintage of the 1942-S Washington quarter was 19,384,000. That is a lower than average total for a 90 percent silver Washington quarter. However, it wasn’t all that low at the time as mintages of less than 20 million or even 10 million had not been unusual since the introduction of the design back in 1932.
What makes the 1942-S interesting is that it is not available in the numbers that might be expected, especially in Mint State. Today in MS-60 the 1942-S lists at $72. You certainly do not find many 1940s Washington quarters commanding that sort of price in MS-60.
It is a very similar situation in MS-65, where the 1942-S lists for $145. Despite the fact that there would be many later dates with lower or similar mintages, you will not find any regular dates at that MS-65 price. It is even higher than a couple branch mint dates from the 1930s.
It is fairly difficult to find reasons for the higher prices of the 1942-S when you look at mintages. There may, however, be a clue of sorts when you check the prices of the 1942-S Lincoln cent, which is similarly higher than other Lincoln cents of the period. The 1942-S Mercury dime is also more expensive in top grade, and the 1942-S Jefferson nickel is among the more costly of the special wartime composition Jefferson nickels.
In part, you can reach a conclusion that for some reason San Francisco coins back in 1942 were not saved in large numbers and were perhaps not all that well made, explaining the lack of top quality examples today.
It also may be that, as a nation headed off to war, Americans were not doing the amount of saving that might normally be seen. That theory seems to have support in the high MS-60 prices. After all, if the Mint State supply is low, it only stands to reason that the highest grade supply would also be low, which seems to be what we have today in the case of the 1942-S.