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Clad quarters wake up very slowly

The year 1965 was a significant one for quarters as that was the year when silver was removed from the denomination’s composition. The clad series was born.

Another 65, the grade MS-65 is also a significant one for the clad quarter series. Looking at the Coin Market price guide shows surprising prices for certain clad dates.

Until the state quarter series began in 1999, most collectors were busy with anything but the clad quarters. They seemed common. But now that we are taking a closer look, some are anything but common.

The author of the Red Book, R.S. Yeoman, said right up until he died in 1988 that clad coinage was scarcer than most collectors realized in the upper grades.

Certainly the 50-state quarter program played a major role in the turnaround of perceptions of clad quarters. There have to be other factors producing what is a remarkable surge in prices and apparently interest in clad Washington quarters.

Take a look at the difference in prices between MS-60 and MS-65 for the pre-1999 coins. That market differential took a long time to develop. After all, it is not every day where one date after another simply jumps from $1.20 to $12 in MS-65 like the 1994-P did in 2003 while other dates while possibly not posting equal gains at least managed strong price increases at a time when virtually no one was looking at clad quarters other than the 50-state series.

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To suggest that price increases and sudden popularity were a long time coming for clad quarters would be putting the situation mildly. The Washington quarter back at the time the clad quarter was introduced in 1965 had already been in what might gently be described as a slow period. It was an upper denomination for many of the young collectors in the 1950s and early 1960s. In addition, the Washington quarter in the minds of most at the time was basically a two-coin set with the two coins being the 1932-D and 1932-S, which both had mintages of under 500,000. Every other Washington quarter seemed readily available and that did not help produce collector interest especially when there were still Standing Liberty quarters in circulation.

Just to make matters worse, even if someone had the money to collect Washington quarters, the Kennedy half dollar had just been introduced. Everyone knew the Franklin half dollar would soon disappear from circulation. This helped keep the Washington series in the shadows.

To say that the clad Washington quarter introduced in 1965 managed to reduce already low interest would probably be accurate. The elimination of silver starting in 1965 certainly bothered some, but the real problem with the new clad quarters was that they had no mintmarks. Ironically, it was only a few decades after the nation had really begun collecting by both date and mintmark, but by the mid-1960s everyone had albums and everyone collected the coins of each minting facility each year.

Of course, discouraging collecting was exactly what the government had in mind at the time as there was a national coin shortage and that problem was being blamed on collectors. In fact, it was not collectors who were causing the shortage, but rather millions of average Americans simply hoarding silver coins as silver was being eliminated. That fact seemed to be ignored by officials and with the elimination of mintmarks virtually all of the nation’s collectors became discouraged.

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The lack of mintmarks would change the way people collected if they still bothered, but just as bad in the minds of many collectors at the time was the simple fact that mintage totals were becoming gargantuan as the Mint struck clad quarters as fast as it could to replace the disappearing silver coins. Without mintmarks, yearly mintage totals from Denver and Philadelphia were combined. This pushed totals into the billions.

The mintmarks would only be gone for a few years as they would return in 1968, but that was long enough to cause many collectors to find something else to do. There was little if any indication that the clad Washington quarter would ever find a serious collector base.

As sometimes happens, the lack of interest in clad quarters set up a situation that would make rarities out of coins that otherwise might not have been scarce. In the early 1960s, many collectors had gotten in the habit of setting aside uncirculated rolls of quarters. These hobbyists began to fall away as the era of clad coinage continued. A ready supply of uncirculated coins disappeared with this style of collecting. So the hobby turned to breaking up the Mint’s annual uncirculated coin sets to get nice individual pieces.

Then the years 1982 and 1983 arrived. The Mint made a decision to not produce mint sets in those years as part of a large government cost-cutting effort.

We frequently do not think of mint sets as important to supplies of individual dates. After all, they are sold as sets but in 1981 the sales of over 2.5 million sets represented a reserve supply if the dates in the sets turned out to be in short supply. If the price of the dates rose high enough some owners of the sets would sell their sets supplying the market with an emergency supply of Mint State coins.

The collectors at the time as well as the dealers were also not on guard to the possibility that the dates from 1982 and 1983 might become better because there would be no mint sets.

To be sure, the modern commemorative era had just begun and it influenced collector behavior. The George Washington half dollar of 1982 was followed by the Olympic silver dollars and $10 gold for the Los Angeles Games. These were new and exciting. Would you rather sink your funds into gold and silver coins or rolls of what were expected to be common clad quarters of 1982 and 1983?

The 1984 $10 Los Angeles Olympic gold coin was the first gold coin to be produced by the United States in roughly 50 years.
Without the mint sets and with the cost of acquiring the new commemoratives it is almost certain that many in determining their numismatic budgets opted for the commemoratives and never gave something as routine as uncirculated rolls of 1982 and 1983 coins a second thought with the exception of the 1982 cents. The cents were hoarded because of the composition change coupled with large and small dates available that year. It was simply a case of priorities and things like clad quarters with limited demand were certainly not a priority.

As so often happens with collectibles of any type, the orders poured in for the $10 Los Angeles Olympic gold coins. Sales were in excess of 600,000. For the price of a single Los Angeles $10, you could have acquired over 30 uncirculated rolls of the 1983-P quarter, but few if any took that path.

As a result, the Los Angeles Olympic $10 is available in far greater numbers than the market requires and its price is set by the value of the gold in it. Simply put, an approximately $350 investment is now worth about $850. In the case of the 1983-P, the $350 investment would now be worth around $30,000, with price of a roll at $945. Results such as that will create interest even where none had existed in the past.

There were other things that should have created interest in clad quarters. The 1968 appearance of proof-only clad quarters from San Francisco did attract some attention although not solely to the quarter as the dime and half dollar also were San Francisco proof-only dates.

At first some collectors were probably uncertain just what to make of the proof-only coins in proof sets, but that over time would change as people would include them in regular collections or in many cases make collections just of the proof-only coins.
The special Bicentennial reverse to be found on the quarter, half dollar and dollar in 1976 also created interest. No 1975-date quarters were struck. Instead, the dual-dated 1776-1976 coins were struck over an 18-month period.

Once again, however, it was not just the quarter that had a special reverse, so the impact was spread out over a number of denominations and most collectors simply acquired a set of the three special coins while not turning to a specific denomination to begin a collection, although the Jack Ahr drummer boy reverse of the quarter remains probably the most popular of the three special reverses for 1976.

The period following the special Bicentennial reverses seemed to be one of increasing Mint activity and new ideas. The Susan B. Anthony dollar would follow in 1979 and that would just be the beginning as modern commemoratives would start with the 1982 Washington half dollar and as modern commemoratives expanded in number and cost, other coins were introduced including silver, gold and platinum bullion coins. These also were made available in proof to give collectors still another way to spend their coin budgets.

Consequently, while 1982 and 1983 were exceptional years because there were no mint sets, the fact is that the average collector and dealer was buried in offers of new issues to collect or to hold in inventory. That has resulted in a consistent pattern of very little saving of some new issues as they were released and that makes clad quarter supplies suspect quite literally from 1965 to the present.

The lack of supplies did not matter if there was a lack of interest and the case can definitely be made that there was a definite lack of interest in clad quarters for many years. The dividing line seems to be somewhere just after 2000. If you look at prices from 1998, which is an especially good year, you find that while the 1982 and 1983 dates were bringing slight premiums, the vast majority of dates were at levels like $1 or less to perhaps $2.

At those prices dealers do not even bother to carry the coins because the profit in selling something for a dollar or less is wiped out by the cost of keeping the coin in inventory, putting it in a holder and having it take up storage space in a building. It takes as much space to display a common quarter costing a buck as it does to display a 1796 quarter costing thousands of dollars. At least until the late 1990s, the dealer would have felt his chances were far better in selling the 1796 than the 1968-D.

Then with the advent of the 50-state quarters, the world of quarters was turned upside down. The changes were almost across the board with a date like the 1969 suddenly moving to $7.50 in MS-65 (now $14) while the 1968-D was at $5 (now $8) and the 1969-D was at $6.50 (now $10). The advances in most cases were rapid with a date like the 1971 going from $2.25 to $6 in a month (now $15). Moreover the pattern did not by definition follow mintages as a date like the 1969 was at a higher price than the 1968-D, but the market is driven not by mintage totals but rather by available supplies and increased demand sometimes exposes supplies as inadequate.

Roll prices have been particularly volatile, with the 1983-P jumping from $175 for an uncirculated roll back in 1998 to over $945 today. The 1983-D has moved from $100 to $410 but even dates where there was no special factor like no mint sets have soared as is seen in the case of the 1969, which moved from $33 to $100 since 1998.

The list of individual coin dates showing big price gains in MS-65 starts with the 1983-P and 1983-D, which were both under $5 in 1998 but which are now $45 and $30, respectively. The 1982-P at $28 and 1982-D at $15 are almost in the same league and they too have posted impressive gains.

Dates without the special factor of no mint sets have also shown gains. The 1985-P and 1986-D might be only mildly surprising at $12.50 and $15, respectively, in MS-65. But in reality, these are amazing prices for coins that have no silver content to boost values.

The 1992-P at $20 in MS-65 is a big surprise and so is the 1992-D which is now at $27.50. The 1994-P at $18 and 1995-P at $12 make you kick yourself for not taking great care in selecting examples of those dates. At best, the collectors that have them at all probably simply accepted whatever was in the uncirculated coin sets of those years.

The San Francisco proof-only clad quarters have also seemingly gotten past the period where no one was sure how to deal with them in a collection. The turning point again seems to have been the late 1990s about the time the first of the 50 state quarters made their appearance. Back in 1998 there were no San Francisco proof-only dates that were more than $5 in Proof-65 but now the 1995-S and 1997-S are at $8.50 after having been even higher not long ago.

There is still room for additional increases as a date like the 1991-S now at $2.75 in Proof-65 had a lower mintage than some 50 state quarters that are higher, so we may still see additional and perhaps significant price increases in the years ahead.
Price shuffling of dates from 1965 to the present is already causing some collectors to reconsider old pricing guidelines. For most of U.S. history the mintage of a coin was almost always a reliable guide as to its price. In the case of clad quarters while the mintage total is a possible guideline, the fact is that the key factor is the numbers saved by collectors. That should not really be new as it is basically the same way with any coin of any era, but in the past saving and mintages were usually in perfect harmony. That is not the case with clad quarters as a large mintage did not mean significant numbers saved.

Another factor is also potentially going to cause us a change in thinking and that is the old assumption that modern issues are always well made. Just in the case of 50 state quarters issued we see that the average grade of Mint State coins changes from year to year and state to state. In some cases the average dates are MS-65 or MS-66, but in others it can be MS-67 and MS-68. In addition, the grading service totals are telling us that not all the clad Washington quarters made after 1965 were created equally as well. In fact, while we might assume that any modern issue would routinely show grades above MS-65, that is not universally the case and there is no doubt that the coins of some years are proving to be more available in top grades than the coins of other years. In the years ahead we might well see certain dates in the highest possible grades commanding some very surprising prices simply because they are not available in those highest grades.

For the present, if you looked at the situation with clad quarters as opposed to the situation a decade ago the two would hardly seem like the same coin. Where back in 1998 prices were low and so was interest, today we have a higher level of interest.

Once collectors start thinking in terms that there are high price clad coins, the reluctance to buy nonsilver issues and regularly collect them in the highest grades becomes the logical next step.

The 1983-P went from $4 to $45 in about seven years as the market began to realize just how scarce it is. Under the circumstances, there is really little or no incentive for many to consider selling. Of course, the 1983-P and others could go down in price, but when prices are constantly on the move to high ground, the assumption on the part of many is not that they will retreat, but rather that the next time the 1983-P moves it will be to $60 or $75. When that is the belief it becomes very difficult to convince anyone to sell and the shortfall in supplies becomes even worse.

That is the situation today. If it is the direct opposite of the situation in 1998 you can thank the popularity of the 50 state quarter program and also the continuing changes in popularity that have characterized the rare coin market for decades. If the coin you like is not very active today, enjoy the buying opportunity as the odds are good that it too will have its day and that those prices will rise.

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