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Chase Acadia quarters now

Are quarters back in demand by the U.S. economy after four weak years?

That would be one conclusion that can be drawn from the latest monthly coin production figures from the U.S. Mint.

In the first three months of 2013, the U.S. Mint’s two circulating coin production facilities, Philadelphia and Denver, have struck 3,096,220,000 coins, up 43 percent from the roughly 2.1 billion coins struck in the first three months of 2012.

While all circulating denomination mintage totals are running ahead of last year’s production rate, it is the quarter that truly stands out.

So far 394.6 million of them have been struck, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot until you compare it to last year’s numbers. This year’s total already equals 69.47 percent of all the quarters struck in 2012. If the Mint continues to produce quarters at this rate for the rest of 2013, output of quarters would rise by 177.88 percent to 1.58 billion coins. Even at that much higher level, the number is still dwarfed by quarter output in the early years of the state quarter program.

Output of cents, nickels and dimes are also running ahead of last year.

At the present rate of output, cent production would increase 18.6 percent this year. Nickel output would be up by 30.74 percent and dimes by 34.10 percent.

It is no secret that many state quarters previously set aside were spent during the recession as the owners struggled to make ends meet. This reduced demand for new quarters from the Mint. The phenomenon seems to finally be coming to an end.

What does that mean for collectors?

Well, one thing is an increasing likelihood that the first designs of the America the Beautiful quarter series of 2010-2012 will become the scarcest issues of the set, which will be completed in 2021.

The lowest mintage individual quarters occurred last year. The Denver Acadia National Park quarter has a mintage of 21,606,000. That’s a 1950s size quantity and it might just now be the key to the entire series.

Of course, another recession could derail that possibility, or the economy could transition to a more cashless one between now and the year 2021, but I do not think either possibility can return us to last year’s quarter output levels.

If you intend to put a complete set of ATB circulating quarters together, get moving now before the scarcest ones become more costly.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."