This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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The Washington quarter, seen everyday and thought of as a common coin, has been minted for nearly 80 years. A collector could have a good time with a series spanning so many years, whether he plans a complete date and mintmark set or decides to concentrate on a shorter set.
If you haven’t considered a Washington quarter set, or think it’s not much of a challenge, try a short set to get a feeling of what the series is about. You may find it’s a fun set to build any way you choose, and assembling the set has its own challenges.
A popular way of collecting Washington quarters is to build a “short set” of silver issues from 1941-1964. While no major rarities exist in this span, or even key issues as the 1932-D and “S”, such a set is worthwhile. This set is comprised of the last few decades of silver coinage, quarters that circulated and did the job they were created to do. Not especially pretty, the Washington quarter bears an All-American design, with our first president and an eagle. And with the price of silver going the way it is, this set could be a source of real enjoyment in years to come.
If you want to go all the way back to 1932, the first year of the Washington quarter, a date set could be the answer. One coin of each date, without worrying about mintmarks, can be assembled. No quarters dated 1933 were minted, but a Philadelphia issue of 1932 is not that hard to locate, even in Mint State. Many first year type coins were saved, and the Washington quarter is no exception.
One quarter of each date makes a good set, whether you want only the 90 percent silver quarters, or the full set, including the copper-nickel clads of 1965 to date. You may find that locating nice clad quarters, especially of the early years, may be more difficult than you would think. First year clads were generally not saved in great numbers, since the coins did not contain silver. Quarters dated 1975 cannot be found, as none was minted; the Bicentennial design was minted at that time instead.
If you are a fan of a particular mint, San Francisco or Denver, a set of quarters made at your favorite mint can be collected. The 1932 coins are scarce, along with the 1936-D in high grade, but this kind of set is interesting in itself.
Modern collectors, familiar with the copper-nickel quarters, may want a set of clad quarters. This set now covers more than 45 years, and many clad quarters are hard to find in choice condition. Such coins from the years 1968, 1969, 1982 and 1983 are not seen that often in blazing mint state.
Check out the mintage figures of clad quarters. Great numbers of quarters were minted in the first three years of clad coinage, with figures tapering off in 1968 and 1969. Look at the mintage numbers for the 1982 and 1983 quarters, and you might think, no way are these coins hard to find. But try to find these coins in choice condition, well-made, true Mint State! Mint sets were not issued in these years, and most circulated quarters of these two years look battered, even after slight circulation. If you want pretty clad quarters, you may have to do a lot of searching.
If you like pretty coins in general, how about a set of proof Washington quarters? Silver proofs were made from 1936-1942, and from 1950-1964. The early years can cost a few hundred dollars apiece, while the later issues are somewhat less expensive. Whether you just want the later coins, the earlier coins, or both, these specially struck quarters look impressive as a set, perhaps displayed in a plastic holder. Some proof quarters of these years show a frosted or cameo effect, and you will probably have to pay well for these select coins.
Don’t forget the Special Mint Set quarters of 1965, 1966 and 1967. These coins, while never that popular, represent the best strikings the Mint had to offer in the first few years of non-silver quarters.
Who hasn’t collected the state quarters, whether for himself, for a child or grandchild, or just as a souvenir? The state quarters began in 1999 with the Delaware coin. Each state was commemorated in order of its becoming a state.
State quarters were minted for 10 years, ending with Hawaii in 2008. Washington, D.C., and the territories were commemorated the following year. Some designs were lovely and artistic, showing some creativity. Others were not so artistic. Each collector has his own opinion as to which state quarters were the most attractive. Many collectors consider the Alaska, Connecticut, and Delaware coins to be among the best designed, with the Wyoming, South Carolina and Missouri less so.
Even the relatively new state quarters contain sets-within-a-set. Proof sets of the special quarters can be collected in copper-nickel clad or silver. A state quarter fan can save one of each type, one from each date and mint, or be a completist and collect every single issue. You can choose to include the D.C., and territorial quarters of 2009, or choose to save only the state coins.
I have seen specially made holders for state quarters of the 13 colonies, so a collector could have a “complete” set after less than three years of saving coins from the start of the series. A collector can also obtain a holder to display quarters of the states the collector has visited.
And now, with the new America the Beautiful quarter program, honoring the National Parks and other national sites collectors can begin a new set all over again, saving the new quarters the same way as the popular statehood. Save one of each type, one of each mint, proof coins in silver, copper-nickel, or all of the above. Save a National Parks quarter from each of the parks you have personally visited.
The Washington quarter series contains many varieties, another way to collect. Probably the most famous are the 2004-D Wisconsin quarters with extra leaves visible on the ear of corn. Some 1989 quarters lacked a mintmark, a coin that was featured on national news broadcasts. There are also doubled dies, over mintmarks, light and heavy motto varieties. Some are subtle, some not so subtle, and all are collectible.
Washington quarters comprise a large set with a lot to offer a beginning collector, or a more advanced numismatist. Why not give the set a try? You may find this series to be more interesting, challenging, and fun than at first glance.