The first clad coin released to circulation was the quarter, “the key coin for commerce,” as it was called by Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Robert A. Wallace.
Minting began on Aug. 23, 1965, with distribution scheduled for the week of Nov. 1. A 1965-dated quarter apparently made of copper-nickel was the cover coin for the December 1965 issue of Coins magazine. The new clad era began with the quarter.
Collecting clad quarters can keep a collector busy hunting for choice pieces, scarce varieties, with a few proofs thrown in for spice.
Despite large mintages, the first three years, clad quarters of the early years are difficult to locate in high grades. The coins were, indeed, “workhorse” coins, and did the job they were created to do. Even today, 1965-dated quarters turn up regularly in change, but are well-circulated.
The best way to begin collecting clad quarters may be the old-fashioned way – get a few albums and start looking through your change. Get an idea of what coins are plentiful and which coins are harder to find. Study the coins carefully. Look at their conditions of the coins.
Most likely, you will not find any really high grade uncirculated pieces, unless some of the recent state quarters show up.
Clad quarters of the early years turn up regularly, but are well-circulated and show it. Quarters of 1982 and 1983 look as if they have been through a war. And a few Bicentennial quarters of 1976 may turn up, but not that many.
After a collector finds one of each date and mintmark – which can take a longer time than imagined – see which coins were the last ones found. A few clad quarters, notably the coins of 1982-P&D, 1983-P&D, and the 1986-D, may prove scarce. Many Bicentennial quarters were saved; despite their high mintage, they were different. A former neighbor saved these coins in a shoebox for years, just because she liked the design.
Perhaps you may see that some clad dates and mintmarks cannot be found in change without a lot of looking. After the large mintages of 1965, 1966 and 1967, production tailed off a bit in 1968 and 1969. I have also found that quarters dated 1971 are not that easy to find.
Clad coins have held up well over the years. I have never seen a clad quarter with the rims worn into the lettering, as I have seen on many silver quarters of the 1930s. But if a collector wants coins closer to Mint State, that may take some hunting. Searching through mint sets and original rolls – if any can be found – may turn up a few nice specimens.
Maybe a collector can check an old piggybank. While researching my book, United States Clad Coinage in 1990, I came across a 1972-D quarter that was really pretty. The coin looked as if it had just been minted. I guessed the coin sat in a piggybank for years.
Don’t look for any quarters dated 1975 – the Bicentennial quarters dated 1776-1976 were minted for 18 months at that time, and the 1975 date was never used on quarters.
After all of the dates and mintmarks have been found, it’s time to search for varieties. Perhaps the most famous of the older clad issues is the 1989-D with no mintmark. This coin was mentioned in general news stories, and I recall hearing about the coin on an all-news radio station.
Proof clad quarters are not bad-looking coins. A set of proof clads can be quite attractive. Don’t forget the Special Mint Set coins of 1965, 1966 and 1967. These are good-looking coins, especially the 1967, which also has a relatively low mintage.
The SMS sets were struck by the Mint instead of proofs, which the Mint was officially too busy to produce while it fought the coin shortage emergency.
After 34 years of clads, ignored for the most part – then came the state quarters. Beginning in 1999 and continuing through 2009, the 50 states, District of Columbia and United States territories were commemorated on quarters.
Coins were released at the rate of five different designs per year, with six designs coming in 2009.
Technically, the 2009 issues are not part of the state series, but will future collectors make that distinction? Probably not.
I attended the Florida United Numismatists show in January 1999 when the first state quarter, Delaware, came out. An employee of the Philadelphia Mint handed out specimens of these coins in special holders. Such a coin makes a great souvenir of the first statehood quarter, the coin that launched a thousand collections. Besides the special coin given to me, I received a few of these new quarters in change at the hotel.
Many of the state quarters could be found in circulation rather quickly. Folders and albums to hold collections of state quarters appeared at coin shops and book stores. People who had never bothered to look at their change were checking quarters to find the latest state, building sets of the new quarters for children or grandchildren, or just for themselves. The coins were all different; many were quite attractive.
Some people discovered the Washington quarter series and began collections of sets, including the older silver coins. This series, dormant for so long, became popular.
One local coin shop believed (wrongly, as it turned out) that interest in the state quarters would lead to a renewed interest in the old commemorative half dollars, and created a display that was shown in their window for a few months. The Connecticut half dollar with the Charter Oak design was similar to the quarter, although the two coins showed the oak in different seasons. The Lexington-Concord half dollar showed the famous Minuteman, which also appeared on the Massachusetts quarter.
Topical collectors, especially those interested in ships on coins, enjoyed finding the new coins for their sets. Ships were found on the Virginia, Rhode Island and Florida coins. Animals could be seen on many of the quarters: a horse for Delaware, a bear for Alaska, a horse for Kentucky. The all-American buffalo could be seen on the quarters for Kansas, North Dakota, and the bison’s skull on the Montana coin.
Lincoln buffs, including myself, enjoyed the Illinois quarter, while those who liked plants and flowers on coins had the Mississippi quarter. Birds appeared on the coins for Idaho, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and a few others. There was something for everyone in state quarters.
Some dedicated collectors attended the launching ceremonies for their state’s quarter and some other ceremonies. I was at the launch for the Illinois quarter in January 2003 in downtown Chicago. The ceremony took place a few days before the opening of the Florida United Numismatists show. I received my first Illinois quarter at the ceremony, and a few days later, my brand new quarter was a part of my FUN exhibit, “Medallic Portraits of Lincoln.”
There was even interest among error collectors. Quite a few off-center and rotated reverse quarters could be found among the state quarters. One rare coin firm began a Collectors’ Club for those seeking errors in the series. I saw a woman stroll into a coin shop with a New Hampshire quarter struck off-center, and walk out with a nice amount of cash. Some Wisconsin quarters were made with differences in the leaves on the ear of corn.
After the 50 states were done, then came six quarters for Washington, D.C., and the territories. The first coin, for the District of Columbia, featured Duke Ellington by his piano. This coin was the first circulating United States coin depicting an African-American. The remaining five quarters had low mintages, by modern standards, and were tough to find in circulation. In 2009, I only found a few of the D.C. and Puerto Rico quarters in change.
This year, a new set begins, the America the Beautiful series. It will take 11 years to complete, with a National Park or other nationally designated site depicted on quarters for all 50 states, D.C., and the territories. Designs for 2010 will be announced soon, with Arkansas’ Hot Springs coming first.
Collectors will want to complete this series, which could contain some really lovely designs. People will want quarters from the parks they have visited, and build sets this way. No doubt, custom holders will be available too.
Quarter collectors will be busy for many years to come. New series, recent series, older coins, sets-within-a-set ... probably no other United States series offers so much and more ways to collect than the Washington quarter, with the clad coinage a big part of the series.