This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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It’s been the basic history of the Washington quarter to be overlooked. The two exceptions were the 1932-D and 1932-S, which was natural as they had mintages of 436,800 and 408,000, respectively. No other date was even below 1.5 million pieces, so the assumption of collectors of the day was that all other dates were available fairly easily to anyone who wanted one.
Actually, most hobbyists even did not make that assumption as they simply ignored Washington quarters and concentrated on lower denominations. If anyone bothered with quarters during the first 25 years of the Washington series, they probably tried Standing Liberty quarters as they were still circulating and seemed far better than Washington quarters.
In recent years and especially with increased interest since the launch of the 50 state quarter program in 1999, some have been looking a little more seriously at Washington quarters. The bulk of that interest, however, has been on branch mint dates from the 1930s that tend to have low mintages.
When you try to find an example of those branch mint issues in MS-65 or better, you discover that they are tough since Washington quarters were generally not struck all that well. The other dates have generally still received very little attention.
That would be natural in for the issues of the 1940s because, like other denominations, Washington quarters sometimes saw very heavy mintages, especially at Philadelphia during World War II. The 1946-S, however, was produced after World War II had ended in San Francisco, which had been a major embarkation point for ships heading to the Pacific theater of military operations. Moreover, it had a mintage of just 4,204,000, which certainly cannot be called a large mintage.
Nor was it just the mintage that played a role in how collectors view the coin. The rate of saving of new dates by collectors was increasing back in 1946, but much of the attention that year was on the new Roosevelt dime. After all, the 1946 dime was like the 1964 Kennedy half dollar in that it was really a commemorative issued shortly after the death of a popular President. It was going to have a large demand, and realistically it was the first new coin design since 1932, so a large number of collectors were seeing the first new circulating coin produced since they had begun collecting.
Under the circumstances, it is hard to expect the collectors of the time to have engaged in heavy saving of something as seemingly ordinary as a 1946-S quarter. The odds are pretty good that heavy saving did not really happen. We cannot be totally certain as the 1946-S with its prices of $7.75 in MS-60 and $35 in MS-65 has not been expensive enough to really justify being sent into grading services in large numbers.
While we cannot be perfectly certain that the supply of the 1946-S in a grade like MS-65 is suspect, the odds are pretty good that is the case. After all, it had a lower mintage than some current proof-only dates and it was placed into circulation. Moreover, we are slowly learning that there are some better dates from the 1940s. Sure, there was more saving but not, by definition, of every denomination.
People tend to save whatever denomination they collect and dealers tend to save the coins people want to buy. On both counts the 1946-S was not likely to be a favorite of the day, which could mean higher prices tomorrow as it could well be one of the best dates of a very overlooked decade. Whether in MS-60 or MS-65 and above, the 1946-S is a date worth watching and owning.