No one gives the 1956 Washington quarter a second thought. In fact, few really give any Washington quarters except the 1932-D and 1932-S a second thought. Perhaps it is time for everyone to take a long and much deeper look at Washington quarters as there just might be some real sleepers waiting to be discovered.
In the case of the 1956, which was not an especially low mintage date and which had an additional 669,384 pieces in the proof sets of the year, it is best to simply consider why the general belief would be that it is a readily available date. Certainly the mintage, which was average for the period, is one reason.
What must be remembered, however, is that mintages for dates from the 1950s really only matter in the case of circulated examples and they are routinely priced at about their silver value. What really matters to most collectors today is the number of coins available in Mint State and especially MS-65.
The fact is there was little saving of the 1956. Collectors and dealers of 50 years ago would have asked why? Those collectors and dealers back in 1956 would have had no reason to hand-select particularly nice examples. At the time, MS-65 applied only to old coppers and not to Washington quarters. With no real financial incentive there would have been few, if any, who would have taken the time to save an especially nice 1956.
In the years that followed even if someone had saved a roll of 1956 quarters, there was significant reason to potentially sell that roll before now. Silver prices peaked in early 1980 at $50 an ounce. At the prices of the time, any 1957 Washington quarter would have been worth safely over $6. Today an MS-63 1956 Washington quarter is just $8. Is the extra $2 worth the three-decade wait? With little likelihood of significantly higher prices, few would have resisted the temptation to sell in 1980.
Anyone who had wanted a really nice one could simply have raided a proof set. That would have cost a little bit more, but it was a viable option.
The high price of silver in 1980 probably persuaded a few collectors to dump even their proof sets. It was certainly not the first thought, but as silver rose higher it dawned on people that the proof and mint sets contained silver coins and the value of their silver was high enough to make it worthwhile to sell the sets as well as the rolls and single coins.
How much difference the sales for silver value made is impossible to assess. We can say that the 1956 is certainly not available in the numbers that once existed. Moreover, the MS-65 now at $26 has shown itself to be better than some Washington dates from the 1950s and 1960s. That trend may well continue since the 1956 was never saved in large numbers in top grades in the first place.