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Quarters are like real estate?

Most people have a a sense of real estate values in their area, especially since we have just gone through a period of huge price gains followed by a crash and foreclosures. Now we are back to watching real estate flipping shows on cable television.

While we seemed to have returned to the point we started from, we’ve learned that what we don’t know can hurt us. So we read about the health of the real estate market.

What most people have little idea of is the similarity of trend between American real estate prices and the U.S. Mint’s production of quarters.

Spurred on by high demand for state quarters, output surged for the 25-cent pieces in the early years of the 21st century as real estate soared.

The U.S. Mint produced 34.8 billion quarters in the 10-year state quarter program, 1999-2008. That works out to an average production of nearly 3.5 billion quarters struck and issued each year. This average is 135 percent above the usual annual output of quarters, the Mint said in its assessment of the state program.

Just as real estate topped out around the year 2006, U.S. quarter output also was peaking and heading lower. In 2008, 2.4 billion quarters were produced. It was the last year quarter mintages exceeded the 1 billion mark until this year.

In the first nine months of the year 2013, the Mint has already produced 1.1 billion quarters, which is still a pale shadow of the average 3.5 billion produced during the state quarter program, but it is on its way back.

In 2011, approximately 391 million quarters were struck and in 2012 it was 568 million. These are 12-month totals.

With three months yet to go in 2013, quarter output could come in at 1.5 billion pieces.

I will be watching.

I have long had a theory that current coin mintages tell us where the economy is. The higher production is, the better the economy.

Like real estate, quarter output was a weak link.

Many collections and hoards of state quarters assembled during that program’s heyday were returned to the banks during the Great Recession as their owners needed ready cash. With so many returning quarters, few new ones were needed for years.

With current quarter output rising so dramatically, it would seem to indicate that this phenomenon is passing into history.

That being the case, the upcoming year, 2014, might just prove to be much better than many expect.

You can be sure I will be watching how soon 2014-dated coins arrive in circulation – quarters included. A quick arrival will confirm better economic times ahead.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."