It’s been my experience that most collectors know that the 1932 D and 1932 S are the key coins to look for when it comes to Washington quarters, but the premium which a 1949 D demands is lost on most buyers. It’s been very common to observe other key date and mint mark Washington quarter auctions (other than 32 D or S) bringing lack luster performance and values.
The Washington Quarter is unappreciated and is not a spotlight coin in numismatics. The series has not had a huge following, e.g. the Morgan silver dollar, and there are only a few key issues to the series. With only minor tuning changes to the obverse design, which, for the most part, go unnoticed, it’s the reverse design varieties which have garnered most of the energy around varieties for this series, but even the reverse design varieties are well sought after outside the circle of a very small group of devoted Washington quarter enthusiast.
What does this mean? For starters, if you’re going to collect Washington quarters for any kind of numismatic value, just know that buying right is key. Just because the guides say its worth a certain price doesn’t mean it’s going be easy to get that price out of it when the time comes to sell. Demand is a huge factor in realizing the market value. So, unless you have a tap in to the elusive Washington quarter collector market, the collection you put together should really be one of a passion for the series rather than a store of value or investment purposes. This is usually where Washington quarter collectors are coming from and as such it usually narrows their focus to the silver years, 1932-1964.
The silver Washington quarters saw two very distinct and well known eras in U.S. history; The Great Depression and World War II. These events drove a need for both heavy usage and high production for the quarter dollar, but each at different times. Being able to sift through all the available coins from these time periods to select the right one for your collection can be tricky
The Great Depression & High Usage
From 1932 to 1941 mintages were relatively low, but usage (using the coin to purchase) was heavy. The coins them selves did not get refreshed with new issues from the mint as much as they did in later years. Its also know that the mint did not produce many coins during this time. In fact, no quarters were even produced with the year 1933 on them.
In 1932 twenty five cents was the equivalent of almost 5 dollars in today’s economy. This was a lot of value to just place in a coin folder’s hole for collection’s sake. Money was tight and it got spent. So, while there are plenty of examples of each year and mint mark form this period, the majority of the coins from these years are very, very worn; there aren’t many in mint state and if you find one that looks mint state, check it again for cleaning, whizzing or light to medium wear.
WWI & High Mintages
By 1943 a wartime economy was in full swing. This meant and there was a need for higher quarter production to sustain coin supplies for commerce. 1942 through 1944 saw the second highest number of silver Washington quarters produced, second only to the production numbers of 1960-1964. These higher numbers mean that today there are plenty of coins from this time period available for collecting. However, In the furry to produce the high numbers of quarters needed for these years, coin dies were pushed well beyond their maximum life expectancy. It’s well known that the mint re-used older dies for cost saving measures. This meant that there were a lot of coins produced with really poor strikes.
So even though demand and usage was high for this era, higher production numbers from these years meant that coins from this era don’t show the heavy wear that the coins from thirties do; there were just more quarters available for use. But, well worn dies and mushy strikes mean that finding a higher grade, well struck coin can be tough.
Condition is Key
I know it seems cliche to say this, but all this makes the higher grade, mint state issues quite pricey form these time periods. But, if you can stretch your budget to purchase higher grade mint state examples, your collection will be better off for it.