The Dramatic Beginning of the Washington Quarter
The Washington quarter had its beginnings steeped in drama and debate. Originally requested in a proposal by the Treasury Department as a commemorative half dollar design to celebrate the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth, the decision by then, Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew W. Mellon, to use the Washington quarter design we know today, was hotly contested by the selection committee which was co-sponsored by The Department of the Treasury, the national Commission of Fine Arts and the Washington Bicentennial Commission.
A competition was held in which artists would submit their designs on plaster molds to the above committee. The committee would then select the design they felt best represented their requirements and this design would be used for the coin and a medal.
The design which actually won the unanimous approval of the committee was submitted by Laura Gardin Fraser (pictured left). Incidentally, her last name should ring a bell with U.S. coin collectors as her husband James Earle Fraser is famously know for his design of the Buffalo nickel.
Laura Fraser was already well known in coinage for her design of the Oregon Trail commemorate half dollar, which was minted from 1926 – 1939.
Unfortunately for the acclaimed Laura Fraser, Mr. Mellon didn’t get to take an active role in selecting the winner of the first competition. Known for his stubborn disposition, Mellon (pictured right) refused to accept the committee’s design selection and requested that a second design contest be held so he could take a more active role in the selection of the winning design.
As the account goes, on October 27th, 1931 the committee selected six designs from over a hundred submissions, both new and re-submitted, and, again, unanimously chose Fraser’s design as their first choice. The committee labelled Fraser’s models as #56 (pictured below).
From Nov. 2nd 1931 to April 16, 1932, committee chairman Charles Moore, Sec. of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, and Ogden L Mills, who succeeded Mellon as Sec. of the Treasury in in 1932, debated through several correspondence, over the use of Fraser design for the new quarter. Charles Moore, arguing on the behalf of the selection committee that Fraser’s design was superior, and Mellon, from his rather
stubborn disposition, preferred, and ultimately knew that he was going to select a design which was submitted by John Flanagan. (pictured right)
On April, 16, 1932, Secretary Mills made it formally known that John Flanagan’s design had been selected for use on the new U.S. quarter dollar. A new coin was born and the Washington quarter began ejecting from the mint presses in The summer months of 1932 and was released in to circulation August 1st of 1932.
- Andrew W. Mellon Image Credit: http://www.pachs.net/members/archive (pulled from google image search)
- Laura Gardin Fraser Image Credit: http://news.coinupdate.com/the-life-and-work-of-laura-gardin-fraser-3389/ (pulled from google image search)
- Oregon Trail Commem. Image Credit: http://earlycommemorativecoins.com/1926-1939-oregon-trail-half-dollar/ (pulled from google image search)
- John Flanagan, image credit: http://www.cdaughtrey.com/
- 1932 D Quarter Image: http://www.coinlink.com/News/commentary-and-opinion/mind-boggling-prices-for-washington-quarters/
- The Complete Guide to Washington Quarters by John Feigenbaum. pg. 5, “Walter Breen, in his ‘Complete Encyclopaedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins‘ notes that ‘it has been learned that Mellon knew all along who submitted the winning models, and his mail chauvinism partly or whole motivated his unwillingness to let a woman win.'” Since the publication of the Feigenbaum book, The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of Washington and State Quarters suggests that this information is unfounded and purely conjecture as there were plenty of actions on Mellon’s part that would suggest otherwise. Namely the fact that many coins and medals that he approved were designed by women, including the above pictured Oregon Trail commemorative half dollar.