On December 2, 1924, Congress established the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission. The 200th birthday of President Washington’s was considered a momentous occasion and Congress wanted to prepare for this major event well in advance. One of the proposed means of celebrating the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth was a new commemorative coin.
President Hoover was concerned that commemorative coins were being issued constantly and not always selling well. Indeed, many unsold commemoratives issues in the 1920s and early 1930s had to be melted or spent. Congress initially proposed a Washington commemorative Half Dollar, but after Hoover’s veto the plan shifted to a special circulating 1932 half dollar with Washington’s likeness.
The only issue with the half dollar proposal was that, simply put, there was little need for additional circulating half dollars. In fact all mints suspended half dollar production from 1929-1932 due to a lack of demand. Therefore the focus moved to striking a special Washington Quarter Dollar instead of a Silver Half Dollar. An open competition commenced and, by early 1932, a design had been chosen.
Truth be told, there was not much public demand for quarters either. None were made in 1931, but production resumed in 1932 in honor of George Washington. The Philadelphia Mint struck a sizeable number of coins, but the Denver and San Francisco produced a token amount to honor Washington. For this reason, the 1932-D and 1932-S issues are the key dates in the Washington Quarter series. In fact, they are the only dates in the series that command substantial premiums in circulated grades.
All three Mints elected to forgo striking Quarters in 1933, but by 1934 the surplus had been absorbed and production resumed. From that point onward, Washington Quarter mintages remained quite robust year after year. From 1934, there are no key dates in the series. The only truly valuable Washington Quarters from 1934 onward are those in extremely lofty grades, i.e. MS 67 or MS 68.
The design saw relatively little modification over the years. In 1965, the coin’s metallic composition was changed from 90% silver to a copper-nickel clad mix. Then, a special edition was released in 1976 to commemorate the bicentennial; its obverse date is expressed as “1776-1976” and the reverse displays a Revolutionary War drummer. More recently, however, the Washington Quarter has undergone some more substantial changes. From 1999-2009 it displayed reverses honoring all fifty states, then from 2010 onward it has featured America’s national parks on the back side. The obverse portrait of Washington remains, but for 16 years the reverse has been constantly changing.