Coin Collecting

Washington Quarters
1932 - Present
Click here for Washington Quarter Pricing Guide

Washington, D.C. - Chances are, when handling a fistful of quarters, people don't stop to ponder the many changes the quarter has been through - from what material is used in producing it to the designs on each side of the coin.

In 1793, when the Philadelphia Mint chose 20 denominations for coinage, there was discourse about what material - and how much of it - to use in making the quarter dollar. Silver was the material of choice when minting first began in 1796. Almost a century later, the Act of February 12, 1873, declared that the coin was not heavy enough, and extra weight was added. The next modification came when the Mint Act of 1965 mandated the use of copper-nickel instead of silver.

The Mint Act of April 2, 1792, was the first official act to direct attention to the quarter's design. This Act specified that certain design features and legends would appear on authorized coins. One side of the coin had to include the year in which it was minted, an impression that symbolized liberty, and the actual word "Liberty." For more than 115 years, liberty was symbolized on the front of the coin by allegorical female figures (Lady Liberty) in the form of a bust or a full-length figure. The back of the quarter featured an eagle and the words "United States of America."

The representations of Lady Liberty and the eagle on the quarter during the late 18th and early 19th centuries were altered many times to keep up with the changing designs of other coins. Lady Liberty started out with flowing hair, then a draped bust, then a capped bust. Controversy arose in 1916 when Lady Liberty was suddenly shown standing with an exposed breast. This design was deemed too risqué and lasted only one year. In 1917, Lady Liberty's exposed breast was covered with a coat of mail. The eagle also underwent a few makeovers. It began as a small eagle that many thought looked too much like a pigeon. Over time, the eagle grew to become a grander and more patriotic heraldic eagle.

In 1932, the bicentennial of George Washington's birthday, a silhouette of Washington's head replaced Lady Liberty. This marked the second, but certainly not the only, time a coin would change from an allegorical figure to an historical one. The next bicentennial event to affect the quarter's design came in 1976, with the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. To honor the event, a colonial drummer replaced the eagle on the back of the coin.

Over the next decade, the quarter will undergo 50 changes, to signify each state in the Union. Each state will be honored on an individual coin to generate the public's interest in coin design and State history. The next 10 years may be the time when people do, in fact, take note of the design and history behind quarters used every day.

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