The Lasting Honor of the Washington Quarter
In 1932, our country celebrated the bicentennial birthday of perhaps the most important man in its history, George Washington. Along with the countrywide celebrations of the first president to lead our nation, the bicentennial was marked with a very special occasion: the introduction of a new quarter design featuring Washington’s likeness. While originally intended as a one-year-only commemorative coin, the Washington Quarter has gone on to become one of America’s most popular and enduring coins.
The origins of this incredible coin start on December 2nd, 1924, when Congress created the George Washington Bicentennial Commission. With the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth coming in 1932, Congress wanted to have the celebrations planned and prepared well in advance. The Commission sought to memorialize Washington with a beautiful new coin design. However, the project was delayed many times, and eventually reformed into the Bicentennial Committee. Initially, the plan was to feature Washington on the half dollar, but legislation introduced in Congress derailed those plans. The quarter design at the time, the Standing Liberty, had been declared unsatisfactory due to persistent striking issues, and the new commemorative design would permanently replace it.
The effort to create a new design was defined by two competing visions by two different sculptors. The Bicentennial Committee and Commission of Fine Arts had selected a design created by Laura Fraser, who was known for her work on numerous stunning commemorative coins. Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, however, favored the design submitted by John Flanagan, another respected sculptor who had produced several medals throughout his career. As the Bicentennial Committee and Commission of Fine Arts were only advisory bodies, Mellon’s opinion held the greater weight, and thus Flanagan’s design was chosen. When Mellon left office and was replaced by Ogden L. Mills, Mills upheld his predecessor’s decision.
Flanagan’s design is based on a bust of Washington sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon, a French artist who created the bust as a gift to America in 1785. Widely considered one of the finest depictions of George Washington ever created, it was the perfect template for Flanagan to work off of. The design of the Washington quarter’s obverse has been credited for inspiring later designs, such as the Jefferson Nickel and Franklin Half Dollar. Meanwhile, the reverse depicts the classic heraldic eagle, clutching a sheaf of arrows in its talons. Compared to other heraldic eagles featured on American coinage, the eagle on the Washington Quarter shows unmistakable art deco elements in its design, with its sleek and graceful wings and bold head and beak.
While earlier coins like the Standing Liberty Quarter or Walking Liberty Half Dollar struggled with production issues, the Washington Quarter struck exceptionally well. This allowed the design to be widely produced and stay in circulation for longer periods of time. Minor changes and modifications to the obverse have kept it in use for nearly a century now, with plans only recently being suggested to change it. Ironically, Fraser’s obverse, once passed over by Secretaries Mellon and Mills, has been recommended as the new obverse beginning in 2022. The reverse, meanwhile, has served as a canvas for numerous commemorative and celebratory designs, such as the popular 50 States Program that began in 1999.
Throughout its history, the Washington Quarter has been a beloved coin among numismatists, with many collectors eagerly seeking the rare and hard-to-find issues in the series. At Rare Collectibles TV, we offer a wide range of Washington Quarters, including rare issues and special commemoratives.