Wayne Schmidt's Bicentennial Quarter Page: History, value, how common they are and many more interesting facts.
To celebrate 200 years of independence, from July 4, 1975 and through December 31, 1976, US mints released Washington head quarters with a reverse side consisting of a colonial drummer and a victory torch circled by 13 stars, one star for each state in the Union when the Declaration of Independence was signed. This quarter was titled The Bicentennial and quickly became the most collected coin in US history. The design of the bicentennial quarter's back was chosen in a $5,000 contest announced by the U.S. Treasury in 1973. Mr. Jack L. Ahr was the winner. The front had been designed by Mr. John Flanagan (18651952), a sculptor who designed the original Washington quarter, which was issued in 1932. Flanagan's initials can be found at the base of Washington's neck. There are no marks indicating whether a bicentennial quarter was made in 1975 or 1976.
Bicentennial quarters were minted on copper nickel-clad planchettes composed of 8.33% nickel and 91.67% copper, the standard composition for all circulating U.S. dimes and quarters dated 1965 and after. In addition, 40% silver proof versions, mounted in a cardboard backing encased in transparent polystyrene, were sold.
While minting bicentennial quarters for circulation ended in 1976, orders for proof sets were accepted through March 1985, and uncirculated sets through Dec. 31, 1986, ending the longest-running offering of a single set by the U.S. Mint.
An astounding total of 1.7 billion bicentennial quarters were released into circulation. Additionally, 7 million copper-nickel proof sets were stamped along with 11 million 40-percent silver uncirculated coins and 4 million 40-percent silver proof sets. (Proof sets are coins made using specially polished blanks and dies as well as special presses that produce brilliantly shiny coins. These special presses drive dies into blanks slower than production presses and can even stamp the same coin multiple times creating more depth to the image. Uncirculated, or mint, coins are made identical to the coins released into circulation except that they are carefully placed in protective covers to preserve their finish.)
The top two coins are clad bicentennial quarters released into general circulation.
The bottom two coins are silver proof bicentennial quarters. Note slight differences
in Washington's profile, indicating the stamping dies weren't exact copies of each other.
Mint marks indicating which mint a coin came from can be seen on the lower right front of the coin, near Washington's pigtail. "S" stands for the San Francisco mint, "D" for Denver and a blank specifies Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia mint produced a total of 809,784,016 bicentennial quarters for circulation while the Denver mint released 860,118,839. All of the silver proof sets were produced by the San Francisco mint. I would expect that after 33 years of circulation the local concentration of quarters from the Denver and Philadelphia mints would have evened out. It didn't. Seventy-seven percent of bicentennial quarters on the west coast carry the Denver mint mark, three times that of those carrying the Philadelphia mark. I didn't find a single "S" marked quarter out of the 400 general circulation coins used for this analysis, suggesting that the San Francisco mint only produced proof sets.
Silver Proof Set:
Bicentennial silver proof sets come in a 4-inch square blue cardboard holder with gold lettering on the cover.
The three coins are encased is hard plastic cells that can be pushed out of the cardboard holder. Don't try prying the halves of the clam shells apart to free the coins. The glue used to seal them is stronger than the plastic and all you'll end up doing is breaking the plastic... and probably scratching the coin in the process.
Flipping the left page up reveals the reverse sides of the coins.
Paradoxically, because they were immensely popular, so many bicentennial quarters were minted that in spite of millions of people collecting them, 35 years later they can still be found in common circulation. Consequently circulated bicentennial quarters are only worth 25 cents, regardless of their condition. Even mint and proof sets aren't particularly valuable. In 1976 the three-coin (bicentennial quarter, half dollar and dollar) silver proof set originally sold for $15, and uncirculated sets for $9, but rising silver bullion prices (from less than $5 an ounce in 1975 to more than $50 an ounce in 1980) forced the Mint to raise prices on the 40 percent silver coins to keep pace, to $20 and $15. In 2010 I purchased a silver proof set for $24. An on-line price survey indicated that this was toward the high end of valuation. While an appreciation of $9, or 40-percent, sounds good, when inflation is taken into account the 1976 value of $15 increases to $60. That means bicentennial quarter proof sets have actually lost more than half their value because of inflation.
How Common Are Bicentennial Quarters?
US mint records tell us that by 2010, 74 billion quarters have been released into general circulation since 1965 and that number is increasing at the rate of 2 billion per year. (Silver was used prior to that year and virtually all of those coins have been removed from circulation.) We also know 1.7 billion bicentennial quarters were released. That should mean that 1.7/72 = 2.3-percent of the quarters in circulation are bicentennial quarters. The problem is that there is no way of knowing how many quarters have been collected, lost, destroyed or removed from circulation because of wear.
To answer this question I keep a count of all the quarters we get over the year and the percentage of them that are bicentennial quarters. These we give to our son who collects them. The result from this tabulation is the following:
2008: Fifteen of the 1680 quarters we collected were bicentennials. This equates to only one out of every 115 quarters. However, the distribution is far from uniform. We'd go months without seeing a single one then get three in less than a week. At the end of the year we converted $120 of non-quarter change into quarters and from those 12 rolls, representing 480 quarters, only found one bicentennial. This 1/480 ratio is much lower then the 1/115 ratio for the entire year.
2009: We collected 1404 quarters from which we found 16 bicentennials. This ratio of 1 bicentennial quarter out of every 89 regular quarters is higher than the previous year. This doesn't mean that they are becoming less rare. It only means that the total number of quarters we're gathering is far too small to be representative of the billions of quarters in circulation.
2010: This year produced 30 bicentennial quarters out of 3327 total quarters for a ratio of 0.9-percent.
2011: From 1201 quarters we gathered 15 bicentennials, for an average of 1.25-percent.
2012: This was a great year, yeilding 18 bicentennials out of 1503 quarters for 1.2-percent.
2013: THE YEAR OF THE GREAT CRASH!!! Out of 1109 quarters we only collected 5 for a paultry 0.45-percent. This is by far the lowest yield since we started collecting them. Will more bicentennial quarters show up next year? Or has the number of people collecting them finally started having an effect on their availability? Check back in early March of 2014 to find out!
The grand total is 76 bicentennials out of 7612 total quarters, or 1.2-percent. So, if someone asks you what the ratio of bicentennial quarters to regular quarters is, you'd probably be safe in claiming it was 1 out of a 100, or one percent. That puts the total number of bicentennial quarters still in circulation at around 600,000,000. Since 1.7billion were minted, this implies that as many as 1.1 billion could be held in collections. Clearly, this is not a scarce coin and never will be.
How Do Bicentennial Quarters Compare to Other Quarters for Scarcity?
I divided all the quarters for one year into their year groups.
1965 on the left to 2009 on the right. Second row and up are all 10 coin stacks. The first row contains partial stacks.
Here is the breakdown:
- 14 quarters
1966 - 10
1967 - 20
1968 - .'2
1969 - .'6
1970 - .'3
1971 - .'3
1972 - .'3
1973 - .'5
1974 - 11
1975 - .'4 (Assumes 1/3 of the 12 bicentennial quarters collected were produced during the second half of '75 and the rest in '76.)
1976 - .'8
1977 - .'9
1978 - 11
1979 - .'5
1980 - 16
1981 - 12
1982 - 10
1983 - 14
1984 - .'9
1985 - 20
1986 - 21
1987 - .'9
1989 - 22
1990 - 24
1991 - 16
1992 - .'7
1993 - 20
1994 - 21
1995 - 41
1996 - 27
1997 - 17
1998 - 30
1999 - 42 (Beginning of the state quarter series.)
2000 - 68
2001 - 39
2002 - 24
2003 - 40
2004 - 40
2005 - 39
2006 - 51
2007 - 46
2008 - 37
2009 - .'6
This shows that bicentennial quarters are undistinguished either by their scarcity or abundance when compared to quarters within five years of their age.
Please don't take anything I've said as meant to discourage collecting bicentennial quarters. They are attractive coins and collecting anything is an enjoyable past time. My only intent was to provide some interesting facts about these historic coins. We thoroughly enjoy hunting for them to add to our son's collection.
Our son's horde; 604 bicentennial quarters as of 2011 and getting larger every year.
And by the way, all of the above goes double for collecting the state quarter series. As of 2010, state quarters represent 50-percent of all quarters in circulation. By all means collect them for fun and the satisfaction of hunting them all down, but don't assume that they will ever be worth anymore than face value. Taking inflation into account, the longer you keep them the less they will be worth.
In early 2012 Ryan Mercer sent me the following image of his bicentennial quarter collection:
He's the proud owner of 704 of these little gems and his collection is growing all the time. Ryan explained that all the quarters on the left half of the image are Ds. Good going, Ryan!
Jason in Anchorage, Alaska, sent the following image of his collection of 277 bicentennial quarters:
Great collection, Jason! Keep up the good work!
Brett in Missouri has a collection of 272 bicentennial quarters and it's still growing.
His grandfather got him started and Brett's proudly carrying on the tradition. Please excuse the pun, but Brett "coined" a term for bicentennial quarters I hadn't heard before: drummer boy quarters. I like it!
If anyone else has a picture of their collection I'd like to post it on this page with information about how it came to be. Of particular interest would be the number of S, D and blank mint marked coins and the state in which the collection was created. This would provide data on how the distribution of the coins has dispersed over the years from the mint locations. Ryan's collection suggests something odd is happening in regards to coin distribution. As I mentioned earlier, 77-percent of my son's collection came from the Denver mint, hardly surprising considering our California location is on the opposite side of the country from the Philadelphia mint. However, Ryan's collection comes from Indiana, which is much closer to the Philadelphia mint than the Denver mint yet his collection is also heavy in Ds. Since both mints produced approximately the same number of coins this is hard to explain. Brett's Denver-heavy collection continues to support this imbalance.
Anyone interested in collecting bicentennial quarters needs to know the lexicon of types of quarters. Domesticated bicentennials are those purchased from a coin shop. Cultured are those obtained from roles of quarters bought specifically to collect bicentennials from them. But by far the best are bicentennial quarters found naturally in change from daily purchases. These I call "free range" bicentennials. :-)
People with collections can contact me at at firstname.lastname@example.org. (The red x is not part of the email address. It's there to thwart spam spiders.) If you send a picture please make sure that as many of the quarters as possible show the bicentennial side.
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