Long Beard's Blog

07 Aug 2020

The Washington Half Dollar?

Coins-United States | Long Beard

This week I thought I would return to a coin specific blog having written of coinage related topics the previous few. As always, with so many to chose from, I pondered briefly before arriving at the Washington Quarter. A design in continuousissue, with exception to 1933,since the first were struck in 1932. With two composition changes, several obverse refinements,numerous reverse designs and five finish options theWashington Quarter as accustom to is now in it's final year of production. With legislation pending on a final design, a completely new quarter is set for 2021 ending the 38 year run. In that time, the quarter has found a unique avenue for collectors as some only collect silver to 1964, others only the Statehoodand America the Beautiful, or many of us the complete series stored inblue Whitman's or Dansco's. In recent years the denomination, like other modern coinage, seems to have gotten the recognitionit deserves as is evident in the marketplace and auction houses. Enjoy!

The year 1931 found the nation gripped with uncertainty and little more than hope in the shadow of depression. Massive unemployment, life savings and homes gone overnight. Soup kitchens the only source ofnourishmentfor tens of thousandsand as many more heading west with dreams of a better life greeted only by a dust storm.Yet in the midst of the greatest economic disaster to strike the United States there were a few who found reason to celebrate. Particularly those in the nation's capital with the coming year marking the 200th Anniversary of George Washington's birth. Like Abraham Lincoln in 1909,the logical manner for recognitionshould be in the form of national coinage. The Treasury Department, headed by Secretary Andrew Mellon, proposed that a half dollar be struck to mark the occasion. Enlisting the cooperation of the Commission of Fine Arts and the Washington Bicentennial Commission,the plan for a design competitionwas put into place. The general rule stipulated that each submitted design be modeled after the bust of Washington by renowned French sculptor, Jean Antione Houdon. A bust created from the 1785 life mask of Washington which isuncannily accurate. Most of the 100 designs from 98 entrants were amateurish at best, some good, but only one was deemed exceptional. That of Laura Gardin Fraser, wife of Indian Head Nickel designer James Earle Fraser, atalented sculptor of commemoratives and medals in her own right. So superior that the Commission ofFine Arts unanimously approved (The five dollar gold commemorative shown is of her original plaster galvano as selected ).

Unfortunately, there were others to please before going to the mint for die preparations. Initially, Congress became involved since a change in coinage design of the half dollar required it's approval. They instead decided on ending the Standing LibertyQuarterissued since 1916. Despite little opposition or argument, including that of a weary public who had more pressing matters in mind, the only real objection came from the man lawfully responsible for coinage designs. Andrew Mellon. Wealthy beyond imagination and bearing views of his own on art, having amassed one of the world's finest art collections, strongly disagreed.With a stubborn reputation furtherexacerbated from a potion of authority and being a known chauvinist, he chose the design of John Flanagan, a medalist who's works evoked the studies under Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This while repeatedly refusing to listen tothecommission's pleas to the former. As the advisory panel continued in protest, Mellon resigned to become President Herbert Hoover's ambassador to Great Britain. Despite the continual argument, incoming Secretary Ogden Mills would consider the matter no more. Sternly reminding the commission that they purely held an advisory role and that the final decision fell solely upon the Treasury Department.

Had Congress not opted for a change in denomination one can only wonder which President would have found his way onto the quarter and in what year. Or would it have been someone like Benjamin Franklin? The only near certainty is that with a forth coming complete redesign, the Washington quarter will live on.



Level 5

I've always liked the Washington quarter also. My step dad collected the Bicentennial quarters. He loved those because of the reverse. Of course he passed them down to me. I put them on my collections page. Thanks for the great post Long Beard! Well done my friend!


Level 5

There were so many debates that would of dramatically changed several coins that I didn’t know about. Thanks for sharing!


Level 6

Nice design. I do hope for some new designs next year however. All our circulating coinage is due. Thanks.


Level 5

A little piece of numismatic history I had forgotten about. Thanks for sharing.


Level 5

Nice blog. Enjoy your thoughts and information.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

If they keep a Washington image on the obverse, I hope that Laura Gardin Fraser's design prevails even if It had been used on the $5.00 gold piece. Its a beautiful design as all of her work was. I particularly like the reverse.


Level 6

Laura Gardin Fraser's losing design is acknowledged by most as the better design. I am glad they finally confirmed that by issuing the $5 gold version in 1999. I find the current obverse design to be tiresome, all our circulating coinage and the Kennedy half need to be redesigned.


Level 5

Today the quarter is very important with the coin shortage issue. I should cash in the quarters I have saved up to help. I am sure others have plenty of quarters in piggy banks. I always liked the 1976 quarter, and 1932 D and S. Nice blog, very educational.


Level 7

A great coin one of the best designs. Very underrated. I have always liked them . Every time I was going to collect them something else came up. . It's a workhorse of a coin and still is today. . I always keep my eye open for one in good shape. . Thanks for a blog on a great coin.

I prefer the 1999 design, it would have been nice to see that in the same relief as the actual washington quarter and in silver

I. R. Bama

Level 5

It's always so interesting to me to learn of how our coins came to be.... Thank you, I enjoyed your article!

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