Perhaps the biggest celebration the world has ever seen began its planning stages in the early 197os. A multi-year event to celebrate the Bicentennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence swept the country. In addition to parades and souvenirs, the Treasury of the United States issued its first settling commemorative coin.
The Time Of History
The 1970s were a tumultuous time in the history of the United States. Many of the causes and cultural changes that began in the 1960s carried over into the next decade. Protests for civil rights for women, African-Americans, and other marginalized groups continued in the 1970s.
Protests against the Vietnam War occupied a large part of the evening news. The environmental movement started while the Watergate scandal forced the first resignation of a sitting U.S. president. The 1970s was also a time of great triumphs. Disco ruled the dance floor while bellbottoms ruled the fashion world.
The United States had just landed a man on the moon. Video cassettes and video games started to appear in more and more homes. The first personal computer was developed and marketed by IBM. Medical advancements included MRIs and the artificial heart.
Secretary of the Treasury George P. Schultz directed Mrs. Mary Brooks, Director of the Mint, under the auspices of Public Laws 93-127 to design three new coins emblematic of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution and to begin production on July 4, 1975.
The three coins chosen to proclaim the bicentennial were the quarter, half-dollar, and one dollar coin. The people of the United States had not seen a commemorative coin since 1954 when the Treasury Department discontinued the commemorative coin program due to abuses by politicians and special interest groups.
The excitement for the Bicentennial celebration fueled these new coins. The Treasury Department asked the National Sculpture Society to conduct a design contest among its nationwide membership, impanel a jury of objects to judge the entries, and submit several designs for each denomination to the Secretary of the Treasury.
The obverse of the Washington quarter, Kennedy half dollar, and Eisenhower dollar would remain the same, except they would possess the dual date of 1776-1976. The reverse would feature winning designs on the Washington quarter by Jack L. Ahr, while the Kennedy half-dollar featured Seth Huntington’s design, and Dennis R. Williams’ design went on the Eisenhower dollar.
However, like any good story, there has to be some controversy. According to an article in the American Numismatic Association publication The Numismatist, Ahr was accused of copying his drummer from a 1973 stamp by the stamp’s designer, William A. Smith and he denied it.
According to numismatic historian Walter Breen, both obviously derive from Archibald Willard’s 1876 painting of Spirit of ‘76, a painting which numismatic author David L. Ganz suggests that both undoubtedly suggest that both saw some time in their lives. Ahr, however, stated that his son had been the model for the drummer.
Brooks, in a letter to Smith, stated that the design for the quarter was “sufficiently original” to impress the National Sculpture Society. To ensure that all Americans had access to these commemorative coins and to discourage hoarding, production of these 1976 dated coins began in the prior year on July 4, 1975.
Over the next eighteen months, the mint produced billions of these coins. Additionally, special finishes and silver compositions were created specifically for coin collectors. Total mintages for business strike coins of the 1976 Bicentennial quarters comprised the following:
- 1776-1976 copper-nickel clad from Philadelphia (not mintmark): 809,784,016
- 1776-1976-D copper-nickel clad from Denver: 806,118,839
- Three special edition coins were specifically marketed to coin collectors. These including the following:
- 1776-1976-S Proof copper-nickel clad: 7,059,099
- 1776-1976-S uncirculated silver-clad (40% clad): 11,000,000*
- 1776-1976-S Proof silver-clad (40% silver): 4,000,000*
*Several million silver Bicentennial quarters were melted in the 1980s. So while there are still millions of silver 1976 Bicentennial quarters around that number is nowhere near the 15 million originally made.
Since over 1.6 billion Bicentennial quarters were made between Philadelphia and Denver United States Mint facilities, they are still occasionally found in circulation. Many United States citizens thought that these coins would be valuable in the future since they were commemorating the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Therefore, gem uncirculated specimens can be found in pocket change because somebody cashed in the coins they’ve been hoarding since 1976. Additionally, nice collector quality coins can be purchased from your favorite local coin dealer or on the Internet.
Although business strike coins made for circulation are plentiful, high-quality nicely-struck coins are hard to come across. Remember, the mint was under intense pressure to produce as many bicentennial coins as they could due to the likelihood of hoarding. Therefore, they sacrificed quality to gain quantity.
When selecting a coin for your collection, look at the high points on Washington’s cheek to make sure there is no wear and that the coin is fully struck. On the reverse side, look for weakness and lack of detail at the top of the drum. Coins with minimal surface scratches, dazzling mint luster, and great eye appeal are necessary for any great coin collection.
Coins made specifically for collectors include the Proof copper-nickel clad, uncirculated 40% silver quarters, and Proof silver quarters. Since the mint manufactured these coins with great care, scratches and surface damage are rarely a concern.
However, there are many proof coins with fatigued dies that diminish the intensity of the frosting on the devices and reduce the cameo contrast. Look for coins that have deep frosting on the devices and extreme reflectivity on the mirror-like fields.
Unfortunately, many people did not store their special collector edition coins properly over the years. Many collectors and individuals purchased them directly from the United States Mint and then stored them in less than ideal conditions.
This may have included boxes that ended up in attics and basements. The extreme temperatures and moisture in these areas can cause toning and corrosion on the surface of the coin. Avoid purchasing any coin that has a haze on the coin’s surface.
Bicentennial Quarter Value and Prices
Since circulated examples can readily be found in circulation, they are worth no more face value. However, uncirculated coins and special edition coins made for collectors, are worth slightly more.
Date & Mint:
- 1976 Copper-Nickel Clad - $3
- 1976-D Copper-Nickel Clad - $3
- 1976-S Copper-Nickel Clad Proof - $4
- 1976-S 40% Silver Uncirculated - $6
- 1976-S 40% Silver Proof - $8
History Of Bicentennial Coins
In 1970, the United States American Revolution Bicentennial Commission proposed the idea of minting special coins to commemorate the nation’s Bicentennial. After pitching the idea to President Nixon and deciding to what extent the special commemorative coin should reach - both in terms of denominations involved and how the coins should be distributed - the House Committee on Banking and Currency proposed on July 23, 1973 that the U.S. should strike double-date commemoratives (1776-1976) for quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins.
Furthermore, it was declared that there would be an open design competition for a special image on the reverse side of these coins and that the final designs would be ready for release in circulation on July 4, 1975. By December, when the design contest closed, some 900 designs had been submitted. In March of 1974, the designs selected were:
- Jack L. Ahr’s revolutionary drummer boy for the quarter dollar.
- Seth Huntington’s rendering of Independence Hall for half-dollar.
- Dennis Williams’ patriotic image of the Liberty Bell and the moon (on which the U.S. had made several landings from 1969 into the early 1970s) for the dollar.
To celebrate 200 years of Independence, from July 4, 1975, to December 31, 1976, US mints released Washington headquarters 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 has been designed by Mr. John Flanagan (1865-1952), 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 quarters 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 1975, order for proof sets were accepted through March 1985, and uncirculated sets through December 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 was 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 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 mint sets were produced by the San Francisco mint. After 33 years of circulation, the local concentration of quarters from the Philadelphia and Denver 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.
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 of silver coins to keep pace, to $20 and $15.
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.
Collecting The Coin
The key to collecting the 1976 Bicentennial quarter is finding not only a coin free of detracting marks and scrapes but also finding one that is fully struck. A clean obverse plus a fully-struck reverse equals a premium quality coin. So what makes circulated clad 1982 and 1983 Washington quarters worth more than face value? After all, it certainly looks like there is plenty to go around.
True, there are hundreds of millions of these coins around, and heavily well-worn or damaged specimens are plentiful and aren’t really worth more than 25 cents. However, 1982 and 1983 quarters grading Extremely Fine 40 or better (especially uncirculated examples) are worth premiums over face value, and the reason is quite simple.
None were offered in official United States uncirculated sets, as none of those mint products were made during those two years due to federal government cutbacks. What’s more, a crippling economic recession in the early 1980s dissuaded many people from saving the original U.S. Mint rolls and bags of 1982 and 1983 quarters, leaving relatively few uncirculated examples available.
These leave collectors with few options for obtaining uncirculated 1982 and 1983 Washington quarters. Yes, Mint States quarters from that period are available, but only for a premium. High-end circulated specimens, meanwhile, are equally difficult to locate because most of these coins circulated heavily when they were first released. Check out the values of circulated and uncirculated 1982 and 1983 Washington quarters:
- 1982-P Extremely Fine/Uncirculated Value $2.50 Mint State-63 Value $5
- 1982-D Extremely Fine/Uncirculated Value $2 Mint State-63 Value $4
- 1983-P Extremely Fine/Uncirculated Value $6 Mint State-63 Value $25
- 1983-D Extremely Fine/Uncirculated Value $4 Mint State-63 Value $7
Not only are 1982 and 1983 Washington quarters worth huge premiums in the grade of Mint State-63, but they are also worth multiples of their face value in well-preserved circulated condition. Doesn’t it make your wish you had purchased U.S. Mint rolls and bags of 1982 and 1983 Washington quarters way back when?
Thankfully, circulated 1982 and 1983 quarters are still available in pocket change and can be found in decent condition with enough searching. Imagine turning 25 cents into $2, $3, $4 - even $6 or more in a matter of moments. So, yes - when people claim there’s nothing worth looking for in circulation these days, show them the 1982 and 1983 prices above.
While the era of finding Indian Head cents, Buffalo nickels, and 90 percent silver coins in pocket change may be long behind us, there are still plenty of great coin values for today’s generation to find and enjoy in circulation.
History Of The Washington Quarter
As a replacement for the Standing Liberty Quarter and to celebrate George Washington’s 200th anniversary of birth, the Washington Quarter made its circulation debut in 1932. Originally, the quarters were minted with a 90% silver composition and a mint mark that could be found on the reverse below the eagle and wreaths. The silver coinage continued for thirty-two years before the composition was changed to a copper/nickel clad.
In 1968, the mint mark was moved to the obverse, appearing to the right of Washington’s ribbon. From 1965-1998, there were rather few changes to the quarter’s design with the exception of a few die modifications and the 1976 Bicentennial design.
As with the Kennedy Half Dollar and the Eisenhower Dollar, the Washington Quarter was also used to celebrate the bicentennial year of the United States in 1976. The bicentennial design featured a colonial drummer on the reverse and dual 1776-1976 dating on the obverse.
After the bicentennial year, the regular eagle reverse resumed. It paused again in 1999 when the Statehood Quarter program began production. With the completion of the state quarters in 2009, the US Mint began work on its current “America the Beautiful Washington quarters.
A Final Thought
Unlike the Roosevelt Dime and Jefferson Nickel mintages, there are many key date Bicentennial Quarters of great value. Since this quarter was struck in 90% silver for over 30 years, it has gained much popularity with coin collectors. For this reason, it’s becoming ever harder to find these silver quarter specimens in circulation, but you never know when you’ll be graced to find one in your pocket!