AoC Market Report: U.S. Quarter Types Part 3: SLQs and Washingtons

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Bust Quarters. Last week, with a little help I looked at Seateds and Barbers. This week, I wrap up our three-part look at the vintage U.S. Quarter Market with a look at Standing Liberty Quarters (SLQs) and silver Washington Quarters.

Standing Liberty Quarters

Minted from 1916 to 1930
Key Dates: 1916, 1918/7, 1927-S
Great Years for Type Coins: 1917, 1918, 1920, 1923, 1928, 1929, 1930

Hermon MacNeil’s beautiful Liberty Ship Standing Liberty Quarter had but a short run. While most coinage types go for at least 25 years, this silver quarter only ran from 1916 (1917, really) to 1930.

1917 Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarter, Obverse
1917 Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarter, Obverse

That means it’s a nice short set to collect, right? Well, yes. But there are some expensive pieces that will keep you from completing it unless you have quite a few buckaroonies. The cost of a 1916 is prohibitive to most collectors in all but the lowest grades. The 1918/7 is right up there, and in the highest grades is much more expensive. And, at least if you want nice coins, all of these babies get expensive fast.

1917 Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarter, Reverse
1917 Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarter, Reverse

On the low end, they’re utterly collectible. You can collect the whole set, all mints for under $4,000. Under $3,000 if you’re really careful. But, as you have to spend over $4,000 just to get a decent 1916 in VF (!), your set isn’t going to be high grade coins.

Key Date Standing Liberty Quarters

The key date for the set is the 1916. With only 52,000 minted, it’s small – almost as low a mintage as last week’s 1913-S Barber. 1918/7s are scarce (and heavily counterfeited) too. The 1927 is kind of the low-end key date, an in low grade is actually quite affordable.

So let’s tackle the 1916. Today, the finest 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter is a Mint State 67+ Full Head, and if it came to auction, it would “only” probably sell for over $200,000. I say only because other coins that are this beautiful, in this kind of state, routinely sell for well North of that, and they’re not SLQs.

But how did it get there?

Back in the late 1950s, 1916s were already worth around $200 in Uncirculated condition. You could spend more than that on a nice one, of course, but that was a lot for the late 1950s. By the late 1960s, they were almost $1,000 in Uncirculated. Keep in mind that grading wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it is now, so many people saw weakly struck SLQs as AUs, but sold them as Uncs if they looked nice.

By the silver boom in the late 1970s after the coin collecting boom of the early and mid-1970s, they were selling for $1,500 in unc, some much, much more than that. In the late ’80s, they were more than double that, up to high 3s and low 4s. By the late ’90s they’d recovered to the $5,000+ price tag. And ten years ago, the average Unc was selling for $18, $19, almost $20,000. In fact, the auction record for a 1916 SLQ happened in 2010 at $200,000.

Right now, you can get a nice Unc for under $20,000. Sometimes well below that. The market may still be correcting for SLQs, but as I see the next generation of collector take a shining to them (and know not to take a shining rag to them, thank G-d), they may have a resurgence in the next decade. Only time will tell.

Ol’ D.L. and Morelan will probably break a quarter mill for a big piece if a nicer one comes up for sale, maybe more.

So you see, the path to the current state of the SLQ hasn’t all been littered with gold. But, it’s a key date and on the whole it’s held up and kept going up. Which is nice.

For the rest of us mortals, getting a 1916 SLQ is tough. I’ve heard of them selling for as little as $400 in Poor, but that doesn’t happen often. The keen-eyed youngsters get rolls of low-end coins hoping to strike it rich with careful diagnostics examination and a loupe. Or a USB camera thingy, or whatever it is they use these days.

Really, to get even a low end 1916 SLQ, you’ll have to shell out close to $2,000. $1,500 isn’t unheard of. For a VF coin (which frankly is not that attractive a grade in SLQs), you’ll need over $6,000. For XF (now we’re getting warm), you’ll want about $8,000. Maybe more, maybe less. These coins aren’t on a super hard line close to price guide. The average is there, but they sell high and low.

Now, for a choice AU piece, you’ll have to pay over $10,000. And you might wish to look at Full Head designations if you want a choice coin in a more affordable grade. The truth is you can get a softly struck but cleaner looking coin for not much more and really climb the grades and still pay around or even under $20,000 for a nice Uncirculated 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter.

SLQs for Your Type Set

The good news about the non-key dates is that they’re plentiful and not bank-breakingly expensive.

Perhaps the best type set coin is the 1917 Type 1, which, while not quite as inexpensive up the grading ladder as the Type 2, is a beautiful, affordable coin. And you can get a modestly priced piece in the mid-AUs with a full strike designation, which is fun.

1928 Standing Liberty Quarter, Obverse
1928-S Standing Liberty Quarter, Obverse. This example is not fully struck.

Strike versus wear is particularly tricky with SLQs. Wear often looks like unstruck metal, and vice versa. If you don’t want an early coin, settling for a late coin like a 1929 or 1930 will be even more affordable. It’s up to you which design iteration you want for your type set. Or, maybe, you want them all! (Good on ya.)

A low-end 1917 Type 1 can be bought for not much more than melt. And you can quickly and easily pick them from rolls for just over melt. A decent VF coin is buyable for just over $50, if you’re careful, and you can get a nice XF for just over $100. A pretty Full Head AU is bought for over $200, sometime below if you’re patience. And you can buy a nice, fully-struck Uncirculated coin for under $350. If you must have the finest known, expect to pay over $20,000 for a Mint State 67+ Full Head.

1928-S Standing Liberty Quarter, Reverse
1928-S Standing Liberty Quarter, Reverse

To really get bang for your buck, look at 1928. You can get a nice VF coin for about the same as a low-end 1917 T1, and a nice coin grading Extremely Fine for over $30. If you want a choice, choice 58 with a full head, you can pick one up for over $100, and a really nice fully struck Unc is around $400. The finest coins go for the same as the 1917, in 67+FH.

Washington Quarters

Minted from 1932 to 1964+
Key Dates: 1932-D, 1932-S
Great Years for Type Coins: 1939

Obviously, Washington Quarter Dollars are still minted in various forms, but today we’re looking at the silver coins. That is, minted in 1964 and before. The United States had a break from quarters in 1931 with no new coins bearing that date. The Washington Commemorative Half Dollar became the Washington Commemorative Quarter Dollar, and the low-mintage Commemorative became a high-mintage common coin.

1932-D Washington Quarter, Obverse
1932-D Washington Quarter, Obverse

Key Date Silver Washington Quarters

Aside from varieties – of which there are many fun ones to collect in the set – the key dates are 1932, from both Denver and San Francisco.

ALWAYS watch for altered or added Mint Marks. 1932 donor coins are plentiful. Certified is best.

1932-D Washington Quarter, Reverse
1932-D Washington Quarter, Reverse

Both of these coins have mintages around that of the 1909-S VDB, each around 400,000. Despite having higher mintage figures, the ’32-D has always been the key date. It’s less so now than ever before, but the D-Mint coin still holds a hefty edge over the S-Mint brother – especially in higher grades.

In the 1950s, you could buy an Uncirculated 1932-S Washington Quarter for around $30, while the 1932-D in Mint State would cost you $65-ish. That means more than twice as expensive. That trend continued: in the late 1960s after the transition to silver, an Unc ’32-S was just $100 while the ’32-D was routinely over $200. Then after the silver rush, things really hit the fan. A Mint State 1932-S Washington would set you back around $500, whereas a ’32-D would cost you probably around $1,500 for a nice one.

In the early 1990’s, it was no longer quite twice as much, though prices had still gone up. $2,000+ for a nice Unc S and a bit under $4k for a D-Mint coin. By the late ’90s, you’d have to spend over $4,000 routinely to get a Denver coin but you were now in the high $2,000s, almost $3,000 to buy a San Fran Washington.

Then, ten years ago, something odd happened: regular Uncs from both mints fell considerably in value. The top of the line coins were still going up, but collectors started to get discerning with the combination of Internet and certification. An average ’32-D Unc was back down under $3,000, while a coin of similar grade but with an S Mint Mark was down to $1,500 (half).

The public auction record for the ’32-D is still $143,000 for a 6 coin, set back in 2008. The top S piece is also a 6, but only rated (so far) about $35,000.

But for you and me, We can pick up a nice untoned Unc ’32-D today for around $1,200 or $1,500. A matching ’32-S will set you back around $500, maybe a little more.

Be wary of strike on Washington Quarters, as it varies widely. The young collectors haven’t really taken to silver quarters as the type still has a similar design in circulation today, and the next generation of collectors has taken to the Statehood and National Parks Quarters. It might be a good time to buy key date Washingtons. Then again, it might not. What do I know?

Great Silver Washington Quarters for Your Type Set

Pretty much any quarter is great. There are literally a bajillion 1964 Washington quarters out there, nice. But if you’re going to get a key date, my vote would be 1939. It’s a high enough mintage to still be cheap and it’s Pre-War (well, at least as far as U.S. official involvement).

1939 Washington Quarter, Obverse
1939 Washington Quarter, Obverse

It’s hard to spend $1,000 on a 1939. The finest coins, certified Mint State 68, are in the $5 – $6,000 range. But if you can settle for a decent ‘3, it’ll cost you a whopping $30. To follow the precident for these articles, AGs sell for melt, as do VFs, as do practically speaking, XFs. A nice AU will set you back $10, maybe $20 if you’re picky.

1939 Washington Quarter, Reverse
1939 Washington Quarter, Reverse

Now, of course you know if you want a toned coin, that’s a different story. But even then, Washington Quarters are not like Morgans, generally speaking.

So there you have it. That wraps the Academy of Coins’ look at United States Quarter Types through history. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together for you.

Happy hunting!

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