The 1932-D and 1932-S Washington Quarters
Laura Gardin Fraser was a very accomplished sculptress. She and her husband, James Earle Fraser, designed some of the most beautiful and important coins in U.S. history. In fact, James designed the iconic Buffalo Nickel, with its Native American chief on the obverse and American bison on the reverse.
Laura designed several classic commemorative half dollars, including the 1921 Alabama, 1922 Grant, 1922 Grant Gold Dollar and 1925 Vancouver Half Dollar. Their only joint collaboration was also a masterpiece – the Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar, regarded by many as the most beautiful commemorative half dollar ever designed.
As 1932 approached, the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington, the Father or our Country, was also approaching. Numerous coins and medals were going to be struck to commemorate such an event and one of the first major competitions was for the Official Bicentennial Medal.
The official Bicentennial medal was one of the most prestigious medals to be issued that year and competition was fierce. Being 1932, male sculptors were dominant and the only female sculptor of note who entered the competition was Laura Gardin Fraser. Her entry was the favorite and easily won the competition.
Later in the year there was a competition to design the 1932 George Washington Quarter Dollar. Many noted sculptors entered the competition but again the hands-down winner was Laura Gardin Fraser’s entry.
One would think that this entry would have been the model for the 1932 Washington Quarter, but not quite! Andrew Mellon was the Secretary of Treasury and while the Commission of Fine Arts makes suggestions as to designs that they like, the Secretary of the Treasury has final approval. Whether Mellon was biased against a female designer or simply didn’t like her design, Mellon preferred a lackluster design by John Flanagan. Mellon left office in February 1932 and his replacement made suggestions for Flanagan to improve his design, but he chose not to override Mellon’s pick of Flanagan’s design. Fraser’s design for the 1932 Washington Quarter eventually were used as a design for a $5 Gold coin in 1999.
With the controversy over, Flanagan’s design became law and more than 6 million 1932-dated coins were struck honoring our first president. More than 5.4 million were struck in Philadelphia alone, leaving 436,000 struck at Denver and 408,000 struck in San Francisco.
Why were the branch mint mintages so small? Well, all eyes were on Philadelphia and the mint worked overtime to strike enough coins and to create enough dies to keep on striking these coins. The bicentennial of the birth of the Father of Our Country was no small event and a large number of these coins were saved as souvenirs. It was not until late October before Denver or San Francisco got their dies and began to strike their specimens, so branch mintage numbers were much lower than expected and only a fraction of what would be considered “normal.”
No quarters were struck in 1933, leading to confusion as to whether the Washington Quarter would be a regular-issue circulating coin or a special one-year commemorative coin for George Washington. After all, this was at the beginning of the Great Depression and twenty-five cents could put several meals on the table for the average American. It was hard to save a quarter given the economic turmoil in America then.
So with these extremely low mintages, the two branch mint coins became the two key date coins for the entire Washington Quarter series. Both coins are fairly equal in price in circulated grades but the 1932-D is the undisputed “scarcer coin” in uncirculated grades. Its price is 2 or 3 times the price of the 1932-S examples and current PCGS and NGC population reports bear out that the Denver coin is rarer than the San Francisco coin, attested to by the numbers of certified examples in each grade.
1932 was a very interesting year in our nation’s history and it spawned the two rarest coins in the entire Washington Quarter series.