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. Laura’s 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’s entry. 

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. Mellon preferred a lackluster design by John Flanagan. 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. 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.

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