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Mind Boggling Quarters
By Greg Reynolds

Several of the highest graded Washington Quarters were sold by B&M in an auction on April 15 in the Chicago area. The Marquette-Yakima collection was the number one collection in the NGC registry of Washington Quarters. With the addition of about twenty supergrade common quarters, and some submissions of NGC graded coins to PCGS, it could have been very competitive in the PCGS registry.

The $143,750 result for the Marquette-Yakima 1932-D quarter has already been reported on CoinLink and elsewhere. The purpose here is to itemize several of the gem quarters in the sale, and to discuss the rationale for current prices for such quarters. Do Superb Washington Quarters constitute logical price values for quarter collectors?

The Marquette-Yakima 1932-D is the only 1932-D quarter that the PCGS has graded MS-66. None have been certified as grading MS-67 or higher. The 1932-D has the second lowest mintage of any business strike in the series, 436,800, and has always been the hardest to find in MS-64 and higher grades.

According to Kathleen Duncan, a collector purchased this specific 1932-D from Pinnacle Rarities in the mid 1990s, and that collector consigned it to an August 2001 Heritage auction. HA.com lists the price realized as $89,125.

Actually, $89,125 in 2001 is, in some sense, am amount greater than $143,750 in 2008. Rare coin markets were extremely weak in 2001. The prices of many coins have since tripled. Indeed, some early gold coins have quadrupled in value. Yet, the most famous and valuable Washington quarter has gone up only 38%, and all the while the State Quarter program continued to receive national attention.

Charles Browne, David Schweitz, and Matt Kleinsteuber are all expert graders and competitive bidders on the auction circuit. Browne was the successful bidder for this 1932-D. Neither Schweitz nor Kleinsteuber bid on it. When interviewed separately, each told me that “this is the prettiest 1932-D quarter that I have ever seen.” Yes, all three employed almost the exact same sentence, and no one was prompted by me to say anything of the sort.

Laura Sperber is an active buyer of gem quality coins and a force at major auctions. She declared that this 1932-D “was low end but its stunning color more than made up for it.” Furthermore, she asserted that “it went kind of cheap.” She thus expected the price realized to be higher.

Not one expert refers to the grade of this coin as a high end 66. Although I have never seen it, from my inquiries, my tentative impression is that its grade is in the 66 range and does not reach the midpoint of the 66 range. I have been told that it has a great, natural look, but has some small contact marks in prime areas. It is said to be more attractive than some certified MS-67 grade Washington Quarters of other dates.

Over the last ten years, there has been considerable speculation that PCGS would certify more 1932-D quarters as MS-66, yet not one additional 1932-D has been so certified. Undoubtedly, several dealers attempted to upgrade PCGS graded MS-65 1932-D quarters. There are probably around thirty different 1932-D quarters that are PCGS certified as MS-65.

Though it is rare in the gem quality range, and thus a ‘condition rarity,’ the 1932-D is not a rare coin in general. There would have to be more than twelve thousand 1932-D quarters in existence. Many have never been submitted to PCGS or NGC, though perhaps all should be certified, as there are numerous fakes around.

At Numismedia.com, a 1932-D in Good-04 grade is listed at about $150, which must indicate that there are many thousands of people who collect Washington Quarters ‘by date.’ Otherwise, the price for a good condition 1932-D would be dramatically lower. At current price levels, are 1932-D quarters good values for collectors?

Consider the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated quarter. There are probably just five known. The PCGS and Numismedia price guides suggest that two of these are valued at less than $143,750. The Eliasberg piece, which is at least the third finest known, was auctioned by DLRC, as part of the Richmond collection, for $201,250 in March 2005.

For $143,750, would a collector rather have a quarter that is the worst of five known or a quarter that is the finest discovered (so far) of twelve thousand or more? The answer depends upon the tastes and preferences of the individual buyer, though some logical analysis regarding relative prices may be educational.

Consider the 1869 Liberty Seated Quarter. There are certainly fewer than three hundred business strikes in existence, and probably less than two hundred. It could be plausibly argued that there are less than one hundred!

Perhaps sixteen different 1869 quarters grade above MS-60. No matter how the term ‘rare’ is reasonably employed, each 1869 quarter is RARE. Even if the 175 or so Proofs are added to the number of business strikes, I am almost certain that the grand total of 1869 quarters is fewer than five hundred.

On April 17, 2008, at the Platinum Night event of the Heritage CSNS auction, an 1869 quarter that is very plausibly the finest known was auctioned. It is the sole 1869 that is PCGS graded MS-66, and none have been graded MS-67 or higher. The NGC has also graded one as MS-66, which is in the EHG collection. According to the NGC registry, it was added in August 2005. So, this 1869 quarter is probably the first, though maybe the second or third, finest known. As the highest certified by PCGS, its price may be logically compared to the highest certified Washington Quarters.

The 1868 quarter is not quite as rare as the 1869 quarter, but it may also be a rarity. Incredibly, on April 17, Heritage also auctioned a PCGS graded MS-66 1868 quarter. Laura Sperber exclaimed that these were both “awesome.” Matt Kleinsteuber is ecstatic about them. He asserted that these two quarters are “absolutely phenomenal, real superb gems with fresh original color.” The 1868 sold for $40,250 and the 1869 for $57,500. So, the sum of both is less than $100,000, high prices for Liberty Seated Quarters, though perhaps better values than the finest certified Washington Quarters.

Of course, it is true that a 1932-D quarter is much more famous than an 1869 quarter, and that there are one hundred Washington Quarter collectors for every single person who collects Liberty Seated Quarters ‘by date.’ It is also true that there is much more to coin collecting than obtaining rarities. Does it make logical sense, however, to put time, effort, and very substantial sums into the acquisition of common coins?

On April 15, 2008, why did someone pay $143,750 for a Washington Quarter? The successful bidder, Charles Browne, was acting on behalf of a collector. The fascinating news, in this regard, is that the collector-buyer is not building a PCGS registry set. He collected Washington quarters as a kid. According to Browne, this collector bought this 1932-D quarter as “a remembrance of childhood,” and this collector “always wanted the best one.” Browne relates that this collector is now “very happy with his purchase and keeps talking about it. He wants to learn about past owners” of this 1932-D quarter.

When I was kid, I collected some Liberty Seated coins, as did many of my friends. Personally, I found them to be more attractive and interesting than Washington quarters. It would never have occurred to me then that Washington quarters would sell for prices in the five figure range. The next highest price for a Washington Quarter, in this April 2008 auction, was $23,000 for a 1943-S!

The 1943-S has a mintage of more than twenty-one million, and, in Good to Very Fine grades, its value is largely determined by the price of silver bullion. The Marquette-Yakima coin is the only 1943-S quarter that is PCGS graded MS-68.

David Schweitz remarks that “there is no question that it grades 68; it is a real MS-68. It is one of the few 68-grade quarters that I have never owned.” Sperber declared that it is “pretty, for sure.” I acknowledge that it may be a wonderful coin, but should it be worth $23,000?

This exact same 1943-S was sold by Heritage in Sept. 2003 for $16,100. In 2007, Heritage auctioned three 1943-S quarters that were each PCGS graded MS-67. One realized $1150 and two sold for $1265 each. A 1943-S in Extremely Fine-40 grade is currently valued at around six dollars. The PCGS price guide values a PCGS graded MS-65 at $80. It is astounding that the highest certified 1943-S sold for $23,000.

Another amazing price was realized for the PCGS graded MS-68 1954-S quarter in this April 15 auction, $10,350. In Jan. 2007, a PCGS graded MS-67 1954-S was auctioned for $1495. According to the PCGS price guide, a PCGS graded MS-65 1954-S is worth $38, a substantial portion of which should be imputed to the cost of grading and encapsulation. The prices of Good-04 to AU-50 grade 1954-S quarters usually stem from their silver bullion value, though some of these are attractive.

There is no need for me to see the 1961-D quarter, from this sale, that is the lone PCGS graded MS-67 1961-D. I am very much willing to acknowledge that it may well be an appealing, true MS-67 grade coin.

Perhaps there is no point in mentioning that the mintage of 1961-D quarters is more than 83 million, and that Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) rolls of new coins were avidly, frequently and wildly traded in the coin business in the early 1960s. Although this is currently the only 1961-D quarter that is PCGS graded MS-67, it may be likely that more will be so certified in the future. Undoubtedly, many people possess rolls of 1961-D quarters, usually without even realizing that these may be worth more than bullion (silver) value.

On April 15, the Marquette-Yakima 1961-D quarter, PCGS graded MS-67, sold for $18,975! Without doing any further research, I will tentatively assume that this is a record. With the possible exceptions of obscure and truly rare Mint errors, it is unlikely that anyone has paid more than $20,000 for a quarter from the 1960s. At least, I hope not.

Barber Quarters, which were minted from 1892 to 1916, are generally much scarcer than Washington Quarters. For less than $18,975, a collector might be able to obtain, in MS-67 grade, one of the following better-date 19th century Barber Quarters: 1894-S, 1895-O, 1895-S, 1897-S, 1899-O, or 1899-S, which is even worth $23 or so in Good-06 condition.

I do hope that more quarter collectors will notice that there are numerous dates in the Liberty Seated Quarter series (1837-91) for which there are, respectively, fewer than five hundred in existence. Nice, naturally toned, RARE Liberty Seated Quarters are often less expensive than gem quality Washington quarters.

It may be understandable to collect condition rarities (coins that are very rare above a certain grade, usually 65) in situations where the respective coin itself is at least somewhat scarce. I am puzzled by the phenomenon of collectors paying from $5,000 to $25,000 each for condition rarities of coins that are common overall.

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