1944 Quarter: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
While the Washington quarter remains in circulation as the current 25-cent piece issued by the United States Mint, the 1944 Washington quarter is a collector’s gem of a bygone era for the coin.
With the bicentennial of the birth of the nation’s first president, George Washington, slated for 1932, members of a special bicentennial committee in Congress sought to replace the Walking Liberty half dollar with a Washington half dollar.
However, production issues with the striking of the Standing Liberty quarter (1916-1930) and the ubiquitous nature of the 25-cent piece led Congress to commissioning a Washington quarter instead.
The bicentennial committee had already engaged sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser to design a commemorative Washington medal, and the initial idea was to have her adapt her depiction of Washington for the new quarter – a decision backed by the Commission of Fine Arts.
Instead, United States Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon chose a rendition by sculptor John Flanagan – a decision backed by his successor, Ogden L. Mills. Mellon reportedly knew which artists had submitted which designs, and accusations remain that he chose Flanagan’s design over Fraser’s due to Fraser being a woman.
Per numismatic historian Walter Breen, "it has been learned that Mellon knew all along who had submitted the winning models, and his male chauvinism partly or wholly motivated his unwillingness to let a woman win.”
Struck in silver, the new coins remained 90% silver until the United States Mint’s transition to copper/nickel coinage in 1965.
Unlike its predecessor and many previous United States coins, the Washington quarter struck extremely well.
Washington’s bust, even on coins dating 1944 and before, has a sharpness and clarity to it which can be attributed to a design that sacrifices the minutia of detail for a bolder, more spread-out layout.
Mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco
- Overall: 132,116,800
- Philadelphia: 104,956,000
- Denver: 14,600,800
- San Francisco: 12,560,000
Weight: 6.25 g
Diameter: 24.3 mm
Edge Type: Reeded
Composition: 0.90 silver, 0.10 copper
Designer: John Flanagan
Obverse Features: The bust of George Washington which dominates the obverse of the coin is a rendition of French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 1785 commission for the Virginia General Assembly – a common prototype for medals and other media bearing Washington’s visage afterwards.
Flanagan’s interpretation of the Neoclassical sculptor’s work is extremely faithful, although it has a few detail changes including a different shaping to the head and a roll of hair not present on Houdon’s bust.
The phrase “Liberty” pops in bold lettering around the top edge of the obverse, forming a sort of rainbow directly above Washington’s head.
Tucked between the bottom left edge of the coin and in the space created between Washington’s chin and neck is the phrase “In God We Trust” condensed horizontally to two lines.
The mint date mirrors the top rim phrasing underneath Washington’s neck, and mint marks for Denver and San Francisco-struck coins can be found in tiny print on the bottom right of the obverse.
Reverse Features: The bald eagle depicted on the reverse of the coin is geometrically bold and has an imposition to its structuring which portends both power and grace.
The eagle’s wings spread are spread wide whilst it perches on a bundle of arrows which are framed by two olive branches.
The arrows are a symbol of military power, elegantly counterbalanced by the olive branches which are a marker of peace and understanding.
Running the top edge of the reverse in a rainbow from the mid-point of one wing to another is the phrase “United States of America.”
Condensed to two horizontal lines in the space between the eagle’s head and the middle of the top phrasing is the phrase “E Pluribus Unum.”
Mirroring the top phrasing on the bottom edge of the coin underneath the olive branches is the phrase “Quarter Dollar.”
Errors and Variations
The obverse of the Washington quarter was fine-tuned and tweaked six times during the coin’s silver period from 1932-1964.
The 1944 Washington quarter marks a key revision (and error) during that era of the coin, as a design modification left John Flanagan’s initials distorted.
This issue was resolved for Washington quarters struck in 1945 and beyond.
While there are a host of known errors and slight variations in the 1944 Washington quarter’s oeuvre, the most interesting error coin was struck on a zinc-coated steel cent planchet.
The coin has a clear date and was struck at the Philadelphia Mint, with a cataloger remarking on its “bright and satiny” obverse and an overall coin composition which showed just “light granularity and scattered oxidation.”
One known auction of this particular coin saw it sell at a whopping $16,200.
Grading and Condition Issues
A Washington quarter’s grade and value can boil down to a few key details, with perhaps the easiest tell being the condition of Washington’s hair on the obverse.
If Washington’s hairline isn’t sharp and detail within his hair is missing, you’re looking at a severe downgrade of the coin into Very Fine (VF-20) territory or below.
A Washington quarter in Extremely Fine (EF40) shape, for example, usually has minimal to no detail loss in the hair – with wear spots likely confined to the top of the eagle’s legs and its breast on the coin’s reverse.
Finding an Uncirculated version with limited to no contact marks is tricky, and there really isn’t a strong value spike unless you find one with almost no blemishes and a nearly-intact mint luster.
On the other end of the spectrum, a coin in Very Good (VG8) shape or worse will have solid wear around the edges to the point that the lettering at the rim appears flattened.
The value of a 1944 Washington quarter is likely going to be somewhere between 17-24 times its face worth, unless you are able to somehow land a Choice Uncirculated piece (with minimal to no handling damage) or an error of some sort.
1944 Washington quarters are solidly valuable at the baseline compared to some other coins from the era, with potential for some big collector’s scores if you find a rarity.
Good (G-4) to Very Fine (VF-20): $4.21
Extremely Fine (EF-40): $4.78
About Uncirculated (AU-50): $5.31
Uncirculated (MS-60): $6.18
Gem Uncirculated (MS-65): $36.00