50 State Quarters Value and Collecting Guide
The coins of the 50 State Quarters series are among the hobby’s most popular, and the series is without a doubt the most successful outreach program in the history of the United States Mint. The series is credited with bringing tens of millions of young new collectors into the fold while rekindling the interest of millions more.
With one reverse design for each state, the 50 quarters were issued at the rate of five per year for ten years. There are many factors that contribute to their popularity. The coins are attractive and storied, with each presenting themes important to the residents of the states which they commemorate. However the sheer number of different issues is probably the most important single consideration.
When the State Quarters arrived on the scene in 1999 the pastime of finding collectible coins in pocket change had hit a considerable lull. Wheat Cents, the mainstay of young hunters for generations, had largely disappeared and the prospects of assembling a representative collection were dim. The pre-1965 silver Roosevelt Dimes and Washington Quarters had long since been snatched up. Most were melted and some were hoarded, but wherever they were you could search for years without finding one. With State Quarters, suddenly it was worth taking a second look when a cashier handed you your change.
The State Quarters exist in four distinct formats. First are the general circulating coins, also known as business strikes, that were produced at the Philadelphia and Denver mints and marked with a P or a D respectively. The business strike quarters are all circulating in plentiful supply and if you are willing to accept a moderate amount of wear on your coins you should be able to assemble a complete collection without too much trouble. The second type of State Quarters are the satin finish coins that were included in the annual Uncirculated Coin Sets, commonly called “mint sets.” From 1999 to 2004 the annual sets were built from uncirculated business strike coins and are indistinguishable from the coins released for circulation or sold in uncirculated rolls and bags. Beginning in 2005 the Mint began using a special set of dies for the annual sets which produced a smoother, “satin” finish. The satin finish coins are distinct from the business strike coins.
The third and fourth State Quarter types are both proof coins produced with polished dies and a special process. The proof coins were minted in San Francisco and are marked with an S. Proof State Quarters were produced in both a copper-nickel clad copper format general referred to as simply “clad,” as well as a 90% silver version. Production numbers on the silver proofs were considerably lower than the clad proof sets. As an additional wrinkle, between 1999 and 2003 in order to obtain the silver proof quarters collectors were required to buy a full set of all the year’s coins. Beginning in 2004 State Quarter silver proof sets were available as a stand-alone product. Therefore the early silver proofs can be more difficult and expensive to obtain – especially the first year 1999.
In addition to the major types described above, there are a number of minor errors producing collectible variations of the State Quarters. The most famous of these errors are the Wisconsin die errors which appear to produce an extra leaf on the corn stalk. There are actually two of these Wisconsin errors with leaves going in different directions known as the high leaf and low leaf varieties. A variation on the Minnesota quarters makes it appear there are extra trees in the image; dozens of different Minnesota tree variations have been identified. Another error on the Kansas quarters was caused by grease filling the letter “T” in the die causing the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” to read “IN GOD WE RUST.”