Jim Bisognani: Coins to Celebrate Our Freedom

Posted on 7/6/2023

Independence Day-themed coins provide a historic and inexpensive way to start a collection!

Wow, another Independence Day has come and gone. This one marked our grand nation's 247th anniversary since the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. I am not sure what hoopla will be in store for our 250th anniversary — which is a mere three years down the road — if any. I can really show my age here, but wasn't it just a short time ago that we were in the throes of excitement surrounding our 200th anniversary celebration back in 1976?

Bicentennial coinage themes supplanted the usual reverses of our quarter dollar through dollar back then. Let’s not forget the special Bicentennial theme (which to me, is the best adaptation of them all) — used on the venerable and somewhat maligned $2 bill reverses. After a 10-year hiatus, the $2 note reappeared for the 1976 celebration. It featured a nearly complete rendering of John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence on the reverse, with Thomas Jefferson — our third President and co-author of the Declaration of Independence — on the front. Yes, I can attest that there was a wave of excitement for the Bicentennial on all fronts.

Similar to the State Quarter program that launched in 1999, the Bicentennial theme ushered in a newer generation of collectors to our hobby. Although all the coins for the Bicentennial celebration were produced in massive quantities for both circulation and collecting, it has been the Mint State coins in ultra-high grades that continue to push the envelope.

For me, my favorite Bicentennial coin is the Washington Quarter. I mean, there is George Washington on the obverse flanked on the bottom with the bold and historic "1776-1976" date. The father of our country and first President has built-in Bicentennial appeal! That, coupled with the iconic motif of a drummer boy and torch of victory surrounded by 13 stars (designed by Jack L. Ahr) on the reverse, is, in a word, patriotic.

Massive Mintages

The 1776-1976-D Clad Washington Quarter standard circulated issue was produced in a quantity of nearly a billion, coming in at 860,118,839 total minted. This was around 60 million more than the Philadelphia counterpart, and it took top honors as the most prolific output of the Bicentennial coinage.

Just how gigantic was this Denver mintage? Well, compared to the circulation strikes for the 1976-D Kennedy Half Dollar and Eisenhower Dollar, the number of 1976-D quarters equals nearly 200% more than the former and 735% more than the latter.

As one could surmise, this clad coin is common as dirt in circulated condition. It is also an easy find in up to MS 67 grades. However, MS 68 grades are much rarer — only 13 coins have been awarded this grade according to the NGC Census, with none graded higher, at the time of writing this article.

A 1776-1976-D Washington Quarter graded NGC MS 68. Realized: $6,462 on Jan 5, 2017.
Click images to enlarge.

The coin pictured above, which was last offered in a public sale at the 2017 Winter FUN auction, went for an astounding $6,462. This figure is more than double what the same exact coin realized five years earlier at the 2012 Winter FUN auction, where it sold for $3,220. For the record, at the time of both of these sales, this Washington Quarter was the only example graded MS 68 in the NGC Census!

Now, as we flash forward to a year ago, this 1976-D graded NGC MS 68 sold for $1,740 at the Heritage Auctions CSNS Signature Sale. The main difference here is that, at the time of this sale, the NGC Census had grown to six. Now, about one year later, the NGC Census has more than doubled, with MS 68 examples standing at 13.

A 1776-1976-D Washington Quarter graded NGC MS 68. Realized: $1,740 on May 4, 2022.
Click images to enlarge.

To me, it is just a matter of time and submissions. This count is bound to grow, and with that growth, the prices realized are bound to slide. Who knows what an MS 69 Washington Quarter would realize if and when the grade is designated. But for me, a lovely NGC MS 66 at around $30 will do nicely. Yet, if you are chasing the finest Registry set, have at it with a measure of caution.

Other Bicentennial Mintages

The 1776-1976-S Washington Quarters struck in 40% silver were not regular issues and were produced in sets of three (quarter, half dollars and dollars) to the rather meager — compared to the clad issues — mintage of 11 million. For the record, these silver Bicentennial three-piece sets sold by the Mint included the Washington Quarter, Kennedy Half Dollar and Eisenhower Dollar. For this article, however, I'm only tracking data for my favorite of the trio: the Washington Quarter.

For those fellow coindexters who desire a bright white silver clad Washington Quarter for their collection, but are working with a limited budget, this is it. Examples up to MS 67 can be acquired for between $15 to $20, and the MS 68 examples for around $90. Yet, in MS 69, only two appear on the NGC Census! To date, there are no recorded sales for either of these two NGC-certified examples, but other third-party-graded examples have sold for nearly $20,000!

Conversely, in Proof format, the mintages drop considerably. They are still abundant with just over 7 million clad Proofs struck at the San Francisco Mint, and 4 million silver clad versions. Here, PF 69 Cameo clad coins are commanding around $75, and the silver clad Ultra Cameo examples in like grades are able to be had for about half that price.

And yes, for the perfectionist, there are currently 12 examples of the clad 1776-1976-S Washington Quarter graded PF 70 Ultra Cameo in the NGC Census. Yet, amazingly, when compared to the Mint State examples discussed previously, the NGC Price Guide has the Proofs set at $225 apiece, which seems like a bargain if one can be corralled at that price.

Another fantastic and affordable Independence Day commemorative is the Lexington and Concord Half Dollar struck in 1925. Memorializing the sesquicentennial of the famous "shot heard round the world," a commemorative coin doesn't get better than this. This tremendous coin designed by Chester Beach features the iconic Minuteman at the ready on the obverse, while the reverse element is the Old Belfry in Lexington, Massachusetts, whose bell tolled on the morning of April 19, 1775, calling the Minutemen to assemble on the Lexington Common.

With an original mintage of 162,013, it is one of the more plentiful examples within the classic Silver Commemorative Era. The original sale and distribution of these Lexington and Concord Half Dollars was April 18 through April 20, 1925 by the Lexington Trust Company and the Concord National Bank, which sold them in wooden boxes imprinted with images of the Minuteman and Belfry for $1.

For further reference, here is a photo of my 1925 Lexington coin with the wooden box of issue.

A 1925 Lexington Half Dollar from Jim's personal collection.
Click images to enlarge.

The wooden box that the 1925 Lexington and Concord commemorative coin came in, from Jim's personal collection.

There are currently 4,571 examples of the Lexington and Concord Half Dollars in the NGC Census. A majority of that total — around 45% — are graded NGC MS 64. This coin is highly affordable in this grade and is currently listed at $165 in the NGC Price Guide. This lovely example just sold in April of this year for $129 — a bargain!

A 1925 Lexington Half Dollar graded NGC MS 64. Realized: $129 on April 5, 2023.
Click images to enlarge.

Looking for something as a starter for a young coindexter? These Bicentennial themes are a historic and inexpensive start to a collection.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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