USA Coin Album: The Rim with a Broad Perspective

Posted on 7/18/2018

The 1937-S Quarter is a unique entry in the Washington series.

My column in The Numismatist has been running since 1988 under various names. The present series titled USA Coin Album began in July of 2002 with an examination of the peculiar 1937-S quarter dollar. Sixteen years later, I believe this intriguing issue deserves a second look, this time accompanied by more and better photos.

The Washington Quarter debuted August 1, 1932 as a circulating coin commemorating the birth bicentennial of the federal republic's first president. It was coined in limited numbers that year, as the nation's economy was in such a slump that additional pieces were not needed in commerce. The 1932 edition, as well as the first pieces coined in 1934, bore the motto IN GOD WE TRUST in very shallow letters that quickly wore away in circulation. This motto was soon strengthened to make it more durable, with no fewer than three obverse hubs being employed to sink dies that year. Curiously, however, the reverse rim was lowered at the same time as the motto was raised. Subsequent coins suffered more rapid wearing of the reverse legends as compared to the 1932 quarters, which wore evenly on both sides.

By 1937, the obverse and reverse master hubs had been pretty much perfected, with only minor tweaks occurring through 1964. These were limited to strengthening the designer's initials and creating a separate reverse master hub for proof dies. With the coin type having circulated for five years, another weakness of the master hubs attracted the attention of personnel at the San Francisco Mint. Remedial action was taken that year which would provide collectors with a unique entry in this long-running coin series.

The 1937-S quarter was a well-made issue for the most part, and Mint State survivors can be very appealing. In addition, however, they possess a design feature not seen on their Philadelphia and Denver cousins. This does not stand out until one examines well-worn examples of the 1937-S, on which it is glaringly obvious. This single entry has a broader obverse rim than any other Washington Quarter from 1932 through 1964. It appears that a machinist at the San Francisco Mint mounted each obverse die in a lathe and cut an enlarged rim. This resulted in coins that wore far more slowly on their obverses than those struck at the other two mints.

As noted above, the reverse of the Washington Quarter wore quite rapidly on the modified issues of 1934 and subsequent years, this being a product of their shallow reverse rims. The photos presented here include circulated examples of 1937-D and 1937-S quarters showing similar degrees of wear on their reverses, but note how the San Francisco coin still retains its entire obverse rim. This enhanced rim also served to protect the design features to a greater degree than on the 1937-D specimen.

To show how this unequal wear occurred, just examine the unworn examples of each coin. On the Mint State 1937-D quarter, its obverse rim is entirely free of LIBERTY and the date, while on the 1937-S coin these features are touched by the rim. The extra width of the rim on the San Francisco coin is so great that it partially obscures the numerals of the date. This is subtle enough that collectors failed to notice it when the coins were new, but it is quite evident on worn pieces. I first noticed this oddity as a child collecting Washington Quarters from circulation. Unable to find the scarce 1937-S quarter in change or rolls, I had to buy it at a coin shop, and the extra care taken to find a nice worn piece prompted my discovery.

Was this change made with the permission of the US Mint's Engraving Department in Philadelphia? We may never know, but the coins speak for themselves. The experiment was not repeated after 1937, and the participants would have to wait at least ten years to find out if their extra effort succeeded in making the coins more durable in circulation. The only other question remaining is why this same change was not tried with the reverse rim, which wore away even more quickly than that of the obverse. Perhaps some day, a researcher will locate internal correspondence referring to this episode.

David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

Stay Informed

Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free NGC eNewsletter today!


You've been subscribed to the NGC eNewsletter.

Unable to subscribe to our eNewsletter. Please try again later.

Articles List

Add Coin

Join NGC for free to add coins, track your collection and participate in the NGC Registry. Learn more >

Join NGC

Already a member? Sign In
Add to NGC Coin Registry Example
The NGC Registry is not endorsed by or associated with PCGS or CAC. PCGS is a registered trademark of Collectors Universe, Inc. CAC is a trademark of Certified Acceptance Corporation.