The 1970s were a tumultuous time in the history of the United States. Many of the causes and cultural changes that began in the 1960s carried over into the next decade. Protests for civil-rights for women, African-Americans, and other marginalized groups continued into the 1970s. Protest against the Vietnam War occupied a large part of the evening news. The environmental movement started while the Watergate scandal forced the first resignation of a sitting U.S. president.
The 1970s was also a time of great triumphs. Disco ruled the dance floor while bellbottoms ruled the fashion world. The United States was the first country to land a man on the moon. Videocassettes and video games started to appear in more and more homes. The first personal computer was developed and marketed by IBM. Medical advancements included MRIs and the artificial heart.
Perhaps the biggest celebration the world has ever seen began its planning stages in the early 1970s. A multi-year event to celebrate the Bicentennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence swept the country. In addition to parades and souvenirs, the Treasury of the United States issued its first circulating commemorative coin.
Bicentennial Commemorative Coins
Secretary of the Treasury George P. Schultz, directed Mrs. Mary Brooks, Director of the Mint, under the auspices of Public Law 93-127 to design three new coins emblematic of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution and to begin production on July 4, 1975.
The three coins chosen to proclaim the bicentennial were the quarter, half-dollar, and one dollar coin.
The people of the United States had not seen a commemorative coin since 1954 when the Treasury Department discontinued the commemorative coin program due to abuses by politicians and special interest groups.
The excitement for the Bicentennial celebration fueled interest in these new coins. The Treasury Department asked the National Sculpture Society to conduct a design contest among its nationwide membership, impanel a jury of experts to judge the entries and submit several designs for each denomination to the Secretary of the Treasury.
The Winning Designs and Production
The obverse of the Washington quarter, Kennedy half dollar, and Eisenhower dollar would remain the same, except they would possess the dual date of 1776-1976. The reverse would feature winning designs on the Washington quarter by Jack L. Ahr, the Kennedy half-dollar featured Seth Huntington's design, and Dennis R Williams' design on the Eisenhower dollar.
To ensure that all Americans had access to these commemorative coins and to discourage hoarding, production of these 1976 dated coins began in the prior year on July 4, 1975. Over the next year and a half, the mint produced billions of these coins. Additionally, special finishes and silver compositions were created specifically for coin collectors.
Total mintages for business strike coins of the 1976 Bicentennial quarters comprised the following:
- 1776-1976 copper-nickel clad from Philadelphia (no mintmark): 809,784,016
- 1776-1976-D copper-nickel clad from Denver: 860,118,839
Three special edition coins were specifically marketed to coin collectors. These included the following:
- 1776-1976-S Proof copper-nickel clad: 7,059,099
- 1776-1976-S uncirculated silver clad: 11,000,000*
- 1776-1976-S Proof silver clad: 4,000,000*
*Several million silver Bicentennial quarters were melted in the 1980s. So while there are still millions of silver 1976 Bicentennial quarters around, that number is nowhere near the 15 million originally made.
Keys to Collecting
Since over 1.6 billion Bicentennial quarters were made between the Philadelphia and Denver United States Mint facilities, they are still occasionally found in circulation. Sometimes gem uncirculated specimens can be found in pocket change because somebody cashed in the coins they've been hoarding since 1976.
Additionally, nice collector quality coins can be purchased from your favorite local coin dealer or on the Internet.
Although business strike coins made for circulation are plentiful, high quality nicely-struck coins are hard to come across. Remember, the mint was under intense pressure to produce as many bicentennial coins as they possibly could due to the likelihood of hoarding. Therefore, they sacrificed quality to gain quantity. When selecting a coin for your collection, look at the high points on Washington's cheek to make sure there is no evidence of wear and that the coin is fully struck. On the reverse side, look for weakness and lack of detail at the top of the drum. Coins with minimal surface scratches, dazzling mint luster, and great eye appeal are necessary for any great coin collection.
Coins made specifically for collectors include the Proof copper-nickel clad, uncirculated 40% silver quarters and Proof silver quarters. Since the mint manufactured these coins with great care, scratches and surface damage are rarely a concern. However, there are many Proof coins made with fatigued dies that had diminished the intensity of the frosting on the devices and reduce the cameo contrast. Look for coins that have deep frosting on the devices and extreme reflectivity on the mirror-like fields.
Unfortunately, many people did not store their special collector edition coins properly over the years. Many collectors and individuals purchased them directly from the United States Mint and then stored them in less than ideal conditions. This may have included boxes that ended up in attics and basements. The extreme temperatures and moisture in these areas can cause toning and corrosion on the surface of the coin. Avoid purchasing any coin that has a haze on the coin's surface.
Investing in Bicentennial Quarters
Since circulation strike quality coins were made by the billions, and collector coins were made by the millions, nice examples are readily available in the marketplace.
However, since quality was sacrificed for quantity, extremely high-grade coins can sell for thousands of dollars. Obtaining this price will entail submitting the coins to one of the top tier third-party grading services (NGC or PCGS) for certification. Unfortunately, if the coin does not grade in one of the finest known categories, the coin will not be worth the money that it took to have it graded and encapsulated.
Bicentennial Quarter Values and Prices
Since circulated examples can be readily found in circulation, they are worth no more than face value. However, uncirculated coins and special edition coins made for collectors, are worth slightly more.
Date & Mint
1976-S Copper-Nickel Clad Proof
1976-S 40% Silver Uncirculated
1976-S 40% Silver Proof
*F.V. = Face Value
**No data available because these coins are rarely ever found in circulated condition.