It’s pretty common knowledge in numismatic circles that the “W” mintmark signifies coins that were struck at the West Point Mint in New York. But did you know the West Point Mint struck hundreds of millions of circulating coins that do not carry a “W” mintmark? Most of these circulating West Point coins are Lincoln Cents dating from 1974 through 1986 that don’t carry a mintmark and are thus indistinguishable from Philadelphia Mint Lincoln Cents of the period, which were also struck sans mintmark.
Another coin the West Point Mint produced as supplemental output for the Philadelphia Mint is the Washington Quarter, which has long served as a workhorse of the economy and is in high demand in commerce – sometimes of greater demand than supply can satisfy. That was certainly the case in the late 1970s, when the United States economy was evolving under the strain of economic difficulty, including staggering unemployment levels, runaway inflation, and fiscal malaise touching every corner of the nation.
In 1977, the United States Mint had just wrapped up the successful Bicentennial coinage program that involved special designs on the quarter, half dollar, and dollar coin commemorating the 200th anniversary of the nation’s birth in 1776. During striking of Bicentennial coins in 1975 and 1976, the quarter-dollar provided the canvas for a 1776-1976 dual dating feature under the obverse portrait of George Washington, which debuted in 1932 and was designed by John Flanagan; the reverse of the Washington quarter, which had carried a Heraldic Eagle motif since the Washington type debuted in 1932, saw a special design of a colonial drummer boy by Jack L. Ahr.
But with the Bicentennial program over and the return of the Heraldic Eagle to the reverse of the Washington Quarter in 1977, the United States Mint needed an assist. The West Point Mint had already been producing tens of millions of Lincoln Cents each year to help the other US Mint facilities concentrate efforts on striking both circulating and numismatic Bicentennial coinage. But production demands remained strong through the late 1970s, and the West Point Mint supplemented production of Washington Quarters. Mintages for the Philadelphia (no-mintmark) quarters of 1977, 1978, and 1979 reflect the West Point mintages.
The 1977 no-mintmark (“Philadelphia”) quarters were struck to the tune of 468,556,000 pieces, markedly higher than the 256,524,978 reflected for the Denver output that year. The total of 1978 “Philadelphia” quarters is 521,452,000 pieces – again, this incorporates the West Point mintage and is significantly higher than the 287,373,152 reported from Denver that year. Finally, in 1979, the Washington Quarter mintage from “Philadelphia” stood at 515,708,000 pieces, notably greater than the 489,789,780 rolling off the presses in the Mile-High City of Denver.
Coin expert Walter Breen wrote that the West Point mintages of those three coins stood at 7,352,000 for 1977, 20,800,000 in 1978, and 22,672,000 representing 1979. So, using those figures, about 1 in every 64 of the non-mintmarked 1977 Washington Quarters would have hailed from West Point, while approximately 1 in every 25 of the 1978 and 1 in every 23 from 1979 mintmark-less quarters would have originated from New York. Again, while these are simply probability figures, it’s easy to see how scarce the West Point Quarters are for these years as compared to their larger respective counterpart Philadelphia runs.
What does this mean for collectors? Is there any way to know if they have 1977-W, 1978-W, or 1979-W Quarters? Unfortunately, the answer is no. There are absolutely no distinguishing marks on the 1970s W-mint quarters that set them apart visually or otherwise from the Philadelphia quarters – and that is by design. Mint officials did not want collectors hoarding quarters from the West Point Mint, nor did they desire a repeat of the situation that unfolded in the mid-1960s, when a coin shortage caused by rising bullion prices forced mint officials to temporarily withhold mintmarks on all United States coins from 1965 through 1967 to forestall the pulling of coins from circulation on the basis of mintmark.
While there is no way to know if any specific 1977, 1978, or 1979 Washington Quarter hailed from the Philadelphia or West Point Mint, collectors can at least whimsically ponder the origins of these pieces as they hold them in their hands. The 1977, 1978, and 1979 Washington Quarters can be had for anywhere from $10 to $15 apiece in a pleasing grade of PCGS MS65, though much greater price disparities exist for these pieces as one climbs higher up the grading scale. According to PCGS CoinFacts, a 1977 Washington Quarter in a grade of PCGS MS67+ trends for $2,500, the top price for a 1978 Quarter is $2,232.50 in PCGS MS67+, while the 1979 Quarter is worth approximately $6,500 in a finest grade of MS68.
- Bowers, Q. David. A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents. Whitman Publishing, 2008.
- Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coins. Doubleday, 1988.
- Gilkes, Paul. “U.S. Mint Strikes West Point Quarters for Circulation.” Coin World. April 2, 2019. Accessed January 6, 2021.