Washington Quarters

The dark shadow of economic depression fell across the United States in 1931, giving Americans little to celebrate. Soup kitchens, massive unemployment and the Dust Bowl all took their toll on the public’s spirit. But the following year was the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, and officials in our nation’s capital were ready to mark the occasion. The Treasury Department had proposed that a half dollar be struck to honor the birth of the nation’s founding father. Enlisting the cooperation of the Commission of Fine Arts and the Washington Bicentennial Commission, they went ahead with plans for a design competition.

Rules announced early in the year called for entries modeled after the “celebrated bust” of Washington by noted French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon. The bust, created from a life-mask taken at Mount Vernon in 1785, was uncannily accurate and nationally admired. 98 entrants fashioned some 100 designs: Most were amateurish, s.... (Expand Text)