One of the most long-running series of US coins is the Washington Quarter dollar series. That is the main reason why so many people religiously collect them. The first Washington Quarter coin was minted in 1932, and the last one in 1998. That means there are 66 different series of this coin!
Knowing that fact, it is no surprise that so many people find it very exciting and amusing to collect them. We’ve already written a few articles about Washington Quarters, so if you are interested you can check, for instance, this 1964 Quarter Value article .
Since researching is our thing, we came across yet another valuable Washington Quarter you definitely need to have in your collection – the 1981 Washington Quarter coin! Read on to learn the 1981 Quarter value, which errors and varieties to look for, and how to grade them.
The Washington Quarter 101
As you know, back in the day most US coins featured an image of a fictional character like Lady Liberty. The main reason was that President George Washington didn’t support the idea of printing coins with an image of an actual king, queen, and ruler in general.
However, in 1932 in honor of George Washington’s 200th birthday, the Standing Liberty Quarter design was retired and replaced with the commemorative Washington Quarter. At that time the plan was to keep this new design only for a year. But the reality was that people adored this new coin so the Mint decided to continue with the production indefinitely.
Since this design was minted for 66 consecutive years we can freely say that this is the most popular design in the history of the US Mint. Also, besides design, what makes this coin historically important is his composition. Up until 1965 all Washington Quarters were made from 90% silver and 10% copper. Unfortunately, from that year until the end Quarters were minted from copper-nickel-clad composition.
The main features of the 1981 Washington Quarter coin
If you are a well-experienced collector, naturally you prefer your coins to be in the best possible condition, preferably in mint state. However, this can be hard to achieve when it comes to searching for old coins such as the 1981 Washington Quarter.
The main reason is that most of the coins from this series ended up in circulation a long time ago. So the best thing you can do is to make peace with it and embrace the fact that some of these coins will show some signs of wear and tear. But before we continue our talk about grading and how that impacts the value, let’s first talk about some basic information.
The obverse side of the 1981 Washington Quarter
The coin’s obverse side design was based on Houdon’s bust of America’s first President George Washington. An image shows his profile facing right and the portrait occupies almost the entire coin surface. Inscriptions are the only thing you can see on the obverse side, besides the portrait.
The word “LIBERTY” is conveniently placed above Washington’s head. Moreover, the phrase “IN GOD WE TRUST” is placed in front of his face, while the minting date is imprinted on the bottom rim. There is one more feature we must mention and that is the mint mark. Coins that are made in Philadelphia come without it, while all others have the mint mark placed right behind Washington’s neck.
The reverse of the 1981 Washington Quarter
When you flip the coin to the reverse side you will see an image of an American bald eagle positioned right in the center of the coin. The eagle is griping 13 arrows in his talons, and stands tall with his wings outstretched. Also, below the eagle, you will notice two olive branches as a symbol of peace.
As always, the famous Latin phrase “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is placed above the eagle’s head and right between the wing tips. Alongside the rim, on the upper part of the rim the inscription “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” is placed, while the “QUARTER DOLLAR” is struck just below the olive branches.
What you also should know is that all Washington Quarters come with a reeded edge. This smart design is very hard to copy, so this is an effective preventive method of counterfeiting.
1981 Washington Quarter Value Guide
Did you know that in the early 1980s, the US Mint had a multi-million Washington Quarter mintage? 1981 Washington Quarter was minted in three mints and cumulatively these three mints minted 1,181,501,916 coins! This amount includes both regular strikes and proof coins.
What is a bit different in this series is that there are no coins without a mint mark. We all got used to that coins minted in Philadelphia do not carry a mint mark, but quarters from 1981 are labeled with “P”.
Also, proof coins are minted in San Francisco, and you will notice that these coins have two different “S” mint marks, so they are divided in two types, I will explain this in a moment. Here is the list of varieties of Washington Quarter produced in 1981:
- 1981 Washington Quarter – P mint mark – Coins minted in Philadelphia
- 1981 Washington Quarter – D mint mark – Coins minted in Denver
- 1981 Washington Quarter – S mint mark – Coins minted in San Francisco and proof coins
Why are there two types of 1981 Washington Quarter coins with “S” mint marks?
As I mentioned above, there are two different types of “S” mint marks. The first one is Type 1 or also called filled S, and then there is Type 2 also known as clear S.
Filled S or the type 1 1981 Washington Quarter is a proof coin with a smaller and partially filled S mint mark. This mint mark is easily recognizable since it is not clear as a regular S mint mark. As a proof coin, this one isn’t much valuable, and it won’t go above $500.
On the other hand, clear S or the type 2 1981 Washington Quarter features a larger and more readable S mint mark. The great news is that compared to type 1, a type 2 coin is much more valuable. A type 2 S coin can go above $2,000!
1981 Washington Quarter errors
Just like with all other American coins, Washington Quarters as well come with a wide variety of different minting errors. Here are some of the most common error mistakes you can see in the 1981 Washington Quarters.
1981 Washington Quarter off-center error
These coins are missing smaller or larger pieces of their design due to the misplaced blanks which do not perfectly fit between the dies. A misplaced planchet leads to an inaccurate punch, so the final result is a coin that looks like it isn’t completely struck. This occurs because of the inaccurate die punch, so the coin isn’t struck completely.
A part of the coin stays blank and has some space in it, sometimes that area takes 30% sometimes 50%, or it can even go up to 70%. In terms of value, the farther the image is from the center the value is higher.
1981 Washington Quarter double die error
This error occurs when the die strikes the same planchet several times so the end results are ‘doubled’ images, letters, numbers, and mint marks. Coins with this kind of error are pretty attractive to collectors due to their unique design.
1981 Washington Quarter flip-over double-strike error
An error like this is a result of a double-strike minting misprint. If you take a better look you will notice that the first die is struck on a flipped-over lower rim. While the second strike produces a sharper imprint. This error is pretty rare and valuable, so the coins with this error are pretty pricey.
1981 Washington Quarter with filled D/P print mark error
It can happen that the mint mark on the coin ends up filled. There are a few examples of the 1981 Washington Quarter that have a D or P mint mark filled due to a printing error. Even though these errors make your coin look different and unique they are not as valuable as the rest.
1981 Washington Quarter struck on a one-cent planchet
This is the most common error mistake in the coins. A double denomination error in a 1981 quarter usually appears struck on a one-cent planchet. These coins are estimated to be worth around $960.
1981 Washington Quarter struck on a five-cent planchet
This error is characteristic of the Philadelphia-made 1981 quarters. The coins end up minted on a five-cent or nickel planchet, and the end result is an off-center image. Considering the difference between the size of these coins, the design is pretty unique and attractive to collectors. However, this is a rare error, and in most cases, coins like this are estimated to $100 and up.
1981 Washington Quarter struck on a dime planchet error
It can happen that a quarter coin mistakenly gets struck on a dime planchet as well. Due to the difference in the size between these two coins, the end result is a coin with a blurry off-center obverse image. In most cases, the word Liberty and a mint mark are jammed alongside the right rim.
Most valuable 1981 Washington Quarter coins (Table Chart)
What Makes The Value Of The 1981 Washington Quarter To Vary?
If you take any coin in observation, you’ll soon enough realize that its real value depends on several factors. The most important one is the condition, then demand, the date, the mint mark, and so on.
It makes a big difference if your coin originates from circulation, or if it was never been used. The date of minting can greatly impact the coin’s value considering some minting years are historically important such as 1964 for instance when the last silver quarter was minted.
To understand why two almost the same 1981 quarter coins have different prices make sure you check out the following list:
- Condition and grade – The value of your 1981 George Washington Quarter depends primarily on its condition. If the condition isn’t top-notch the grade will be low, and coins with low grades are not selling, or if they do they go under the price. Make sure you properly maintain your coin to avoid deterioration.
- Mint mark dictates rarity – Each Mint produces a different amount of coins. The lesser the number of minted coins the higher the price, simple. In the case of the 1981 Washington Quarter, we have a few different variations. For instance, as usual coins with mint mark S are much more attractive considering this mint almost always produces a low number of coins, compared to Philadelphia Mint.
- Circulated or uncirculated – The factor that will impact the condition of your coin is also if it was pulled out of circulation or if the coin was never released in one. Unfortunately, old coins from circulation such as the 1981 George Washington Quarters show a lot of signs of usage. Their estimated values are as much as $6 each, while the uncirculated coins go from $18.
- Demand – We said this many times, and we will repeat it time after time. No matter what kind of collectible item you have, it is only as valuable as the demand for it. Especially when you collect coins, stamps, and banknotes. Keep in mind that the market fluctuates greatly, which is good and bad at the same time. Your coin might not be worth much now, but a few weeks or months can make a big difference.
- Is it S Type 1 and Type 2 – This factor is strictly related to the 1981 Washington Quarter. If you remember, a few paragraphs above we mentioned that San Francisco Minr produced two different “S” mint marks. Also, what intrigues people is that there is no public record that tells us how many of these coins were minted. Due to the different designs of the mint mark, the prices are largely different. Type 1 “S” Proof coin is worth from $5 to $40, meanwhile, the Type 2 “S” Proof coin is worth from $10 to $200 and up.
Coin grading is made simple with a 70-point scale
With this handy Sheldon Scale the grading is much more transparent and easier than before. We do recommend you research this scale well and learn as much as you can even if you are taking your coins to the appraiser.
- (P-1) Poor – Coins that can hardly be identified and are very damaged. In case they come from circulation they must have a readable date and mintmark.
- (FR-2) Fair – Worn coins but they still have enough details that are sharp so the identification can be done. These coins are almost completely smooth, yet they do not show as many signs of damage as the previous grade.
- (G-4) Good – WHat you will notice on these heavily worn coins is that most inscriptions merge into the rims in places. However, the major features are mostly sharp and readable.
- (VG-8) Very Good – All major high-point elements are readable but faintly. These coins are pretty worn out, and in most cases, the central details are completely trashed.
- (F-12) Fine – Signs of wear are even, yet overall high-point design elements are sharp. The rims are fully separated from the field.
- (VF-20) Very Fine – These coins feature moderate signs of usage. To be graded with VF-20 a coin must have all letters of LIBERTY in readable condition. Both obverse and reverse sides have rims that are full and separated from the field.
- (EF-40) Extremely Fine – Coins from circulation that show light signs of usage. All details are clear, and some remained bold. When it comes to fine details in most cases they are clear but with a few signs of light wear.
- (AU-50) About Uncirculated – These coins have slight traces of wear on high-point details, and they may have some contact marks, but overall they look great.
- (AU-58) Very Choice About Uncirculated – These coins look like they weren’t in circulation, but they did. Luckily, they weren’t in it for too long so they have minor hints of wear marks. Also, almost full mint luster remained.
- (MS-60) Mint State Basal – Coins in this grade group are strictly uncirculated. There should be no evidence of wear on the highest point of detail. Only minor contact marks such as hairlines, and tiny scratches are tolerable.
- (MS-63) Mint State Acceptable – These are uncirculated coins that feature some contact marks and nicks, luster is in great condition with an average to weak strike.
- (MS-65) Mint State Choice – Coins with strong mint luster, very few contact marks, and strike above average. Overall, excellent eye appeal.
- (MS-68) Mint State Premium Quality – Coins with perfect luster. There are no visible contact marks to the naked eye, and the strike is sharp and above average.
- (MS-69) Mint State Almost Perfect – Uncirculated coins with perfect luster. The strike is sharp. This is an almost perfect coin, yet it has some tiny flaws that can only be seen under an 8x magnification glass.
- (MS-70) Mint State Perfect – A true gem, the perfect coin. This coin has no microscopic flaws, not even under 8x magnification. A coin is perfectly centered, with a sharp strike, bright, and with original luster. Outstanding eye appeal.
Trading With 1981 Washington Quarters
Trading with coins is always a risk. There are many things that can go wrong. You can end up scammed in terms that someone selling you a fake coin or buying out your coin under the price. This is why you need to do all your trading with reliable dealers, or on reliable places like auction houses, shops, and certified web platforms.
For those who prefer buying and selling coins online, it is vital to find the best dealer on the market. We recommend you work with reliable auction houses and reputable coin web pages such as Heritage Auctions, NCG, PCGS, Coins For Sale, or Littleton Coin Company.
Keep in mind that web platforms like eBay, Etsy, and LiveAuctioneers are great sources to gather information about a particular coin. Here you can learn a lot about the demand, supply, and price range. However, if you can, avoid trading coins here, especially with those that are too expensive, scams are pretty often here. Look for a proven seller and make a habit of consulting with an expert before investing.
Is there a 1981 Washington quarter smooth edge (no ridges pattern on the edge) error?
A lot of people get confused when they come across this coin. Unfortunately, this isn’t any rare error, this is a sign of a very worn-out coin due to the heavy use in vending machines. Don’t forget that 1981 was a long time ago, so imagine how many hands these coins went through. These quarters are worth only their face value.
Why do some 1981 Washington Quarters not have mint marks?
When you see a coin without a mint mark what is your first thought? It was minted in Philadelphia Mint. But that isn’t always the case. For example, Washington Quarters from 1981 that were minted in Philly all carry a P mint mark.
So when you come across a 1981 quarter coin without a mint mark save it, this is an error coin.
Don’t Miss Out On Collecting These Quarters
Even though many collectors prefer to collect silver quarters, the ones made before 1965, there are many quarters with copper-nickel clad composition that are worth investing in. If you took a good look at our table of the most valuable 1981 Washington Quarters, we bet that you notice how many error coins are listed there.
So if you are an error coin enthusiast this series of Washington Quarters is minted just for you considering the abundance of error coins available on the market.
Hopefully, this article answered some of the questions and helped you figure out how to handle your precious coins. In case you know some information that we didn’t mention here, please do not hesitate to share your opinions and advice in the comment section below.