Which State Quarters Are Hardest to Find?

By Jennifer Alyson
Coin enthusiasts hunt for U.S. quarters commemorating each state.

The U.S. Mint’s program to produce commemorative quarters for each of the fifty states drew coin-collecting enthusiasts, known as numismatists, nationwide. Nearly 150 million Americans have begun collecting the 25-cent pieces as keepsakes. The Mint began pressing the quarters in 1999, releasing coins for five states annually through 2008. In all, the Mint produced nearly 35 billion state quarters, which bear individual designs for each state on their reverse sides.

Quarter Production

The U.S. Mint didn’t press equal numbers of quarters for every state. The fewer the coins released to commemorate a specific state, the harder those quarters are to find in circulation today. Virginia had the highest number of releases--nearly 1.6 billion coins were put into circulation in 2000. Oklahoma had the fewest coins minted in its honor--just 416.6 million quarters. In general, Northeastern and Southern states are represented with the most quarters and are thus easier to come by, while Midwestern and Western states had relatively fewer coins minted and are generally tougher to find.

Quarters Per Capita

A state quarter’s relative rarity isn’t based on only the number that were minted. Some collectors analyze the number of quarters made relative to a state’s population; that is, residents of a state will likely be most interested in finding and keeping in their specific state quarter, so if a lower count of quarters were issued for a highly populated state, that means high demand, resulting in coin scarcity. California, for example, has 36 million residents and had only 520.4 million quarters released, giving it the lowest number of quarters per capita. That relatively small number and high population have put pressure on the availability of quarters honoring the Golden State. Other states with low quarter-to-population ratios include Texas, Florida, Illinois and Michigan.

Production Flaws

State quarters with visible minting errors are also relatively rare. Heavy die polish, which appears as raised lines on the coin’s surface, and filled-die problems, which cover portions of the currency’s image, are both minting errors. Die cracks appear as lines of raised metal running to the quarter’s edge. Planchet errors can include pressing the wrong denomination on a coin blank, and striking errors are mistakes that happen during coin stamping. Small production flaws don’t typically increase a coin’s value, but major mistakes can make a coin worth significantly more, because they’re less likely to be in circulation.

Artistic Flaws

Some of the hardest-to-find state quarters are those with errors in their artwork. A small number of Wisconsin’s commemorative quarters show an extra leaf on the coin’s stalk of corn. Some Wyoming quarters have a double imprint, visible with a magnifying glass, of the saddle on the coin’s horse. And on the first few Delaware quarters, the “e” in the quarter’s “First State” motto is missing. These quarters are difficult to find in open circulation, because collectors have been searching for them.

Values

Errors can substantially boost the value of state quarters, but mistakes are difficult to find on coins in circulation. The Wisconsin quarter, with its extra leaf, was selling for more than $1,000 immediately after collectors discovered the flaw in 2005. Quarters with planchet and striking errors can sell for $500 to $1,000. The highest values are reserved for quarters that were proof, or collectors’ edition strikes rather than circulation strikes. One certified-proof 1999 Delaware quarter sold at a 2007 auction for more than $17,000.

Appraisal

Consult a professional coin-appraisal company before you spend money on what you believe might be a rare state quarter. Novice collectors sometimes pay too much for coins with common flaws, but an appraiser can authenticate a quarter’s provenance before the deal closes. Some appraisers charge for authentications. A coin dealer might also not pay full price for a rare quarter, because he must in turn sell the quarter to a collector at a profit.