Early in 2021, the America the Beautiful (ATB) series of quarters and 5-ounce silver versions of those quarters that began in 2010, will end with the release of the 56th and final coin for the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.
The 5-ounce silver ATB coins were the first U.S. silver coins to be issued in their size, but they will likely not be the last ones, especially with some major current legislation calling for new silver quarters starting in 2022. From the beginning, 5 oz. ATBS have been issued in two versions, bullion coins sold to the U.S. Mint’s authorized distributors in tubes of 10 coins each and collector coins that have a “P” mintmark for Philadelphia and a special vapor-blasted finish.
America the Beautiful quarters gave silver stackers an alternative U.S. silver coin to the American Silver Eagle, where each release would have a unique reverse design, a factor that especially appealed to numismatic collectors who would eventually become the core buyers of both versions of these coins. Moreover, their 3-inch (76.2 millimeter) diameter was well suited to the finely detailed designs of these releases, and the production quality of the coins continued to increase over the decade in which they were made.
Each coin’s obverse carries the John Flanagan portrait of President George Washington used on the 1932 Washington quarter that was originally intended to commemorate the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.
The bullion pieces have highly mirrored surfaces in many cases giving them proof-like and deep mirror proof-like appearance, while the collector coins have a more matte finish (called Specimen Finish by the grading companies) that comes from a post-striking treatment using water vapor and fine ceramic media.
America the Beautiful Series Origin
America the Beautiful quarters were authorized by the America the Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of December 2008. They were the brainchild of Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), who also spearheaded the prior 11-year series of 50 state quarters. The huge success of the 50 state quarters program, which created many new collectors and garnered billions of dollars for the Mint, is what drove the issuance of the successor America the Beautiful series.
To produce the America the Beautiful coins the Mint had to import German-made, high-speed Graebener coin presses, which produce 1,100 metric tons of pressure and were installed in March 2010. The coins also had to have no reeding on their edges, which was challenging to do given the thinness of the planchets (0.128 inches). These issues led the Mint to delay the launch of the series until the last month of 2010 and to the reduction in production from a planned 100,000 of each of the five first coins to just 33,000 pieces of each.
A decade later, fifty-five America the Beautiful designs have been released, with some issues commanding substantial secondary market premiums.
America the Beautiful Mintages
Since demand for 2010 coins seemed to exceed the number of coins the Mint was able to produce, mintage levels were ramped up for the 2011 coins to a series high of 126,700 for the Gettysburg and Glacier Park coins, but since then sales have been lower for both versions of these coins. For the bullion coins that has meant mintages in the range of 20,000-50,000 most years, while the collector coins that began with 26,000-27,000 each of the 2010 Specimen coins, is today half that level due to both silver prices and the premiums added to those coins by the U.S. Mint.
Recently, the Mint increased the retail price of the collector coins to $229, a $50 increase over the prior price.
While there are many popular issues in the series like the 2016 Theodore Roosevelt issue and others that sell for a premium over other releases, the overall key coins have mostly remained the same over the years. Those key dates include the 2012 releases, especially the Volcanoes and Denali coins, as well as the 2017 Frederick Douglass and 2017 Ozark coins for the bullion versions.
For collector versions, the 2012-P Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 5 oz. Silver coin is widely held as a key date to the ATB series. While it has been surpassed by other coins in terms of mintage, like the 2017-P George Rogers Clark National Historical Park issue, its short period of availability (from September 24th 2012 to January 2013) and dramatic design, mean it still reigns as a key date in the America the Beautiful series.
2020 America the Beautiful releases
The 2020 America the Beautiful silver quarters – the last year in which five different coins will be released – have included some of the most innovative designs of the series. Highlights include the American Samoa mother and baby bat design and the Virgins Islands Salt River Bay design that depicts a red mangrove as it emerges from the sea.
Other designs released in 2020 include the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller coin, which shows a young girl planting a sugar maple sapling; the Weir Farm coin that shows an artist working on a painting on the grounds of the art park; and the Tallgrass Prairie coin, that shows a regal fritillary butterfly as it flutters in the wind amid the Indian tallgrass of this Kansas national preserve.
In 2021 the 56th and final ATB release will honor the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama.
Looking Forward: 2022 Quarters and Beyond
The 2008 legislation that authorized the America the Beautiful coin series included a provision that would have allowed the Secretary of the Treasury to authorize both a second round of quarters and 5-ounce silver quarters depicting national parks, if he had chosen to do so, which he did not.
The legislation also specifies that in that case the reverse would change to an image of Washington crossing the Delaware River, and a design of that scene has been approved for use in 2021 after the final ATB coin for the Tuskegee Airmen Reserve designed by Chris Costello (who also created the forthcoming Mayflower 400th anniversary silver and gold coins).
On September 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that if also approved by the Senate and signed into law by the President will result in a series of three different quarter and other denomination coin programs that would run from 2022 to 2030.
The first would run from 2022 to 2025 and would feature five quarters per year depicting prominent American women issued to commemorate the 19th amendment that was ratified 100 years ago.
The second would be a one-year only program in 2026 for the 250th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. in 1776 that would include not just quarters, but also half dollars and $1 coins with five different designs issued that year that are emblematic of the semiquincentennial. This program currently seems to have the widest support from collectors.
Finally, in 2027 quarters and half dollars again with five designs per year would be issued that feature designs about youth and Paralympic sports. In addition, bronze medals could be issued with these designs. The bill also authorizes the issuance of medals to be awarded during the 2028 Olympics that will be held in Los Angeles.
The legislation also allows the Treasury Secretary to authorize the minting of both 5-ounce silver coins in the same size and format as the ATB coins as well as fractional silver coins in sizes, weights and fineness that the Secretary decides are appropriate.
.S. Yeoman, A Guide Book of United States Coins Mega Red 5th Edition (Whitman, 2019)