Making Moderns column from July 11, 2016, Weekly issue of
The most logical way to collect the America the Beautiful 5-ounce
silver quarter dollars is to buy one of each issue.
As with most U.S.
Mint products, the coin is made in more than one version. One is a
bullion version without Mint mark. The other has a special finish,
called Uncirculated by the Mint, that is imposed after striking; this
coin has a P Mint mark and is expressly for collectors.
The bullion coin receives no post-striking treatment. Early in the
series, from 2010 into 2011, the surface of these coins was most often
slightly satin in appearance.
Occasionally, bullion coins with mirrored surfaces were seen. Such
coins are called “prooflike” by grading services when a coin has a
mirror-like surface that reflects objects from a distance of 2 inches.
The term “Deep Prooflike” is used for coins with no cartwheel luster
and that clearly reflect objects from 4 inches or more.
For coins in the bullion series since late-2011, most of the coins
are at least prooflike when issued.
When ejected from dies, these coins slide down a chute and are
packaged in tubes of 10 coins. As a result, they always show some
abrasion. The bullion coin is often found in the lofty Mint State 69
grade, but does not exist in MS-70 grade, assigned to a coin with no
post-production imperfections at 5x magnification (NGC’s definition).
The most valuable bullion coins to collectors are therefore those
assigned the grade MS-69 Deep Prooflike. Some issues like the 2010
Yellowstone and Grand Canyon coins can be difficult to locate at this
grade level. Deep Prooflike pieces can command significant premiums
for scarce issues.
The majority of collectors building sets are drawn to the
Uncirculated versions, not the bullion coins. The grading services
have certified about 30 percent to 50 percent more of these than of
the bullion coins.
After striking, the Uncirculated coins are “vapor blasted.” They are
bombarded with ceramic beads, giving their surfaces a flat, matte
texture. Then, they are placed in capsules by state-of-the-art
packaging machines using soft tips and vacuum suction. Delicately
handled, they are readily available in the 70-grade.
The grading services denote the Uncirculated coins as SP for
Specimen instead of MS for Mint State. This is done in consideration
of the special handling and surface finish these coins receive, and
how different they look from the bullion version. Thus the highest
grade for these coins is SP-70 on the label.