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George Washington Five Dollar This would have been our quarter - If the Washington Bicentennial Committee and Commission of Fine Arts had its way.

George Washington Five Dollar Gold Half Eagle


The Quarter that Should have Been
The ubiquitous Washington Quarter has been with us since 1932. Most of us take it for granted and are unaware of the delicate progression of events leading up to its creation. Had some of these events played out differently, the design of our quarter would likely resemble a competing design that was favored by some, but was ultimately passed up and nearly forgotten. But in 1999, the U.S. Mint released this long forgotten design in its George Washington Commemorative $5.00 Gold Coin. It is a striking and beautiful design with a bold Washington on the front and a majestic eagle on the reverse. In a very real sense, the George Washington Five Dollar Gold Half Eagle gives us all a hint of the quarter that almost was.

History of the George Washington Five Dollar Gold Half Eagle
In 1930, The George Washington Bicentennial Committee wanted to honor the 1932 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington by issuing a commemorative coin. It was not clear at the time whether this coin would be a medal or a legal tender coin - some thought that it might be a half dollar. But the committee went ahead and held a contest for the design of the coin.

The selection of the winning artist was to be made by the Bicentennial Committee in partnership with the Commission of Fine Arts. From the outset, it was established that their decision was subject to final approval by congress and the Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew W. Mellon. The guidelines of the contest required that the obverse depict a portrait of George Washington modeled after the life-mask bust by French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon.

The Bicentennial Committee and Fine Arts Commission selected the design by Laura Gardin Fraser (wife of famed Buffalo Nickel designer James Earle Fraser). The designed featured a firm-jawed obverse portrait of Washington that partially obscured the word "LIBERTY" giving the portrait a larger-than-life feeling - something that George Washington personified throughout his life. On the reverse was a majestic eagle with thirteen stars representing the states of the Union at the time when Washington was president.

In 1931, Congress introduced legislation for the permanent replacement for the Standing Liberty quarter with a Washington Quarter. The Fine Arts Commission proposed that Laura Fraser's design, as the winner for the medal competition, should appear on the new Washington Quarter.

But the Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew W. Mellon didn't agree, and he held a second competition. The Fine Arts Commission once again selected Fraser's design. Secretary Mellon overruled that choice and instead selected a design by John Flanagan. Thus it was Flanagan's design that was used in the familiar quarter found in our pocket change, while Fraser's design was shelved into near obscurity.

But fortunately Fraser's design was resurrected in 1999 for a gold half eagle coin commemorating 200 years after George Washington's death. At 21.6 mm, the Washington Five Dollar gold coin is close in size to the 24.3 mm quarter. So now we finally have a chance to hold the legendary design that nearly became our quarter. It features a right facing bust of George Washington on the front as Laura Gardin Fraser designed it, and a powerful bald eagle on the back.

Mintage History of the George Washington Five Dollar Gold Half Eagle
Because it was a commemorative coin, the George Washington Five Dollar Gold Half Eagle was only produced in 1999. The W mint mark found underneath the date on the obverse indicates that the coin was minted at West Point. The proof coin originally sold for $195, and the uncirculated coin sold for $180. It contains a quarter ounce of gold.

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George Washington Five Dollar The reverse of the George Washington Five Dollar gold half eagle features an eagle with thirteen stars representing the states of the Union at the time when Washington was president.

George Washington Five Dollar Face Off - The design by Laura Gardin Fraser as issued in the 1999 Gold Half Eagle on the left, and John Flanagan's design on the U.S. Quarter.

George Washington Five Dollar This photo from the U.S. mint brochure promoting the George Washington Commemorative $5.00 Gold Coin shows Laura Gardin Fraser's original plaster model giving us a sense of what our quarter might have looked like if the Treasury Secretary had not overruled the judges.

Alternate Quarter The "Fraser Quarter". This is an artist's rendition of what our quarter might have looked like if the mint had gone forward with Laura Fraser's design.