Quarters struck in 1981 can be worth more than $0.25, but only when in exceptional condition. Many 1981 Washington quarters that have enjoyed heavy circulation are worth their precise denomination of twenty-five cents.
While these quarters aren’t the most lucrative options for coin collectors, they can appreciate in value over time. Numismatists looking for budget-friendly starter collection pieces should consider investing in 1981 Washington quarters.
This guide will explore the 1981 quarter value in detail, including the factors (coin grade, mint marks) contributing to the 1981 Washington quarter’s estimated worth.
1981 Washington Quarter Value Chart
|1981-S Proof Type 1 Quarter||$6||$10||$22|
|1981-S Proof Type 2 Quarter||$10||$15||$145|
1981 Washington Quarter: History
The 1981 Washington quarter has roots that extend back to 1796 when the first “quarter dollar” coins were first introduced. But the Washington quarter didn’t debut until 1932.
At its inception, the Washington quarter was a mostly silver piece (90% silver). But by 1981, the coin’s metallic makeup had changed to copper and nickel, partially due to the rising value of silver.
Still, the 1981 Washington quarter shares many similarities with its earlier iterations. The primary differences between the 1981 Washington quarter and those released in the early years of the Washington quarter design are weight, metal composition, and design.
The 1981 Washington quarter is lighter (by 0.02 ounces) than the older, silver-based ones. Additionally, this coin features a few design alterations from those released between 1932 and 1964, including a slightly altered image of George Washington on the obverse side and mint marks on the obverse side (instead of the reverse).
But for all intents and purposes, the 1981 Washington quarter is identical to the 1980 Washington quarter. One of the most notable exceptions is that it’s more common. While about 1.177 billion quarters were struck in 1981, only 1.154 billion were struck the previous year (1980).
Because the 1981 Washington quarter is still relatively common and contains zero silver, it’s generally less valuable than older, rarer quarters.
1981 Washington Quarter: Design
The 1981 Washington quarter is easily identifiable, featuring a large image of George Washington on its obverse side. This image was based on a life-like bust created by the 18th-century French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon.
Unlike some artistic renditions of Washington, which were created after his death, this sculpture is considered incredibly accurate, as it was created using a plaster mask produced while Washington was still alive. As a result, the face-in-profile found on the 1981 Washington quarter is widely regarded as a historically accurate representation.
The design for the 1981 Washington quarter is attributed to American sculptor John Flanagan, and it was introduced in 1932. This design, showing Washington’s face on the coin’s obverse side and a modified Presidential Seal on the reverse, remained virtually unchanged until 1998, making it the longest-lasting quarter design in U.S. history.
1981 Washington Quarter Obverse
When examining the obverse (front) side of the 1981 Washington quarter, you’ll see:
- The device (raised image) of George Washington in the center, facing toward the left side of the coin
- The year date at the bottom of the coin (1981)
- The mint mark (D or S) behind Washington’s hair ribbon, in the bottom right part of the coin
- The motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the lower left-hand side of the coin
- The legend “LIBERTY” at the top of the coin, above Washington’s head
1981 Washington Quarter Reverse
When examining the reverse (back) side of the 1981 Washington quarter, you’ll see:
- The device (raised image) of the modified Presidential Seal (a perched eagle, wings outstretched above an olive branch)
- The coin denomination at the bottom of the coin (QUARTER DOLLAR)
- The motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM” above the eagle’s head, near the top of the coin
- The issuing nation “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” at the top of the coin, curving downward near the eagle’s wings
1981 Washington Quarter: Features and Specifications
Three qualities differentiate 1981 Washington quarters:
- Mint marks
- Strike type (regular versus proof)
- Coin condition
That said, these coins share several features and qualities. For example, all 1981 Washington quarters are the same weight and size, and all (except some error coins) are struck on planchets consisting of a distinct mix of metals.
Here’s a concise breakdown of the features and specifications that link all 1981 Washington quarters:
- They’re primarily made of copper (75% copper, 25% nickel)
- They weigh 5.67 grams (about 0.2 ounces)
- They’re 24.3 millimeters (about 0.96 inches) in diameter
- They have reeded (ridged) edges
How Much Is a 1981 Washington Quarter Worth?
According to Greysheet, a 1981-P Washington quarter in circulated condition is worth $0.25. This quarter can be worth $0.35 to $300 or more in uncirculated condition.
1981 Washington Quarter: Value Comparison
The U.S. Mint struck more than a billion Washington quarters in 1981, not including 4 million proof strike quarters destined for private collections. Because so many of these quarters were produced, and they’re relatively contemporary (being less than 50 years old), they’re not the most valuable types of Washington quarters collectors can obtain.
This could be a positive for coin collectors looking to invest in more affordable pieces. After all, 1981 Washington quarters in uncirculated MS-60 condition often sell for as little as $1 apiece.
That said, it’s worth noting that some 1981 Washington quarters are worth more than $0.25, especially when in stellar condition.
As with many other U.S. coins, the value of any given 1981 Washington quarter depends on its rarity and condition (represented by coin grade). Regular strike (for-circulation) quarters in mint-state condition (typically MS-65 or higher) can sell for far more than those in good (G-4) condition.
Proof strike 1981 Washington quarters can also be quite valuable, particularly rarer Type 2 pieces in flawless (PR-70) condition. It’s important to remember that proof 1981 quarters are scarcer than their regular strike counterparts, which could make them valuable assets for long-term collections.
Unsure how much your 1981 Washington quarter might be worth? Let’s break down the values of these coins (by mint mark and condition) to help you generate an estimated value for your 1981 quarters.
1981-P Washington Quarter Value
In 1981, the Philadelphia Mint struck just over 601 million quarters, slightly more than the Denver Mint. It’s believed that over 180 million of these quarters are still around today, either in circulation or in private collections. As a result, the 1981 Washington quarter is the most common type of quarter produced in 1981.
Despite the coin’s commonness, it has the highest estimated maximum value of any 1981 Washington quarter. This higher worth likely stems from the fact that it’s a heavily circulated coin.
Coins that are heavily circulated aren’t often found in uncirculated condition, so 1981-P Washington quarters that earn a grade of MS-67 are rare and valuable.
Still, 1981-P Washington quarters in good (G-4) and about uncirculated (AU-50) condition are only worth about $0.25. Only those in MS-67 condition fetch prices of $300 or more.
1981-D Washington Quarter Value
The Denver Mint struck over 575 million Washington quarters in 1981, roughly 35% of which are believed to exist today.
Like 1981-P quarters, 1981-D Washington quarters were produced explicitly for circulation. But, unlike quarters struck at the Philadelphia Mint, 1981 Washington quarters struck at the Denver Mint feature a mint mark, a capital “D” found behind Washington’s hair tie (on the obverse face).
The value of a 1981-D Washington quarter in good (G-4) or about uncirculated (AU-50) condition is only $0.25, the same as newly-minted quarters produced this year. However, an MS-67 1981-D Washington quarter has an estimated value of $130, making it 520 times more valuable than those with lesser grades.
1981-S Proof Washington Quarter Value
The San Francisco Mint is the only U.S. Mint facility that produced proof strike Washington quarters in 1981. This facility struck 4.063 million quarters that year, all of which display the highly coveted deep cameo effect.
This effect (primarily only found on proof coinage) shows a dramatic tonal difference between a quarter’s recessed portions (the field or background) and its raised areas (the devices, mottos, and legends).
The field of a deep cameo coin is very dark, almost black. In contrast, the raised portions are silvery, giving the coin a two-tone effect.
But while all 1981-S Washington quarters are deep cameo pieces, they’re available in two varieties:
- Type 1 (Filled S), and
- Type 2 (Clear S)
The rarer of these types of Type 2, which is why Type 2 1981-S Proof quarters have a higher estimated worth.
1981-S Type 1 Proof quarters (Filled S) have an “S” mint mark on their obverse sides. This mint mark has a “filled in” look, with the spaces between the S’s curves appearing slightly raised.
Because proof quarters aren’t designed for circulation (and only rarely enter circulation), most are in uncirculated proof condition. The value of a 1981-S Type 1 Washington quarter varies between $4 (PR-67) and $22 (PR-70).
1981-S Type 2 Proof quarters (Clear S) also feature an “S” mint mark on their obverse sides. But the Type 2 variety has a slightly more defined mark. Although the Type 2 somewhat similar to the Type 1, it is distinguishable by the flattened top surface of the S. Some collectors argue that the S must be clear in both loops, but most agree that the S must be clear in both loops.
This type is harder to find, making the Type 2 Proof 1981-S Washington quarter slightly more valuable. The estimated worth of this coin varies between $7 (PR-67) and $145 (PR-70).
1981 Washington Quarter: Rare Errors
Although most of the coins released by the U.S. Mint are error-free, discerning or fortunate coin collectors occasionally discover rare error coins. These pieces can be exceptionally valuable, making them sought-after collector’s items.
When discussing the 1981 Washington quarter, there are several rare errors that numismatists will want to take note of, including:
- The flip-over double strike error, and
- The incorrect planchet error
Let’s briefly discuss these errors to discover how they happen and how they influence coin values.
1981-D Washington Quarter Flip-Over Double Strike Error
A flip-over double strike error is when a coin is flipped over and struck twice, typically resulting in overlapping design images and unusual coin boundaries (i.e., a coin that isn’t perfectly round).
This error can result from poorly lubricated coin dies (causing coins to stick, fall and flip during the striking process) or faulty coin ejection mechanisms.
Flip-over double strike error quarters often have an amorphous shape. This unusual shape is due to the off-center strike they receive after flipping over, which can squeeze the planchet hard enough to make it warp. Flip-over double strike coins with a heavily altered appearance can be highly valuable.
For example, an MS-64 1981-D Flip-Over Double Strike error coin sold for $7,200 when it went to auction in 2020. For perspective, a non-error 1981-D Washington quarter in MS-64 condition has an estimated value of only $0.75!
1981-P Washington Quarter Incorrect Planchet Error
Occasionally, the wrong type of metal planchet is fed between quarter coin dies, resulting in quarters that aren’t made of the standard copper-to-nickel ratio. This happened semi-frequently throughout 1981, most notably at the Philadelphia Mint.
As such, you can find 1981 Washington quarters struck on several types of incorrect planchet types, including those for:
- Centavos (Dominican Republic)
These “wrong planchet” error quarters can sell for hundreds of dollars at auction. In 2018, a 1981-P Washington quarter struck on a one-cent penny planchet sold for $960.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have lingering questions about the 1981 Washington quarter? Check out these frequently asked questions to discover more about this coin!
How Many 1981 Washington Quarters Exist Today?
It’s thought that approximately 382 million regular strike 1981 Washington quarters (those struck at the Denver Mint and Philadelphia Mint) exist today. That’s only 32.4% of the total number of for-circulation quarters struck in 1981. However, it’s possible that most of the 4 million proof strike 1981 Washington quarters survive to the current year.
Why Don’t 1981 Washington Quarters Contain Silver?
Many older quarters contain a significant amount of silver, but that isn’t true of 1981 Washington quarters. That’s because the U.S. Mint stopped producing silver dimes and quarters due to the Coinage Act of 1965.
At that time, there was a shortage of silver, and the value of this precious metal had risen to a point where coins made of it were inherently more valuable (because of the amount of silver they contained) than their listed denomination, resulting in a financial loss for the U.S. Mint.
What’s the Most Ever Spent at Auction for a 1981 Washington Quarter?
The non-error 1981 Washington quarter auction record was set in November 2007. A PR-70 1981-S Type 2 Proof Deep Cameo Washington quarter sold at auction (Heritage Auctions) for $2,530.
The 1981 Washington quarter isn’t as valuable as many quarters produced before 1965. The 1981 quarter value varies depending on the mint mark, strike type (regular or proof), and coin condition. Heavily circulated 1981 quarters are generally worth $0.25.
However, pieces in uncirculated condition (MS-65 or higher) and proof strike 1981 Washington quarters are worth more, with some having an estimated value of $300! The most valuable is the 1981-P Washington quarter in MS-67 condition.
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