Sunday, January 30, 2011

Collecting the 50 States Commemorative Quarter Coins

OK, did any of you get started on this nonsense back in 1999 when the first state quarters were struck?

My wife, way out of character and no coin collector, decided she would save "one of each." She sent away for this big, cardboard folder that had a map on it and a little hole for every state quarter to be issued. We dilligently kept a lookout for these coins to fill up the holes. One of the many jobs I had over the years at the PO was vending machine technician, so I had a fairly large pool of coins to scan.

The program was to run through completion in 2008. By that time I'd retired, and wasn't exposed to coins much any longer. We missed what I thought were a couple of the later ones. In the meantime, I found a Puerto Rico in pocket change and wondered where that came from.

To close this project out, recently I stopped in a coin store to get UT and AK, the two presumed missing quarters. While there, I asked about PR and found out the government had gone past the 50 states and also issued a piece for DC and each of the US possessions, so I had to get one each of these for the sake of completion (or compulsion).

In the meantime, I'd picked up a blue Whitman coin folder made for these quarters. This was much more compact than the huge folder we originally had, so I undertook to transfer the coins over to it. I got all 50 coins plus DC and the territories installed and still had a bunch of empty holes. Whaaat? I've now discovered that not only am I not finished, I'm far from it. Turns out, they minted these things at both Philadelphia and Denver mints. Living out west, I have mostly D's. So now I have to find 47 P's and three D's to complete. Fooey. I may just call it good to have one design of each and poo on mint marks. After all, they won't be worth over a quarter apiece in my lifetime and maybe not for 200 years. Not to mention the ravages of time against the current value of money. In 200 years, they will likely have a purchasing power of one cent apiece.

So I guess I have to be content with admiring the different designs on the backs of these coins. Some of them, anyway. The design committees or whoever selected the individual state designs worked at varying levels of aesthetic competence. Some designs are beautiful, some are handsome, some are cluttered, some are ugly, and some are just plain stupid. Without intending to make a statement about the state involved, here are some of the designs that I like:

CT, with the Charter Oak
MS, with the magnolia blossoms
MO, with the Louis & Clark explorer paddling their canoe in 1804 with the Gateway to the West in the 2004 background
KS, with the bison and sunflower
NV, with the wild mustangs, one of my favorites
CO, with the Rocky Mountains scene
ND, with the pair of bison
MT, for sure with the steer skull and landscape in background, very nice design
ID, with the falcon, outline of state, and motto. I don't normally like designs with the state outline, but the falcon trumped that on this one. Bird depictuion could be better, though
WY, with the bucking bronco
OK, with the flycatcher (bird) in flight over flowers
AZ, with the Grand Canyon in the background and desert flora in the foreground. Very nice design with integrated but unbusy themes.
AK, nice design with the grizzly bear

The design of my own state of WA I rate as fair, depicting a leaping salmon in mid-air with Mt. Rainer in the background. Multiple themes but not busy; could be a single wildlife scene.

Now in my opinion only, the following are stinkers:

TN, which celebrates musical heritage with pictures of random musical instruments. This is a case, as with a few other states, where they chose to select a theme other than something of natural or historical importance. It could be worse.

IA, my parents's home state. This design shows a school house in a Grant Wood drawing with the motto, "Foundation in Education." An admirable concept to honor, and this is a clear example where the state chose to celebrate an idea and tradition rather than some other, tangible topic. I don't like the design.

Many states chose to put a map of their state in the design in some way. As I said before, I don't overly care for these map designs because they do not much celebrate anything but the existence of the state. NM, however, has a pretty stylish version with their Zia sun symbol state emblem super-imposed upon it.

WI has a steer's head, a round of cheese and an ear of corn on it. Need I say more?

Some states chose busy designs that would cover multiple subjects, like LA, AR, FL, IL, SC. Some of these efforts were more successfully executed than others. Some looked cluttered and busy.

A couple of the worst, only in my own opinion, are:

DC, with a picture of Duke Ellington and a piano. Now I know that Ellington was a talented and popular musician. But so many other historical events and places are connected with DC that I just have to wonder about this choice.

AL, with a picture of Helen Keller sitting in a chair. Honestly, when I first saw this coin, I thought it was a picture of "Old Sparky" the electric chair and the state was celebrating capital punishment. The artwork is horrible, and although the story of Ms. Keller is famous and touching, is that the most important thing the state is known for??

All of these designs of course represent symbolism particular to a given place. Some artists and design committees have interpreted their charge in different ways. My own preference is for something beautiful, often a single theme, that is representational of what is celebrated and not necessarily purely objective.

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