Mediocracy in Action: The Statehood Quarters
Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University
of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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I got a query about this page from someone at a coin magazine. I told him I
was a casual collector, and that in my opinion, "serious" collectors had ruined
numismatics ("serious" hobbyists ruin every hobby they touch - the
very expression "serious" hobbyist is an oxymoron) by turning it into
a status competition and investment scheme. I never heard back from him.
The idea of putting out 50 distinct quarters commemorating each state was one
of the most exciting ideas to come out of Washington in a long time. Now
thatit's done, overall the project merited maybe a C+. In
some states sectional rivalries prevented the selection of a really distinctive
landmark. In other states the designs are cluttered, or leave so much blank
space the designs are bland and boring. Commercial interests probably dictated
Vermont's klutzy maple syrup motif instead of a covered bridge, and Wisconsin's
dairy products instead of a French fur trader.
But the real killer is Political Correctness. We have two designs
commemorating the Revolution, none at all commemorating the Civil War. We can
thank the increasingly mean-spirited tendency to equate honoring Confederate
soldiers with approving slavery for that. Can you even believe Texas passed on the
Alamo? We don't as yet have a single design featuring any Indian figures,
events, or artifacts, or any significant black history apart from Louisiana's
jazz trumpet. My sympathy for the Indians is tempered by the opposition
of some activists to Indian mascots and symbols; they brought it on themselves.
The fina 20 quarters were designed by artists at the Mint
based on ideas selected by the states. That might hav improved quality, but bear in
mind these are the same people who started with the elegant, classically
inspired Barber-Morgan coins in 1900 and had given us the most hideously bland
coins in history by 1960, then capped it off with the Susan B. Ugly dollar.
Still, the 2005 and 2006 designs were significantly better than the earlier
designs. But the 2007 designs feature three of the worst
designs of all, including Wyoming's probable all time worst of the lot.
- Delaware B
- Delaware isn't exactly teeming with images for most people, so I
wondered what their quarter would look like. Like most people, I wondered
what in the world the picture of Caesar Rodney on horseback was all about.
Then I saw 1776, probably the most intelligent musical around. Rodney
was elderly and ill with cancer when he rode on horseback to Philadelphia to
cast his state's deciding vote for the Declaration of Independence. Suddenly
I had a whole lot more respect for Delaware's quarter. Visually it's not
exciting, but it may well be the most meaningful.
- Pennsylvania C
- The first state outline, with a keystone and the Commonwealth
statue. Why not Gettysburg or Valley Forge? Independence Hall and the
Liberty Bell are out because they've been used on the half dollar
(remember those?) but why not a facsimile of the beginning of the
Declaration of Independence?
- New Jersey B
- Washington crossing the Delaware. This and Massachusetts are apparently the only designs
to commemorate any military events in our history.
- Georgia C
- State outline and a peach. Okay at the time but the outline maps
quickly got repetitious.
- Connecticut D
- I really liked the Charter Oak when it came out. Historical and very
different. Now I think it's simply a busy way to fill blank space.
- Massachusetts B
- The state outline with a Minute Man. Predictable, but the Minute Man
is large enough to be visually interesting and balance the state
- Maryland F
- One of the very worst. A rendering of the state capital dome with
absolutely nothing to indicate why it's significant, and the meaningless
nickname "Old Line State," surrounded by blank space to
heighten the blandness. And it's slightly lopsided as if to accentuate
the overall ineptitude. Why not something about Chesapeake Bay? Or
the siege of Fort McHenry and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner?
- South Carolina C
- The now-standard collage of state outline and emblems reached full
flower here. I thought "eighth in, first out" would be a killer motto,
but Political Correctness ruled otherwise.
- New Hampshire A
- The Old Man of the Mountain. What else could it be? More poignant
now that the profile has collapsed.
- Virginia C
- Commemorating Jamestown is appropriate, but Appomattox is a lot more
significant. The ships are too tiny.
- New York C
- Outline map and Statue of Liberty. At least the map shows accurate
topography. A pre-9/11 Manhattan skyline
would have been tremendously poignant in retrospect.
- North Carolina B
- North Carolina is proud of hosting the first flight, but really, all
it provided was the wind. All the developmental work was done in Ohio.
But it's visually interesting and a significant historical event.
- Rhode Island B
- The first basically non-representational design, showing a sailboat
and suspension bridge rather than a specific state symbol or historical
event. Nice idea but flat and lifeless. See if the Canadians will let
you copy the sailboat on their dime.
- Vermont C
- Our best chance to get a design with a covered bridge was tossed
aside in favor of a grade-school cartoon of maple syrup gathering.
- Kentucky C
- My Old Kentucky Home features a farmhouse and paddock. Concept, not
bad; execution amateurish. Why not the distinctive twin turrets of
- Tennessee B
- Tennessee identified itself with country music in one of the more
fitting if not exciting designs. Unlike a lot of states they stuck to a
- Ohio C
- Ohio will not give up its claim on the Wrights, and worked in John
Glenn and Neil Armstrong as well. On a state outline.
- Louisiana C
- The Louisiana purchase is significant, the pelican evokes Louisiana,
but the tiny trumpet clutters the design. If you really want to
commemorate New Orleans, then do it.
- Indiana B
- Another outline map with logo, but the rakish angle of the Indy
racer and the circlet of 19 stars make it more interesting than most.
- Mississippi B
- Two magnolia blossoms. Pretty and appropriate, but why didn't a single state
along the Mississippi do a steamboat?
- Illinois F
- Ee-yuck. Abe Lincoln is chopped off at the knees by an outline map
of Illinois, with a Chicago skyline in the background, too tiny to be
easily recognizable. Apparently people wouldn't recognize the outline of
Illinois if Lincoln was superimposed in front of it.
- Alabama D
- Helen Keller isn't what most people picture when they think of
Alabama, but part of me likes the idea for that very reason. The Braille
text is unique. But she's seated in a chair with her legs cut off,
looking more like an advocate for multiple amputees. The moment
immortalized in The Miracle Worker where Helen grasps the
connection between signs and their meaning would have been priceless. The last state in
the heartland of the Confederacy passed up the last chance to
commemorate either the Civil War or cotton.
- Maine D
- A lighthouse and schooner, totally appropriate, but stiff and
lifeless. The lighthouse is an actual lighthouse (Pemaquid Point) but
looks generic, like someone in Nebraska's idea of a scene in Maine. The
rocks have all the realism of early Star Trek papier mache, and
the sea and sky are totally lacking in character. The
Portland Head Light is far more picturesque and recognizable. Great concept, major
failure at execution. I would have preferred the view of Frenchman's Bay
from Cadillac Mountain myself.
- Missouri D
- Another great concept but total failure in execution. Lewis and
Clark setting off up the Missouri with the Gateway Arch in the
background. Unlike one reviewer, I don't have a problem with the
anachronism. If you're looking to portray an event literally,
anachronism is a problem; if you're looking to portray historical
significance, then juxtaposing past and present can be very effective.
But it looks more like the three men in the tub from the nursery
rhyme. Apparently the quarter botched the winning design so badly that
some Missourians took to pasting stickers with the original design on it
in protest. The original design was far better than the final result -
in fact, Missouri had so many outstanding design ideas it looks like
someone who hates Missouri picked the worst possible one.
- Arkansas B
- One reviewer bashed the diamond, which commemorates the former
diamond mine in Arkansas. To me, the rigid geometry of the diamond contrasts
nicely with the natural features. One of the better designs. I think it
works because it fills most of the space and everything is big enough to
- Michigan C
- A map of the Great Lakes. Ho hum.
- Florida D
- More is less. They tried to work in the Space Shuttle, a Spanish
galleon, and palm trees, making them all so tiny they lack visual
impact, so less is less, too.
- Texas F
- What complete wuss decided not to use the Alamo? A state outline
with a Lone Star. Insipid beyond belief. It could have been worse. One
of the finalist designs was a nine-banded armadillo. Suggested motto for
that alternate reality: "Road kill."
- Iowa C
- A country schoolhouse. One of the Bridges of Madison County would
have been more interesting as well as more recognizable to outsiders.
One favored design finalist was Grant Wood's American Gothic,
which didn't make it because of copyright concerns (bet Iowa could have
fixed that if they'd put their minds to it. Better yet, in return for
protecting your intellectual property rights, we have a right to put
your work on coins and stamps?). Only a complete imbecile
could look at American Gothic and think it portrays Iowa in a
favorable light. The quarter isn't
as dull as the pre-release sketches suggested, but a quarter is just not
big enough to portray a panoramic scene.
- Wisconsin C
- In an act of daring courage, the governor vetoed the recommendation
of the voters to go with a French trapper greeting an Indian. It was
badly done, but historical, and would have been the first - believe it
or not - statehood quarter to include an Indian. He decided instead in
favor of a cow, ear of corn, and cheese wheel. Really. In defense of
this design, it's the first to commemorate the importance of agriculture
in America. Also, it looks better in reality than the preliminary
drawings. But the state motto, "Forward," puzzles even Wisconsin
residents. Given the state's hostility to technology, the motto should
be "No Change, No Way," or maybe "NIMBY." But it looks better than the
- California A
- John Muir, a California condor, and Half Dome. Either the condor or
Half Dome alone would have worked better, but overall not bad. There's a
unifying theme of conservation. Like Alabama, perhaps, the design tries to show
California would like to be pictured. Maybe a more truthful design would be Muir
looking at Yosemite on a busy weekend and weeping. California is teeming with so many great
symbols (the Golden Gate Bridge, redwoods, Monterey, Santa Barbara Mission, Mount
Whitney, even Dragnet's L.A. City Hall) that I
was worried that conflicting interests would end up giving us a bland
state outline map or generic state symbols. Half Dome is an ideal landmark since it's in the
center of the state.
- Minnesota B
- A northwoods lake with loon and boat, and small state outline.
Certain to get ribbing by comparison with Canada's "loonie," but what's
silly about showing a loon to represent the far north? It's not the
loon Canadians despise, it's the coin. Unlike Europeans, who
long ago gave up on the trivialization of their money, North Americans have
the feeling that dollars need to be bills, not coins. The loonie could
have had Pamela Anderson's Playboy centerfold and still been despised.
The Susan B. Anthony dollar was rightly scorned for its repulsiveness,
but the elegant Sacagawea dollar fared little better. Since we're way
off topic already, a Canadian gave me a great nickname for their two
dollar coin. It has a picture of a polar bear, and I'd heard it called a
"twonie" by analogy with "loonie." But he said it's also called a "moonie"
because it has a picture of the Queen "with a bear behind."
- Oregon A
- When you think Oregon, you think Crater Lake, right? So there was
every reason to fear the generic interests in the state would probably end up giving us a stack of logs on
an outline map of the state, or maybe yet another Lewis and Clark
design. Well guess what? It was Crater Lake after all. A beacon in the darkness.
The final design is slightly marred by poor cropping at the bottom.
- Kansas B
- Bison and sunflowers. Probably much to the chagrin of other Plains
states, who wanted buffalo, too. The bison is nearly head-on, making the
coin easily distinguishable from buffalo nickels, and the sunflowers are
part of the landscape rather than disconnected symbols.
- West Virginia B
- The New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge is dramatic, and it sure
beats a strip mine. The actual coin looks very nice. I'm leaning toward
From here on (August 2004), designs hadn't been formalized, so I ventured
predictions. Comments after August,
2006 are in red.
- Anything connected with gambling would probably be unacceptable, and
we won't even talk about Nevada's unique local option on prostitution.
Still, how about a "double or nothing" quarter? Flip it at the cash
register. If it comes up tails you get to keep it and still count it
toward your purchase. Heads, you lose it plus you have to pay another
quarter. Realistically, something from Nevada's mining heritage would be nice.
The Pony Express would also be a possibility. Hoover Dam? Something
about Area 51 would be a hoot, but it won't happen.
The five design finalists are all excellent: wild
horses, a miner, bighorn sheep, Indian artifacts and a collage of state
symbols. Nevada is not a state you generally think of when you think of
bighorn sheep, but these are desert bighorns. The wild horses won.
The actual coin rates a B. The design is okay but just not that effective when
shrunk to the size of a quarter.
- Nebraska A
- Scott's Bluff on the Oregon Trail is such a natural it's a cinch we
won't see it. It's too far west and out of the Corn Belt. If Nevada
passes on the Pony Express, it would work here, too. There were
two good finalist designs: a covered wagon and
Chimney Rock, or Chief Standing Bear. I liked the first better.
Unfortunately there were two lame-o finalists as well: a picture of the
State Capitol and an Art Deco statue of a sower. The State Capitol
design featured the legend "Home of the Unicameral," rivaled for
meaninglessness only by Maryland's "Old Line State." (So you
have the only state legislature with one chamber. Whoopee.)
winner is Chimney Rock.
- Lots of mountains but none of them scream "Colorado." The Denver
skyline with mountains behind might be nice. Mesa Verde would be
wonderful but it's too far down in the southwest corner to appeal to
most of the state and it doesn't tout present industry or tourism. Bet
on a skier. And yup, a skier was one of the finalists, but not
recreational. Instead, one finalist commemorates the 10th Mountain
Division. Another design supposedly commemorates Mesa Verde although the
design is cluttered and all but unintelligible. There are two
nondescript mountain designs. The best design shows the Maroon Bells and
the legend "Centennial State." Colorado, the state that has a big C on
its flag, is certain to get no better than a C unless they go back to
the drawing board. The winner is one of the nondescript mountain
designs. But the Mint artists somehow did a likeness of Long's Peak in
Rocky Mountain National Park, instead. Not great, not as bad as
the proposed designs.
- North Dakota
- My first impulse is to suggest a totally blank coin (and unlike a
lot of folks who rib North Dakota, I have actually been to North
Dakota). Failing that, a
telephone pole and beer can with the captions "State Tree" and "State
Flower." The state is nearly a rectangle, so even the outline map gambit would be
bland. This is a state so desperate for symbols it touts the Peace
Garden on its license plates. Teddy Roosevelt is a possibility. To get
really daring, how about a missile silo commemorating the Cold War? How
about the slogan "Are we 39th or 40th?" - when the statehood bills were
signed for the Dakotas, President Benjamin Harrison shuffled the papers
to be fair, so technically, nobody knows. North Dakota is listed first
by custom because it's first alphabetically.
The two finalists are not bad. One pictures flying
geese, the other a herd of buffalo. Kansas has buffalo, too, but since
both coins are worth the same amount, no foul. The bison won. It's now
out (October 2006) and really looks nice. It fills the space effectively and the
texture of the background landscape is well executed. One of the best.
North Dakota, ya done good.
- South Dakota C
- Mount Rushmore is a natural, or the Badlands. Do the Crazy Horse
sculpture if you want to respect Indian sentiments. How about Wounded
Knee if you want to show you really have a conscience? Maybe a dinosaur
skeleton? Maybe the T-Rex Sue, with a scathing comment about the Federal
And the winner is Mount Rushmore with a pheasant
flying overhead. I give it a C for cluttering the design with a
pheasant, a bird you are guaranteed not to see flying anywhere
around Mount Rushmore.
- Montana F
- Glacier National Park, especially the postcard view looking up St.
Mary Lake, would be perfect. You can bet it won't be the Little Big
Horn. Montana doesn't have enough of Yellowstone to use.
AAAAGH! MY EYES! IT HURTS! MAKE THE PAIN GO AWAY! A bison
skull and some generic looking hills. Finally something as ugly as
Maryland's coin. You have got to be kidding here. I sat staring in
stunned disbelief for about five minutes when I looked up the winning
design. The three rejected finalists, an elk, a state outline with a
scenic sunrise, and a scenic vista, were all far better.
- Washington A
- Mount Rainier, the Space Needle, or coastal sea stacks would all
work. Mount Saint Helens erupting would really be original. The
Wenatchee satanic cult witch-hunt and the Kennewick Man fossil debacle
are probably too much downers.
The winner is a leaping salmon with Mount Rainier
in the background. If I gave pluses and minuses I'd be in the A- or B+
range, but not bad at all. The real coins tend to look better than the
flat designs. The losing candidates were an overly busy state outline
and montage of symbols, and an Indian whale design. The whale design,
though not as attractive as the winner, has a certain coolness and
whimsy about it that are appealing.
- Idaho F
- A group of survivalists holed up in a remote cabin? Probably not.
Bet on mountains or
mining. Idaho has a sliver of Yellowstone but nothing distinctive.
Craters of the Moon or Hell's Canyon are possibilities.
The winner is a bust of a peregrine falcon with a
small outline of the state. Some Idahoans are petitioning to have the
design changed. I'm not getting into whether the falcon is a
representative symbol of Idaho, but the design itself is ug-leee.
None of the three other finalists had much going for them. Best by far
was a farmland-mountain vista. Another mountain vista was amateurishly
chopped off at the bottom. Third was a state outline with some kind of
flowering branch and a song lyric rivaled only by Nebraska's proposed
"home of the unicameral" and Maryland's "Old Line State" for silliness.
- Wyoming F
- Old Faithful, Yellowstone Falls, Devil's Tower or the Tetons would make great
designs, but we'll probably get a cowboy.
What's going on here? After a couple of years of
designs way above average, we're getting a string of losers. This one is
the worst of all, even uglier than Maryland and Montana. Three of
the four other finalists showed a cowboy and bronco. Only one showed a
natural feature - Old Faithful. The "winner" is even more banal than the
losers. The cowboy is in silhouette with no background or texture. The
only other feature is the state nickname, "The Equality State." How
about "The Total Lack of Original Ideas State?" It's out now,
and even uglier than I thought. Hands down the ugliest Statehood
- Utah B
- I'd love to see the joining of the rails at Promontory Point but we
may well get a state outline and a beehive. Rainbow Bridge, Zion Canyon
or Bryce Canyon would also be good. One early
unofficial proposal (December 2005) shows Delicate Arch in Arches
National Park. This will be very hard to top. And Hooray! It is
the Golden Spike! The published design is sort of blah but may improve
in the final execution. The other two finalists were a beehive and a
snowboarder. The design would have been improved by zooming in closer to
show just the fronts of the engines and leaving the spike out, but not
- By September 2007, all the designs are in.
Oklahoma - yawn - has the state bird and flower. Pretty but so ho-hum.
Now that it's out, I give it a B. That's an average of A for esthetics
and D for originality and ignoring the many cultural icons Oklahoma
could have chosen.
- New Mexico
- Taos Pueblo, or better yet Acoma, would be wonderful. Carlsbad
Caverns might work. Do we dare
commemorate the Manhattan Project? Instead we'll probably get that sun
sign from the license plates. Please God, not Kokopelli.
As of December 2005, there are two proposed
designs. One is the Albuquerque hot air balloon festival, which I hadn't
thought of but which might work really well. And the other is - yes - a
mushroom cloud. I'm not betting on that one. As of January 2007, other
ideas include Shiprock and a classic car driving down Route 66 into the
sunset. That one won't fly, but it's a nice idea. "New Mexico's quarter
design is simple, artistic and intriguing," said Governor Bill
Richardson when he unveiled the design, a zia (the sun symbol on New
Mexico's license plates) superimposed on a state outline - for the most
nearly square state in the Union. Simple, yes. Artistic and intriguing?
It actually looks a bit better in real life. The square state contrasts
with the circular outline of the coin. But considering the myriad
symbols that could have represented New Mexico better, it's blah.
- Arizona B
- Has to be the Grand Canyon. Meteor Crater would be spectacularly
original, so forget it. A saguaro cactus wouldn't be a bad symbol. And
the winner includes both the Grand Canyon and a saguaro.
Also the legend "Grand Canyon State" for the benefit of people who
couldn't figure out what that hole in the ground is. And a
sunset. Looks awfully busy but it might be better in reality.
- Alaska C
- The state flag with the Big Dipper and Polaris was unique and should
be part of it. Denali would be perfect, or a glacier. Work in the aurora
borealis somehow. It would be interesting to know how many people
suggested penguins. The mediocrats passed over a
design with a dog sled and Denali in favor of a grizzly bear catching a
- Hawaii B
- The postcard view of Diamond Head would work nicely.
The final design shows a map of the islands and a
figure of King Kamehameha. Esthetically it's a low B but I'd almost give
it an A for being the only state design to commemorate any native
history (two if you count New Mexico's zia).
A great idea sank to mediocrity through political correctness and
just plain bland thinking.
- Only two coins (Massachusetts and New Jersey) commemorate any military
history at all.
- Not a single coin commemorates the Civil War.
- Only two coins celebrate any native heritage at all and only one
(Hawaii) makes a real statement.
- A number (Vermont and Wisconsin especially) came out with mediocre
designs to placate commercial interests. I went out and bought a case of
maple syrup and a truckload of cheese because of these designs. If you
produce maple syrup or cheese and you think the statehood quarters will
influence your design in the slightest, you're too stupid to be in
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