California state quarter
U.S. Mint
The design of the California quarter, to be released in late January or early February, caused some grumbling among Californians, but the U.S. Mint says the 10-year series is the most successful coin program in its history.
By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
updated 12/3/2004 7:01:02 PM ET 2004-12-04T00:01:02

Five more states will join the roll call next year of those rattling around in Americans’ pockets thanks to the United States Mint’s 50 State Quarters series. If previous issues are any guide, the new quarters will be phenomenally popular, perpetuating rising interest in redesigned coins that could lead to a new look for the penny by 2009, the Mint’s director said Friday.

The Mint has been rolling out five of the state quarters every year since 1999, in the order the states joined the union. First up for 2005, in late January or early February, will be California, followed later in the year by Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas and West Virginia.

The interest driven by the state quarters — and by the release this year and next of four designs of the nickel commemorating the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition — has caught the eye of Mint officials, led by Henrietta Holsman Fore, the Mint’s director, who has prided herself on bringing a private-sector business mentality to operations.

While Congress ultimately decides what new coins the Mint will produce, the centennial of the Lincoln penny in 2009 (which is also the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth) presents an enormous opportunity, Fore said in an interview Friday.

“We do anticipate the penny will have a chance for a redesign,” Fore said, noting that a commission was working with Congress on ways to honor Lincoln’s bicentennial.

“All of us Americans have a great affection for brand new shiny pennies,” she said. “... We anticipate that there might be a series of new pennies to show Lincoln at different times in his life.”

Quarters give no quarter
The benchmark is the series of quarters honoring each state in the order it entered the union. As of the last fiscal year — the latest for which complete figures are available — the Mint had made about $4 billion from them, making the quarters “the most successful coin program in United States history,” Fore said.

Americans “do not just collect the state quarter for the state in which they live, but they are also collecting quarters of the state they grew up in, the state they moved to or once lived in, and then they begin to be caught up in the history of the United States,” she said. “... I think the numbers are going higher.”

But not everyone has been so enthusiastic. Some collectors have complained that many of the quarters’ designs —which are winnowed down by each state, with input from the Mint and two federal committees — have been chosen not to create controversy, while graphic designers have grumbled that some of them are uninspired and cluttered.

Of next year’s issue, California’s design, chosen by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, was the most contentious.

The quarter, designed by Los Angeles graphic artist Garrett Burke, features environmental activist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, posed against Yosemite National Park’s famous Half Dome peak, with an endangered California condor flying overhead.

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Many Californians said in surveys and letters to newspapers that they were unhappy with the design, because Muir was not a particularly well-known state icon. Better choices, they said, would have been rejected designs featuring a gold miner or a grizzly bear.

While they might not approve, the public at large has made its enthusiasm clear, Fore said. New research by the Mint indicates that the quarters have made collectors out of as many as 140 million people, about one person for every household.

Sure to be a hit, too, is the Kansas quarter, which should be out in the second half of next year. The coin will feature the image of a buffalo, reminiscent of the famous 1913-38 nickel.

“We think it will be very popular,” Fore said. “Americans do love” the old buffalo nickel.

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