The State Quarter series is easily the most successful numismatic program of all time. It generated over $3.8 billion in seigniorage for the government, and nearly half of all Americans collected the coins to some extent. Over 30 billion of the coins were minted, more than double quarter production in previous decades. However, other coin series aimed at the general public have not had the same success. After initial interest, the public largely stopped using or collecting the Sacajawea dollars, as well as the earlier Susan B. Anthony dollars (1979-1981) and Bicentennial series.
So what made the State Quarters stick around? These quarters differed from other collectible series in five key areas:
Those interested in the coins didn’t have to go to coin shops or dealers to get the coins. They could find them in their change at any store, often at a local bank or retail outlet. It wasn’t uncommon for people to ask retail clerks if they could get the new quarters in their change. Even people who had no intention of collecting the coins as a series often tended to hang on to the new designs when they found them.
Each coin could be acquired for face value, making the state quarters one of the most affordable collectible coin sets in modern history. Anyone could collect a whole set for under $15. It was perfect for kids and casual collectors, and many Americans with no interest in numismatics not only collected all 50 designs, but bought special holders to display their collections.
With five new designs released every year for a decade, there was always a new design to get excited about. Every handful of change became an adventure: is this a new quarter? Do I already have this one? The designs were unlike any of the designs on currently circulating coins, and the idea that each state had a chance to present a design to represent its culture and history was endlessly fascinating. Why did Ohio’s coin have an astronaut on it? Why did West Virginia feel that the New River Gorge bridge was the best imagery for their state?
People love stuff that’s about them. During the State Quarters run, everyone wanted a quarter with their own state design on it. Those living in states that had joined the country more recently waited patiently for years to get their state’s coins. Some states held design contests for their quarters. This was no grand, classic, federal coin: these coins were personal.
Many of the coins feature images from national and state folklore. The Charter Oak on the Connecticut quarter is said to have been used as a hiding place for the Royal Charter, when the governor-general tried to revoke it. Local tradition also holds that the tree was first planted by English settlers and Native Americans as a symbol of peace between the two peoples.
Fun and Social
Never underestimate the simple value of fun. It was fun to poke through change to see if there was a new design. It was fun to compare coins with friends and coworkers, to examine each new design, try to figure out what it was and why it was chosen. It was fun to discuss what sort of design you would have created to represent your state. It was a starting point for many conversations, at offices, businesses, and schools. These coins brought people together in a way most large coin series haven’t. People wanted to talk about them, to show them off, to share and trade them with each other.
While other coin series have been carefully planned and designed, any series that doesn’t take into account the human factor is doomed to be relegated only to collectors and historians.
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