The Most Successful Coin Program in US Mint History: The 50 State Quarters
The most successful coin program that the US Mint has ever produced gave the American people 50 new coin designs over the course of ten years. The State Quarters breathed new life into numismatics by introducing coin collecting to a new generation in a way that was familiar to longtime collectors.
The State Quarters program was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on December 1, 1997. Starting in 1999, and going for the next ten years, the US Mint released 50 new reverse designs for the Washington Quarter. To give each state reverse a full canvas to create a design, changes were also made to the obverse of the design. Mint sculptor-engraver William Cousins modified the Washington obverse to include the phrases “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “QUARTER DOLLAR”. The phrase “E PLURIBUS UNUM” was kept at the bottom of each state’s reverse.
Every year, 5 new reverse designs were released in the order that the states entered the United States. The first design was for the state of Delaware with the phrase “THE FIRST STATE” next to a full-body image of Founding Father Caesar Rodney on horseback. This design was chosen by the people of Delaware, as each State Quarter design was created by and voted on by residents of that state.
Each state was responsible for choosing a design that would tell the story of each state by depicting specifically tailored designs that were emblematic of each state’s unique history, traditions, and symbols. Just as President Theodore Roosevelt believed that coins were an extension of a country’s identity, these new State Quarter designs would further that idea. These varied designs showcased new coin designers and expanded on the concept of beautifying coinage that Roosevelt started with Augustus Saint-Gaudens during the American Coinage Renaissance.
These coins brought collectors back to the roots of the hobby. Most complete collections of state quarters were put together by looking through pocket change, as a result a vast majority of these full sets are established using circulated mint state coins. No Mint State 70 examples of the first five issues exist. In fact, finding any example of a State Quarter in MS70 condition is exceedingly difficult. Even MS69 examples are extremely rare. Those seeking perfect or nearly perfect coins would stick to the proof issues.
Minted for collectors, proof issues of the State Quarters were struck in both silver and clad. These coins were specially struck multiple times under high pressure and individually handled to avoid scuffs and scratches. Proof Clad Quarters display copper on the reeded edge while Silver Quarters will display a silver looking edge.
The 38th Director of the United States Mint, Ed Moy, confirmed that when the program was completed during his tenure, over 147 million Americans were collecting the State Quarters series. This was the biggest surge in the modern numismatic collector base. By creating the State Quarter program, the excitement of coin collecting was instilled in a new generation of young numismatists.