Editor?s note: This is the second part of Philip M. Lo Presti?s review of the 50 states quarter designs. The initial installment, addressing the first 25 designs, appeared in the June 17 issue of Numismatic News.
Here we continue my evaluation of the artistic merit of the 50 states quarters.
I have been collecting coins for nearly 40 years, have been a photographer for more than 30 of those years and an artist for part of that time.
Please keep in mind as you read that I am not delving into why a design was chosen for a state or how it was chosen. I am only commenting on what I believe is good, not so good or even poor coin design.
We start out this time with state and quarter No. 26, Michigan.
This coin design is just plain-old dull. Nothing to it, in my opinion. It features the outline of the state and the Great Lakes and also includes the text GREAT LAKE STATE. That?s about it, ?all she wrote,? as they say, on this particular coin. Not artistic at all. Looks like they didn?t even try to mint something nice.
Sorry, this was another total failure of a design to me. Even under magnification there is nothing to look at. It might be the most boring design in the state quarter program series ? but don?t throw it out, it?s still worth 25 cents!
Florida chose to depict a 16th century Spanish galleon and the Space Shuttle. A strip of land and several palm trees are also depicted on the reverse. ?Gateway to Discovery? is printed below in bold lettering.
The coin is cute, but again not all that interesting or inspiring as an artistic work. The galleon is sharply detailed while the shuttle is not. There seems to be a lot of empty space on this coin that could have been utilized better. I would say that this coin still works somehow but is not on the top of my list.
Next is Texas, and to mint something wonderful for the 28th state, the Texas quarter design had to be a real challenge. For such a big and powerful state, the quarter design was not as grand as it should or could have been. Features are an outline of the state (once again) with a Lone Star superimposed over the top. The coin also sports a rope design surrounding the main elements and the legend THE LONE STAR STATE.
The 25-cent piece looks kind of nice, in a way, and I like it somewhat, but again it is rather uninspiring. The state outline and the star are large for this size coin, taking up most of its surface, but because there are no other elements besides the ropes, their large size helps the overall balance of the coin. The design seems to work despite its otherwise lackluster elements.
Now Iowa has a beautiful little coin design! Our 29th quarter dollar is inspired by a painting by Iowa native Grant Wood, which is based on a painting titled ?Arbor Day.? It shows a small schoolhouse with children and adults planting trees. The text ?Foundation in Education? appears to the left and on top of the schoolhouse while the name of the painter, Grant Wood, appears below this tree-planting scene. The schoolhouse shows a great amount of detail on the front as well as the side of the building and the scene has rolling hills in the background.
You can clearly see this was taken from a nice work of art as the coin looks like a miniature painting. It works very well, looks smart and charming all at the same time. You almost want to transport yourself into that little scene. A great artistic piece you can hold in your hand. It looks unusually good in the business strike coins and looks even more exceptional in silver proof.
What could I say about the coin design for the 30th state? Well, the coin has a wheel of cheese on it! I love cheese, and eat a lot of the stuff, one of the reasons my cholesterol is so high, but I do not believe it belongs on coinage! Wisconsin?s quarter design also features the head of a Holstein cow and an ear of corn placed in back of the wheel of cheese, with a banner that says FORWARD on it below these images.
I am unaware as to what the banner is supposed to represent. The cow pictured is just a cow?s head, and the cheese is just a wheel of cheese with a slab cut from it. Nothing is really pretty about a cow?s head or wheel of cheese.
This coin ?stinks? as far as coin design goes. As you can see, I do not care for this silly coin design and do not think it works at all. But it does make me hungry.
2005 started the seventh year of state quarter coinage with the 31st quarter of the series, that for the wonderful state of California. This design displays an outdoor scene depicting wilderness explorer John Muir admiring Yosemite Valley. A California Condor flies above the mountains, and the words JOHN MUIR and YOSEMITE VALLEY appear on the coin.
I like this design as it looks arty and is nicely balanced and is easy to look at. All of its elements are well-detailed and it represents good coin making. For a coin of this size, the components are all in proportion. A desirable coin design with no flaws.
Minnesota?s quarter shows two people fishing in a motorboat on a lake with pine trees on a shoreline in the background. A loon is seen swimming in the foreground, and to the left is a considerable sized outline of the state ? again with the outline! ? with the text LAND OF 10,000 LAKES.
I give this coin high grades and really love its look, except for that darn state outline. I think it disrupts the whole coin design and believe the coin was just perfect without it. Consider the scene without it. Wouldn?t it be a better coin design? Looking past that element, the coin is sharply detailed, is pictured great and flows like a scene out of a magazine. This coin works despite that dratted feature. By the way, the design comes alive in the proof version of the coin.
Oregon, state 33, depicts an image of Crater Lake National Park. The design shows a view of the lake from the south rim, with trees in the foreground. You can see Wizard Island rising from the lake waters. The text CRATER LAKE appears above and to the left of the design.
This particular coin has no ?wow factor.? There is no focal point, no one thing that stands out on its surface. Your eye does not know where to look as there is no real point of interest. If it was a photograph, it would not be all that exciting. I will give it a passing mark anyway. I don?t know why. The coin doesn?t look very bad, it?s just not all that good. One looks at it fast and proceeds to the next coin.
Kansas shows a rather large image of a bison standing on a grassy surface. To the left of the bison is a cluster of large sunflowers. Kansas is known as the ?Sunflower State? and has also named the bison its state animal.
This quarter is terrific as far as eye appeal goes because of the detail and size of both the majestic bison and beautiful flowers. It is also very easy on the eyes because of the size of these elements. I wish more of the state quarter designs displayed larger, easy-to-see images. This is truly a wonderful work of art, and I think almost everybody would agree. Balance and artistic design are the name of the game with this perfect little coin. We all should be very proud of it. It really is beautiful!
West Virginia?s is another nice coin with picturesque scenery. The last state quarter issued in 2005, it features a nice view of the New River Gorge Bridge. The design shows the river along with the surrounding hills and trees. The text NEW RIVER GORGE can be seen just below the design in the water.
It?s a pretty coin with a fair amount of detail, but again I think it lacks that ?wow factor.? Maybe if this were a photograph, drawing or painting it would work better, but as a picture on a small coin, it is just ?acceptable? as a design in my opinion. I don?t dislike it, but feel perhaps a different angle of the bridge would have worked better. I do think it is a decent design, maybe I am just too picky and to critical. Let?s get ?over? this design and to the next quarter dollar.
Here come the 2006 state quarter designs, and the very first that year was for our 36th state. Nevada?s quarter design depicts a beautiful trio of wild stallions, snow-capped mountains and a blazing sun, all bordered by sagebrush and a banner under it all that reads THE SILVER STATE.
A magnificent coin design, I would say, a miniature masterpiece of metallic art. Undoubtedly one of the best in the entire series of the state quarters, this coin displays art at art?s best! Everything about this little gem is wonderful, from the layout of its components to the beauty of the horses to that powerful sun with its extending rays. In business strike coins, even slightly worn, as well as sharply minted proof silver, you cannot stop looking at this one. Detailed to perfection, this will be a favorite forever.
Nebraska pictures an ox-drawn covered wagon carrying pioneers in part of the design. It also depicts Chimney Rock, which is a natural wonder that rises from the valley of the North Platte River. A blazing sun is seen behind the wagon and the inscription CHIMNEY ROCK is located below its namesake.
While the coin shows another beautiful sun image, the second in a row on our state quarter coinage, it does not detract from the Nevada coin, nor does it make the image any less powerful. Many U.S. coins feature the sun, evoking power and light and wonder, and it works here.
This is another really beautiful coin, with great eye appeal, powerful arrangement of elements, superb layout and so much detail. The coin flows and talks to you and tells a story. You can look at this coin for a long time and find things you never noticed before. One time I thought I saw Clint Eastwood on its surface! Only kidding, but it does remind me of a scene out of a spaghetti western films.
Colorado is next in the 50 state line-up, No. 38, depicting the great Rocky Mountains with evergreen trees and a banner carrying the inscription COLORFUL COLORADO.
Not much more is going on with this coin and the design is not that bad. It is not as inspiring as the two previous coins, but all in all it?s a pretty coin. I am not sure a mountain range can be depicted all that well on a coin of this size, but I believe the design works as well as it can with the subject matter. For what it is, it?s a fair coin that shows the mountains and some trees. I imagine that perhaps a state animal in the foreground would have made it a more interesting coin. But as I said, it is not that poor a coin design, just not all the ?wonder and beauty? of the two coins minted before it.
The 39th state quarter has another Americana design: a pair of American bison in the foreground while a sunset view of the canyons that symbolize the state?s Badlands region appears in the background.
Another sun with rays and more American bison to me are welcome on the coin, and on our coinage in general. In addition, the depiction of the animals have amazing appeal, with nice detail. I love the size of the bison compared to the size of the coin, which once again makes it easy to see and nice to view. I compare it to our beautiful and classic Buffalo nickel of years ago. It is yet another winner in our long series of little works of art. I do like this one a great deal, and think most Americans will agree.
South Dakota, home of Mount Rushmore, depicts just that on its quarter. The sculpture carved out of a mountainside depicts the faces of four U.S. Presidents ? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The design on the coin also features an image of the state bird, a pheasant, in flight above the carved heads of the Presidents. On the sides of the coin, heads of wheat border its design.
Good overall design from an artistic point of view, but Mount Rushmore itself is fascinating so how could the coin look bad? We have had it on our coins before and they all look sort of the same. You really cannot make Rushmore look too different without taking some artistic license, and who would want to? The coin works well, and clearly you know what you are looking at. For its small size it is a nice rendition of the carved mountainside. I like it in circulating coinage.
Here we go, the start of 2007 with a coin design for the state of Montana. This coin shows something I have never seen on a U.S. coin; at least, I do not recall ever seeing it. Pictured in the center of the design is a skull of a bison above a landscape of mountains tapering into plains. The inscription BIG SKY COUNTRY appears in bold lettering to the right of the skull.
We have seen bison on our coins, in fact a few times on the state quarters as well as other U.S. coins. But a skull? I don?t like the skull, it doesn?t look ?nice? to me centered right in the middle of the coin as it dominates everything. I just don?t want to see the insides of a dead animal?s head, or anything else like that on my coinage. The skull may be done well as far as accuracy goes, but this coin just does nothing for me. Please keep the animals pictured alive on the coins and don?t show me their insides! Make no bones about it, I don?t like skeletons of any kind, and I do not like this coin!
I don?t know why I like this coin but I do. It portrays a King Salmon jumping out of the water with evergreens along the shoreline. In the background is a rendition of Mount Rainier. Also appearing on the coin is the nickname THE EVERGREEN STATE, which in capital lettering is located under the mountain range.
This state quarter is extremely detailed and I do love the salmon depiction! Maybe my appreciation is heightened because I am an aquatic artist and the heart of my work features fish drawings and sea life. Perhaps the view is something we have not seen before, and that is another reason why I tend to favor it. The coin works well and it is smart-looking, depicting a new and difficult subject to portray on a coin?s surface.
Idaho is next on the review board and you may not like my take on it. This quarter depicts a giant head-and-shoulder profile of a falcon facing right. The view of that bird actually frightens me! The state?s Latin motto, ESTO PERPETUA, which means ?May It Be Forever,? appears to the right of the falcon and a small state outline with a star, which indicates the state?s capital?s location.
You may know by now that I like the main image on the coin to be nice and large and easy to see, but this bird is huge for this size coin. I think it is really out of scale and the falcon looks very scary with its rather big eyeball. I also don?t like the use of the tiny state outline either. To me it looks like an afterthought to fill up some blank space.
Not a pretty or well-designed coin. Please do not inspect this coin too close, you might get your eye pecked out!
Wyoming is the 44th state and its quarter is the most unique. I know that I will not be popular with my view of this state?s coin design, but I really like this coin. It features something never done on a American coin, a silhouette of a bucking horse and its rider in an intriguing display of artistic wonder. The state?s nickname, THE EQUALITY STATE, is also inscribed on the coin to the right of the flat figures.
Now, you may say all I have mentioned is detail, detail and detail on nearly every design so far, but the lack of any detail is what makes this treasure something special. The blandness and the basic outline of rider and horse is something we never have seen, at least not on our beloved coinage. I seek something new and different all the time, and I love change, so this was a perfect new addition to this series of coins. The fact that it is so basic and so flat makes this coin very interesting indeed. It?s a little work of art, and even worn after years of circulation it will still look the same. Great job on that one!
Our 45th state brings us to the close of the year 2007 state quarter designs. This quarter?s reverse pictures with beautiful detail the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, featuring two locomotives facing one another with a large spike suspended between them. The text CROSSROADS OF THE WEST is incorporated into the design, placed above the trains, and a mountain range is seen in the background.
What can I say? It?s a nice coin, with a good balance and layout. The details are well done and it has good appeal all around. You like to look at this one, and trains are always interesting to view. The only thing that I do not care for is the giant spike. I think it is too big, but hey, the rest of the coin is great. Just try to ignore it when you admire this pretty coin. I think the balance of the coin is perfect. Enjoy the artistry of it and don?t be too critical like me.
The start of 2008 ? originally the last year of the 50 states quarter program ? brought a design depicting Oklahoma?s state bird, the Scissor-tail Flycatcher, in flight. The bird is soaring above the state wildflower, the Indian Blanket, in the middle of a field of similar wildflowers.
Here?s another coin with excellent detail and beautiful objects placed in the design, and perfect balance makes this a really nice coin. There are no state mottoes or banners of any kind, just a pretty arrangement of nature depicted and balanced on an easy-to-observe coin. The bird is large but not too big as to overwhelm the design. You just have to like this one, as there is nothing bad to say about it. I enjoy its beauty.
New Mexico has a very uninteresting coin. It depicts the Zia sun symbol, which is superimposed over a topographical outline of the state. The coin?s design also bears the inscription LAND OF ENCHANTMENT, which is placed to the left and bottom of the state.
First of all, I did not know what the Zia sun symbol is, and do not think that many people looking at it will know either. Second, they used a state outline once again. This is a bland design lacking character.
The quarter for the 48th state is an artistic little wonder! I have seen the coin in silver proof graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and it is a picturesque gem. This design has a beautiful, detailed image of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, with Arizona?s state flower, the Saguaro Cactus, in the foreground and another setting sun with rays emitting upward. Inscribed on the coin in banner form placed below the canyon are the words GRAND CANYON STATE.
The coin has a beautifully crafted scene and is perfectly detailed and balanced. It makes you want to go to Arizona to visit this great state and see this natural wonder yourself. This coin is ?that good? and deserves a lot of praise.
Next we have the delightful image for the 49th state, Alaska. This one has not been released in business strike form, but I?ve seen the silver proof version.
This is an unusually good design picturing a grizzly bear emerging from the water clutching a salmon in its jaw. Poor salmon! You know I love fish, but I guess the bear has to eat, too. This coin?s design also includes the North Star. Pictured behind the bear is what I believe to be a small waterfall, but I could be mistaken. It doesn?t really matter as the overall design still looks incredible. There is an inscription that says THE GREAT LAND in bold lettering near the bear?s head at the 3 o?clock position.
The creation is done so well it stands out and says ?look at this design.? The size of the bear is perfect for the size of the coin. Yo u would like to have a few of these in your pocket to enjoy as your day goes by. This quarter dollar certainly doesn?t leave you out in cold!
Last for now, but not least, is Hawaii, the 50th state. To make a pretty coin as wonderful as this paradise state would be an unbelievable challenge for any artist.
The challenge was satisfied with Hawaii?s commemorative quarter. The design features King Kamehameha stretching his hand toward the eight major islands of Hawaii. The coin also bears the state?s motto ?ua mau / ke ea o ka / ?aina i ka pono,? which means ?The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.?
While nothing can match the beauty of the state, I think the coin?s design is very nice for what it is. The king?s detail and stance are good, and the coin is balanced and great to look at. For one time only I agree with adding the state as an element of the coin. This is because these are islands in the Pacific and not so much an outline of the state, and they embellish the overall coin design, adding to its story and beauty. A great addition to the state quarter program.
There you have it, one man?s take on the state quarter designs minted over the last 10 years ? my thoughts on what I believed to be beautiful, good, bad, plain-old ugly or downright silly. They were fun to study.
Whether you agree or disagree with my evaluations, I hope that you could see what I saw as I picked apart each of the designs. More then that, I hope you had a chance to critique those small metal discs yourself, and possibly come up with your own conclusions of what are good and bad, ugly or silly, and also enjoyed the process as much as I did.
I intend to be back in about a year to review the additional six coins the government has added to the quarter program to be minted in 2009. These will be quarters honoring Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, U.S.
Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia. I hope there will be some more wonderful artistic and unique pieces to come, as our illustrious Mint has had 10 years and more of practice to perfect the coin design process!
In the meantime, enjoy our great hobby of coin collecting and have fun
looking at all the new designs.