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Which state quarter designs are any good?

With all 50 states quarters now out, minted and released, at least as silver proofs, I would like to evaluate them for their artistic merit.

With all 50 states quarters now out, minted and released, at least as silver proofs, I would like to evaluate them for their artistic merit.

Please keep in mind as you read this essay that I am not evaluating why a design was chosen for a state or how it was chosen. That is another article entirely. I am only commenting on the artistic merit of each of the coins and what I believe is good, not so good or even poor coin design.

This said, I am just one man, with one opinion that may or may not agree with yours as you read on. This is what I see as I look at the coin, a ?first impression,? so to say, of that design.

I have seen and viewed all the coins in both proof silver graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. as well as business strike coins. I have also viewed each coin under different magnifications to see small and minute details.

I am a numismatist, artist and photographer My evaluation for each coin is determined by the first look at the coin, what it ?said to me? the very first moments I gazed at it, like a first viewing of a painting, drawing or photograph. Magnified inspections came later only to describe better the details of designs.

Have fun reading as we take a ride and review our beloved quarters from over the last 10 years!


Right out of the gate, our very first 1999 state quarter depicts Caesar Rodney astride on a galloping horse on a blank background with the words ?The First State? above the horse?s tail, and the rider?s name, CAESAR RODNEY, below the horses head.

I like this coin as it is a nice clean design and balanced very well. The horse and rider are nicely detailed and the overall look at the first coin in the series looks beautiful. A simple design without a lot of clutter works very well on a coin of this size. A great start to our state coins program.
Let?s ?trot? along and see how the other state quarter designs fare.


Our second state quarter features Commonwealth, an allegorical female figure that is the subject of the statue that has sat atop the Pennsylvania Capitol dome in Harrisburg since 1905. The coin also shows an outline of the state; state motto LIBERTY, INDEPENDENCE, VIRTUE; and a keystone.

The coin is fair as far as design goes. The allegorical figure is not done all that well.

I am not a proponent of the use of the state outlines, either, and yet we will see them used time and time again. Here it doesn?t do anything as far as I am concerned and should not have a place on the coin unless it was required by law.

I give Pennsylvania?s state quarter a passing grade, but it is not one of my favorites. I feel it is just not all that interesting.

New Jersey

Our third state quarter depicts a design based on the famous Emmanuel Leutze painting ?Washington Crossing the Delaware.? At the base is the inscription CROSSROADS OF THE REVOLUTION.

I do not like this design and think it is one of the worst in the series. The concept was great, but there is too much going on for this coin size. You can hardly see what the coin is about. To me, the coin is excessively crowded and very busy with too much detail. It actually makes me nervous looking at it, trying to figure out what is pictured. The painting itself must be wonderful, but it just does not work on the small surface area of a state quarter. Perhaps they should have used the same theme but simplified it so that you can see what is pictured. The design in my opinion simply does not work on a coin.


Our fourth coin in the series is for the state of Georgia and I like this simple and elegant design. It features a state outline enclosing a peach, with a banner of the state motto WISDOM, JUSTICE, MODERATION and a border of oak sprigs.

Although I do not like the outline of the state on the coin, I will make an exception and say that the overall design of this quarter is well balanced, well detailed and pleasant to look at. You can see in detail what everything is. I also love the use of the incuse lettering on the banner. I consider this coin pretty, with nice eye appeal. It looks beautiful in the silver proof condition as well as the clad business strike coins.


Our fifth state quarter presented to us, for the state of Connecticut, and the last coin for the first year of issue of these commemoratives, shows the Charter Oak framed by the inscription THE CHARTER OAK and a stone wall. This coin follows in the tradition of the 1935 Connecticut Tercentenary half dollar, another beautiful coin, which also depicts the Charter Oak.

I love the classic design of this coin, the simple way the tree is pictured and its overall beauty. You can clearly see it?s a wonderful, majestic tree as it takes up most of the coin?s surface. The state quarter is easy on the eyes and looks ?classic? in proof silver, and holds up on circulating coins as well. Another well-balanced addition to the series, again with great eye appeal.


The first state quarter for year 2000 shows a Minuteman statue in front of an outline of the state along with the state?s nickname, THE BAY STATE.
This coin design did not impress me at all. Again, using the outline of the state shows no creativity, at least in my opinion. The Minuteman depiction shows nice detail, but I think this coin lacks eye appeal and interest. The state shows contours and ridges, but I do not think this adds much to the overall design. A very bland and uninteresting addition to the state quarter program.


Maryland, our seventh state quarter, is represented by a rendition of the statehouse dome in Annapolis. On each side of the dome appear branches of the state tree, the White Oak. The state?s motto is divided by the dome.
The dome is nicely detailed, and the detail can be seen with the naked eye, but to me the coin looks kind of bland just using just the dome. The split motto also doesn?t look right as you are not sure how you should read it. I believe buildings can look beautiful when done right on coinage. A ?just OK? overall design at best.

South Carolina

The eighth quarter, South Carolina, was released in the summer of 2000. The state is represented by different symbols known to its citizens. It includes the state tree, a Palmetto; the state bird, a Carolina Wren; and the state flower, Yellow Jessamine.

I will call t his coin ?pretty? as it is easy on the eyes, very nicely balanced, shows good detail and you can tell what everything is very easily without magnification. It does, once again have the outline of the state, which you already know I don?t like, but this coin still works very well. A nice addition to the series.

New Hampshire

The number nine quarter dollar coin in the series pictures a mountain formation nicknamed ?Old Man of the Mountain.? I had the pleasure of seeing and photographing myself many years ago ? before it crumbled to the ground shortly after the state quarter was minted. The formation was a pretty amazing site to see in person. The design also includes nine stars on the left of the coin symbolizing New Hampshire as the ninth state to join the union. It also has the state?s motto LIVE FREE OR DIE placed in front of the rocky ?face.?

The words ?Old Man of the Mountain? are inscribed incuse on a flat part of the mountain, which I think is interesting. As an art critic, I do not think this all works too well. For one thing, I am not sure how many Americans will know what this coin depicts. Is that why they incorporated the inscription? The natural wonder looks inspiring when you see it in person, but does not work well on a quarter-sized coin. I just do not think this coin is very artistic or at all interesting.

Am I being way too critical so far? I am not sure, but I promise you as you read on there are coins I absolutely loved in the series!


Our tenth coin, last for the year 2000, features three 17th century sailing ships and the inscription JAMESTOWN 1607-2007 QUADRICENTENNIAL, placed underneath the water on which the ships sail. Inscribed also on the left hand side is ?Jamestown 1607-2007.? There is not much else to describe this coin?s design, but that is a good thing sometimes.

This quarter is wonderfully magnificent! It is one of the most interesting and beautiful coins in the entire series, with its simple approach, yet beautiful layout of design. The ships a very detailed, the coin is balanced well and it is a great work of miniature art. The artist deserves much credit for this coin. I do love anything nautical and love ships, so maybe I am a little biased, but this coin is great.

I told you I would love some of the coins I reviewed. Let?s ?sail? on to the next quarter.

New York

The 11th state quarter and the first for the year 2001 shows the Statue of Liberty. The statue is placed over an outline of the state of New York, once again using this confounded configuration, and once again boring! The text of ?Gateway to Freedom? is also incorporated into the design at the 3 o?clock position. The state itself shows detail as though it is a topographic map.

New York happens to be my home state, has been my whole life, but still I am not all that crazy about this design. It looks nice on the proof version of the coin, just not all that interesting. I wanted an awe-inspiring coin for my home state and was disappointed when I first found it in change. The Statue of Liberty has been depicted many times on coinage, and with much better detail and artistry, like the beautiful job that was done on our platinum coins. Not overly happy about my state?s coin design, I give it a ?pass.?

North Carolina

The next state was and is North Carolina, the 12th state to enter the union. The coin?s design depicts the Wright Flyer, piloted by Orville Wright, while his brother Wilbur stands in the foreground and watches the first controlled powered flight in 1903. The words FIRST FLIGHT are part of the design, placed above the plane in text that looks proportioned on this size coin.

The overall design is very nice, as the Wright Flyer is done well and the coin is well balanced. A good clean design without any clutter that looks beautiful on the mirrored field of the proof version, as well as the circulation coins we use every day. A smart and intelligent-looking coin picturing an important moment in history.

Rhode Island

Unlucky No. 13 happens to be very lucky on its overall design in my opinion. Nicknamed the ?Ocean State,? Rhode Island?s quarter is graced with a sailboat modeled after the Reliance, a boat built in Rhode Island and the winner of the 1903 America?s Cup. It?s shown sailing in Narragansett Bay with the Newport Bridge in the background. Text THE OCEAN STATE is included in the field.

The artistry on this coin is truly beautiful with the boat pitched as if it were moving very fast through the choppy water of the bay shown nice detail, as well as the very detailed bridge. It is so easy on the eyes that it makes you feel as if you were part of that race. A miniature masterpiece with a nautical flavor that many people should enjoy looking at. The U.S. Mint should be proud of this particular coin with all of the thought and attention to its detail.


Vermont, state 14, shows maple trees and sap buckets on its quarter. A mountain is in the background called Camel?s Hump Mountain and the text FREEDOM AND UNITY is located to the right of the scene. In the center of the design, a man is gathering sap, reaching for a sap bucket, and you can see it is fall or wintertime as there are no leaves on the trees and the man is dressed in a coat and scarf.

The artwork on this one seems to be all right, but I am not that interested in the depiction. A rather uninteresting coin all in all. The coin is satisfactory in design but I feel it could have been done better, with more flare and pizazz.


The 15th state quarter, which rounds out the year 2001 issues, is for the state of Kentucky. A racehorse and the landmark ?My Old Kentucky Home? are the two design elements of this state quarter dollar. The Kentucky landmark, also known as the Federal Hill mansion, is in the background with the horse behind a fence in the foreground. The text states MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME in the area above the horse?s head.
I don?t think this is a bad design, in fact it has an overall nice look to it. It almost looks like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting or something of that nature. The balance is good and there is a lot of detail in the building, especially in the windows, but less detail on the horse, at least to my eyes. My first impression of the coin was that I did not like it, but after studying it for a while it grew on me, so I will give it a rating of ?good.?


Year 2002 started with Tennessee. The 16th coin in the series shows a guitar, violin, book of music and trumpet, reflecting the state?s contribution of blues, folk and country music. A banner reading MUSICAL HERITAGE appears below the instruments. There are three stars that surround the instruments at 12, 3 and 9 o?clock that are five-pointed and rather large for the coin, but I do not know what they are supposed to represent.

The music book is nicely detailed as you can even see musical notes on its pages, and the instruments are done well also. I really liked this coin for its artistic merit, as it has much detail and a unique design. The proof silver version looks wonderful as it pops off the flat field of the background. I just wish someone would tell me what the heck those darn stars are supposed to represent.


Ohio?s quarter, No. 17, features another early Wright Flyer, developed by Wilbur and Orville Wright, and an Apollo astronaut superimposed over an outline of the state. This time the state border is double outlined for some reason, perhaps they figured it looked nice. The legend under the plane is BIRTHPLACE OF AVIATION PIONEERS in recognition of the Wright brothers? contributions to powered flight and the manufacture of equipment for space exploration.

Even with a crummy-looking outline of the state, this coin still works. I love space exploration and had never seen an astronaut on a U.S. coin, so this was something new and it was pulled off well. Although it has a second use of the Wright Flyer, it is a simpler, older version of that plane with not as much detail as is seen on the North Carolina quarter. I truly love the detail on the astronaut?s space suit! This coin is nice and easy to look at as well as interesting with its subject matter at the same time. It has great new elements, objects we have not seen on our coinage in a mixture we would not normally think of. A wonderful coin design.


Louisiana, No. 18 state and coin, features an outline of the United States with the area of the Louisiana Purchase highlighted and the text LOUISIANA PURCHASE to the right of the map. A profile view of a pelican is at the lower left while a trumpet and three notes are located above the map.

I like the pelican and trumpet for the detail and originality on a coin design, but I am not so crazy about the state outlines that are in the center. To me there is a lot of space wasted that could have been used for something that would not have looked so bland. The coin still works for me, but I feel not a lot of imagination went into it. I will give it a fair mark.


Indiana, No. 19, rolls along as a respectable coin featuring an Indy race car positioned slightly above and to the right of the center, superimposed over an outline of the state. A circle of 17 stars and two additional stars indicate that Indiana was the 19th state to enter into the Union. The legend CROSSROADS OF AMERICA appears below the car.

I am not sure why I like this coin, but I just do. Maybe it is because I love cars, and I love fast cars! The way the vehicle is shown racing toward you as it seems to be riding off the face of the coin helps me realize why I think this is an exceptional design. The quarter has life to it. As you glance at its dynamic look, you may want to roll it as fast as you can on its side and see how far it will go! But don?t, especially if it is a silver proof or in really good condition, or if it is one of your buddy?s coins.


Here we go, last for the year 2002, Mississippi. The 20th quarter of the series shows two magnolia blossoms and the inscription THE MAGNOLIA STATE.

Nothing else is incorporated into this design, but it is done beautifully. The blossoms take up most of the coins surface. The flowers themselves are big and bold and the rendition of the magnolias is perfect. The coin is really delicate-looking and has smart design. It almost looks like one of those wonderful art metals of the 1970s by one of the private mints of that era. In proof silver it says ?Look at me!? This is a lovely coin that you can give to your wife or girlfriend instead of flowers! It is that pretty a coin.


To kick off 2003 the Mint gave us the Illinois quarter. Illustrated is one of my favorite men in history, President Abraham Lincoln. The man who guided the United States through the Civil War is the design focus for this quarter. Featured is an image of Lincoln based on a sculpture by Avard Fairbanks titled ?The Resolute Lincoln.? The image of a younger Lincoln is superimposed over an outline of the state, and yes, once again use of that now infamous outline that I now hate. In the background to the left is a farm setting and to the right of Lincoln is the Chicago skyline, both without much detail. Two inscriptions grace the main design on this coin. One is the state slogan, ?Land of Lincoln,? and the other is the inscription ?21st State/Century.? There are also 21 stars depicted, 10 on the right and 11 on the left, all near the edge.

I seem to be up in the air on a decision whether I like it or not. I love Lincoln but I am not sure that I like this coin. When you look at the coin, it almost looks as if the President is coming out of a ?cutout? of the state. Something looks wrong about it. Also, I do not see his face as being very detailed. Fair at best on this design.


Our 22nd coin in the series has a portrait of Helen Keller seated in a chair. Her name is in the field both in English and Braille, a first on a U.S. coin from what I understand. There is a ribbon with the inscription ?Spirit of Courage? just below her chair. The design is bordered on the right by a branch of camellias and on the left by a branch of needles and cones from a southern pine.

A nice coin for a great lady, it?s balanced well and works. I would not call it beautiful or very artistic. The Braille, though unique, I believe is too small to feel and use. This is not one of my favorites, but is does pass as a decent design.


I love the state of Maine and this state?s quarter design. Shown in beautiful detail is a rendition of the Pemiquid Point Light House emitting rays of brilliant light on a rocky shore with a sailing ship originally based on the three-masted schooner Victory Chimes. Small sea birds circle the ship overhead. It is the first coin in the series not to have any inscription, or ribbons of any nature, and that in itself makes it unique.

I love the overall depiction on this quarter as it looks like a small nautical painting! There is much depth to this particular design and although the ship is very tiny it still has much detail. I enjoy the nautical aspect once again. A great-looking little masterpiece that has everything it needs and that I love, like lighthouses, ships and a beautiful coast! What else can we ask for on our coinage?


The Show Me State?s quarter, No. 24 in the lineup, has three men paddling a solitary boat down a tree-lined river with the ?Arch of Discovery? in the background. It contains the legend ?Corps of Discovery 1804-2004? over the arch in bold lettering.

This coin has a nice appearance but actually looks better under magnification. The men in the boat are greatly detailed for their miniscule size, and I love how the arch looks in the background. One thing that I was not thrilled about was the rendition of the trees. They just do not look all that much like trees to me. I remember reading someplace that they looked a little like broccoli, and I tend to agree with that opinion. Nevertheless, the coin?s art, balance and good format work well. A nice coin once you look past the vegetables, or whatever they are.


Design of the last quarter for 2003, No. 25 of the series, has a heck of a lot going on. It features a mallard duck in flight, several stalks of rice and a very large cut diamond ?floating? in the middle of the coin. All three elements are placed over a tree-lined river scene with more trees in the background.

I do not want to sound overly harsh, but I hate this coin design. The diamond looks like some sort of UFO hovering over the water. The silly duck looks as if he will crash into it head-on! This coin is completely off balance as far as eye appeal, perhaps because of that diamond-shaped thing. I am just wondering now if there are a lot of UFO sightings in Arkansas?

Editor?s note:
Philip M. Lo Presti?s review of the 50 states quarter designs will continue in the next issue.