Quarters more than change

Sunday, March 16, 2003

In today's fast-paced world, there's little time for history.

No problem. The U.S. Mint has reduced our rich history to coinage, stamping the past into 50 state quarters.

Actually, only 21 of the states have been recognized so far.

The Mint has been churning out five new state quarters every year since 1999. By the time it all ends in 2008, our youngest daughter, Bailey, will be 13 and Becca will be 16. History, as you can tell, has a way of aging a person.

At any rate, our family's been hooked on these quarters ever since my mom gave us a giant map of the United States last year complete with holes to hold a coin for each state. She even had a few coins to share with the girls.

As a result, getting change is now an adventure. Joni and I constantly check the change we receive from store clerks, looking to spot a new design. On a cloudy day, it's enough to make you go blind.

But if you can decipher the design, you might get a question or two correct on your history test.

States spend tons of tax dollars every year promoting themselves as places to live, work and play. But thanks to the venerable Mint the essence of every state has been reduced to a single side of a quarter. The other side features George Washington's head.

You can learn a lot from a quarter.

The Delaware quarter, for example depicts Caesar Rodney astride a galloping horse. Rodney wasn't as famous a rider as Paul Revere. But he was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776 and voted for independence after riding 80 miles on horseback to cast his vote. Thank goodness, the Spanish introduced horses into the New World or Rodney would have had to walk the whole way and probably would have missed the vote entirely and a chance to be a quarter celebrity.

Pennsylvania passed up the Liberty Bell for a depiction of some capitol dome statue that only a pigeon would recognize.

New Jersey settled on Washington crossing the Delaware before it was ruined by urban sprawl.

New Hampshire has a mountain formation on it and the best motto around: "Live Free or Die." No, it's not a Mountain Dew commercial although it certainly sounds like one.

Personally, I'd like to see that motto stamped on all the quarters.

Vermont's claim to fame is maple syrup even when it comes to quarters. That's wonderful, but couldn't they have added some pancakes? Mississippi's quarter features two magnolia blossoms which Joni says look like a blob even on the best of days.

The Alabama quarter is next on the circulation list. Scheduled to come out later this month, it features Helen Keller, with her name inscribed in English and Braille. It marks the first U.S. coin minted for circulation with a Braille inscription.

The Missouri quarter will be out later this year and not surprisingly features the St. Louis Arch, but no Budweiser.

I'm sure Ben McMullen of Preston, England, will be thrilled to hear the news. He started collecting the quarters last year during a visit to the United States.

A published report says he skipped whale watching to shop for quarters. I can't blame him.

History may be cheap, but it's more than pocket change in our home.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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