LOS ANGELES -- A Marvel Comics character is giving George Washington some company on the quarter, but the U.S. Mint isn't laughing.
To promote the upcoming film "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," 20th Century Fox and The Franklin Mint altered 40,000 U.S. quarters to feature the superhero.
The U.S. Mint said in a statement Friday that it learned of the promotional quarter this week and advised the studio and The Franklin Mint they were breaking the law. It is illegal to turn a coin into an advertising vehicle, and violators can face a fine.
"The promotion is in no way approved, authorized, endorsed or sponsored by the United States Mint, nor is it in any way associated or affiliated with the United States Mint," the statement said. It did not say whether the studio or the private Franklin Mint would face a penalty.
The altered coins are quarters honoring the state of California that entered circulation in 2005. They feature George Washington on the front, as usual, but a colorized version of the character on the back. All 40,000 are slated to be in circulation throughout the country by the end of Memorial Day weekend, and about 800 were released in each state.
The Franklin Mint mainly produces collectibles or commemorative medallions. Unlike its other commemorative coins, these aren't being sold, said Franklin chairman Moshe Malamud. He emphasized that putting the character on the coin didn't alter the integrity of the coin.
"We are very, very protective of the currency of this country. Our goal was to enhance the coin," Malamud said.
Fox spokesman Chris Petrikin said that neither the studio nor The Franklin Mint intended to violate any laws or "suggest that there was any approval from the U.S. Mint or the U.S. Government" for the Silver Surfer coins.
"These are commemorative coins like many the Franklin Mint creates on a regular basis for various properties," he said. "We were confident this coin followed the same procedures and guidelines but will certainly take any necessary steps if advised otherwise."