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The Phenomena of the 50-State Commemorative Quarters

Here at Stack’s, we were very excited at the wonderful success of the 50-State Commemorative Quarter program. As of 2007, the United States Treasury reported that more than 100 million Americans are collecting State Quarters, and all of us in the hobby continue to hope that many of these new collectors will expand their range of interest to other areas of numismatics.

I especially was extremely happy about the program’s success as I was the man who first proposed the 50-State program in my testimony before the Congressional Sub-Committee on Domestic and International Policy on July 12, 1995. Speaking on behalf of collectors everywhere, I reviewed the commemorative coin programs of 1982 through 1995, drawing the attention of the Congressional Committee to the high issue prices plus the escalating surcharges that went with those issues.

I pointed out that too many new commemoratives were being issued, and the public had no clear understanding of what surcharges they were paying or where the money was going. Although the new commemoratives all bore high issue prices, they could only be sold for a fraction of issue price on the secondary market. The result was a groundswell of frustration and anger that drove most purchasers away from numismatics.

I then proposed a whole new direction for United States commemoratives. I also advocated a circulating commemorative quarter and spoke to the Commemorative Coinage Committee about this. I suggested that we start off as the Canadians did with their commemorative coins for the 12 provinces and territories. We could start with the first 13 states and issue new commemorative coins every year or two that would commemorate each of the States as they came into the Union, and eventually cover all 50 states. These coins would be historical. They would perpetuate history and give an idea when each state entered the Union.

The key to my proposal was the issue of the new State coins at face value. People could simply collect the new coins out of circulation, out of pocket change. This, after all was how millions of Americans were introduced to coin collecting in the days before silver had disappeared from circulation in 1965. By issuing circulating quarters from the Philadelphia and Denver mints, additional face-value collectibles could be created.

After the idea was introduced, the ball really got rolling. The first five coins were struck during 1999, honoring the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut. The coins attracted a bonanza of positive publicity and sparked a wildfire of public enthusiasm everywhere. Extending the program over a 10-year period guaranteed continuous public interest which had a dramatic effect on the growth of coin collecting throughout the decade.

Response among advanced collectors has also been enthusiastic. A recent caller to our offices called the quarter program “the greatest numismatic innovation of the century.” A veteran Midwest numismatic educator wrote to say “your vigorous stimulation of numismatics by suggesting the new non-premium mintage of the U.s. quarter dollar deserves much recognition. I congratulate you on its present and future success. It will permanently inspire the young as well as many others to benefit educationally, recreationally, patriotically and socially in our wonderful discipline. Perhaps your picture while testifying should be on the reverse of the 51st quarter. Then you would be appropriately ‘drawn and quartered.’”

Since the mid 1960s, numismatists concerned for the future of the hobby have sought a way of reintroducing coin collecting to the broad mass of Americans. The 50-State Commemorative Quarter program played a large part in doing just that. It is our wish that you will enjoy your own “out of circulation” collecting of these exciting commemorative coins.

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