What Is a State Quarter?

Gregory Hanson

A state quarter is part of a series of commemorative coins, issued between 1999 and 2008, to honor each of the 50 United States. Each state quarter features the standard portrait of George Washington on the front and a state-specific image on the rear. These coins were issued in large numbers and circulate as legal tender. They have proven to be collectible but are expected to appreciate in value slowly due to the very large number placed into circulation.

The Space Shuttle is engraved on the reverse side of the Florida state quarter.
The Space Shuttle is engraved on the reverse side of the Florida state quarter.

This series of quarters was authorized by the 50 States Commemorative Coin Program Act, which became law in 1997. There was initially some controversy over the state quarter program because many officials in the Treasury Department were concerned with maintaining the image of the currency of the United States, which had traditionally been stark, simple, and utilitarian in comparison to the currency of other nations. Congressional sentiment favored the idea of issuing these commemorative quarters, however, and prevailed.

All state quarters feature a portrait of George Washington on the front.
All state quarters feature a portrait of George Washington on the front.

Every state quarter is of uniform size and weight, and all can be used as ordinary currency. Each quarter in this series contains the standard information that must legally appear on all United States’ currency, including the year of minting and the value. Some of the phrases that appear on United States’ money have been re-arranged so that most appear on the front of the coin along with the portrait of George Washington. This allowed designers more freedom in crafting the emblems on the back of the coins.

The symbols used to commemorate the states were chosen in consultation with the individual states and do not follow a single pattern, although all, as required by law, are serious in nature and do not depict people living at the time of issue. Each state quarter was issued individually, and states received quarters in the order that they ratified the Constitution of the United States. Five quarters were issued per year beginning in 1999.

Some coins are decorated with state emblems or state seals or with other official symbols of the state. Georgia’s quarter, for instance, includes the state tree, the state motto, and an image of the Georgia peach. Hawaii’s quarter includes the state motto as well, although it is in Hawaiian, giving the quarter a somewhat exotic feeling.

Other state quarters bear unofficial mottos, images of events, and objects that represent the states. Wisconsin’s quarter includes a cow, corn, and cheese, as well as the state’s motto. Florida’s features a galleon juxtaposed with the space shuttle and the state’s tree, the cabbage palmetto.

Each state quarter also includes the year in which the state joined the union. These coins have proven to be popular with collectors. Much like the quarters issued to commemorate the bicentennial, these coins are valued more for their aesthetic appeal than for their potential to become valuable.

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