Monday, February 27, 2006

No Quarter (Part I)

So this has been on the “to-do” list for some time, and it just keeps getting more difficult with every passing year. When I was a child, comic books always had high numbers (often in triple digits) and coins rarely changed their appearance. The wheat cents and buffalo nickels were rarities to be picked out of your change, with the must of an age-gone-by, one of Indian Heads and Walking Liberties.

But now, just as comic books are flooded with #1 Collector Issues, the Mint has gotten into the “Gotta Catchem All” mentality of collectability and run out its own collection of State Quarters. Most of these are not just uninspired, but downright bad. Enough of them have been produced that we can get a vibe for the thinking (or lack thereof) behind them. And that's what we're going to do here - review the quarters.

Already certain rules have shown up to indicate that you make have a lame quarter:
If you have to remind people what your state looks like, you may have a lame quarter.
If you use a variety of different-sized objects, you may have a lame quarter.
If one of those object is produce, you may have a lame quarter,
If you have to label the illustration, you may have a lame quarter.
If, after you label the illustration, people still think it is something else, you DEFINITELY have a lame quarter.

The rating system will be, from top to bottom
Cool = A
Not Bad = B
Kinda Lame = C
Very Lame = D

With those as the ground rules, let’s go into the quarters. They were released at a rate of five a years (five quarters to a year just sums up the nature of Federal Bureaucracy), so we get to start with 1999. Pictures are ganked from the US Mint site.

A man on a horse. The horse is nicely animated, but the rider might as well be straddling a fencepost for all of his implied motion. But, still, you could do worse than leading off with Paul Revere’s famous ride – What’s that? It says here that the rider is Caesar Romney, who despite illness rode to Philly to cast the deciding vote for Independence. Oh. I guess that's why he's riding so stiffly - among his illnesses we can add hemorroids.

Add to that the fact that Delaware is apparently expecting the return of Jesus Christ, so he can put a spin on his teachings by declaring “Render unto Caesar Romney what belongs to Caesar Romney, and render unto God what belongs to God”.

Rating: C = Kinda Lame

I am a proud export of PA, but their coin is a confluence of lame ideas - a gathering of objects, an outline of the state. There is a keystone (that’s the lop-tipped arrowhead on the left), because PA is “The Keystone State” (because PA was the middle child of the 13 colonies - the revolutionary Malcolm). The statue is of Columbia. No, it’s not Columbia, its Commonwealth, Columbia’s kid sister. Columbia couldn’t make it. And there is a state motto, which is of the “open the dictionary and grab some words” school (but that’s a rant for another day)

Now, part of this may be the fact that Pennsylvania is a fractured state. Most states have a division between urban and rural factions (Chicago and downstate, NYC and upstate, Puget Sound and the rest of the state), And the state capitol is usually (though not always) in the rural sections.

PA, on the other hand, has three big chunks – Philly in the SE, Pittsburgh in the SW, and a large rural and small town “T” of the rest of the state. People in the urban sections call this region “Pennsytucky”, which manages to offend both natives of the T and Kentuckians. But you notice that there are no images covering Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, but rather they cover the “flyover country” of the “T”.

Rating: D= Very Lame

New Jersey
OK, this one doesn’t suck too bad. It is one image, and that image has something to do with history of the state. Of course, it is Washington INVADING New Jersey from Pennsylvania, and the piece it is based on (Washington Crossing the Delaware) is hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, but at least it hangs together.

Rating: B = Not Bad

Obvious the Georgians saw the PA quarter and said – “just as lame as that one”. Outline of the state, symbol of the peach (a native plant of China, brought over from Europe), sprigs of the state tree (the live oak), and a state motto that sounds like Ben Franklin in the depths of absinthe jones. “Oh," They added when they saw the craptacular result, “put the logo on a BANNER, will yah? That'll make it look better.”

Rating D=Very Lame

The best of the bunch, for a reason not mentioned by coin collectors. It has a really cool feel. Feel is underated for coins, but when I pick up a quarter, I am not thinking about what it looks like (I am usually thinking about putting it in a parking meter or something). But this finely-crafted coin, with the Charter Oak on it, just feels great, the branches link a reverse thumb-print.

Yes, it has a label on it, but there a fewer cases of mistaking it for some other oak in American History (well, maybe the Treaty Oak in Austin, but that’s another tale).

Rating A= Way Cool.

Yep, we're just getting started. More later.