Monday, July 16, 2012

The (Thrilling) Return of No Quarter (Part III)

For a while, there, I thought I was off the hook, and I would not have to continue this series. I hadn't seen any of the 2012 National Park Quarters (officially - The "America the Beautiful" series) in circulation, and for a moment actually thought that they had gone the way of the Presidential Dollars.

The Presidential Dollars? Yeah, they were a series that had all the presidents on them, carved in all their ghost-eyed three-quarters-view greatness. No one really wanted them, and the Mint ended up with huge piles of them that they then had to pay large prices to store. So they finally pulled the plug, somewhere around Garfield. [UPDATE: A check shows that they are pulling the plug on circulation of the coins. The ones from Chester A Arthur up will still be released, but in limited, collector-level print runs. So fans of deceased Oval Office holders (and you HAVE to be dead to get a coin) can still fill out their collections].

But it seems that the dollar coin is not a failure because we don't like women (the Suzie B), Native Americans (the Sacajawea) or manhole covers (the Eisenhower). We just don't like dollar coins, and when dead presidents don't move your merchandise, you might as well give it up.

So we rate this year's crop of National Park coins on design, from A (way cool) to E (the Wyoming mudflap). And this particular group tends to drift up to the top of list.

El Yunque National Forest

Apparently you can have a national forest without being granted statehood. Forestry Service, Si! Representation in Congress, No! But I fear that is a discussion for another time.

El Yunqe is parked in the upper righthand corner of Puerto Rico, which looks on the map like the box that the Bahamas came in. The forest is, per the Wikipedia, the oldest forest reserves in the Western Hem, having been set up as such by Spain in 1876. It picked up its current name (which means either "white lands", or "anvil", or "something that rhymes with "in the trunk") in 2007. It is a rich rainforest of crags and waterfalls. So it has an amazon on the coin.

Don't get your hopes up, cowboy. The amazon I'm talking about is the parrot. And in the lower left we have the coqui, which is a native frog with funny-looking toes. I don't know if amazons eat frogs, but from the look on the parrot's face, I'm not taking any bets.

Rating: B (Not Bad), A only if you're a Jimmy Buffett fan.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

I like this quarter, not only for its subject matter, but for its design. The park is the site of a large pueblan community, and those big round structures in the foreground are kivas, underground worship structures, belonging to the original inhabitants.

But what is cool about the coin is its creation of depth. The focal point for the illustration is to the left, still on the coin itself, about halfway up. Follow the lines of the tops of the cliffs and the wall, along with the line formed by the kivas to find that point, from which the entire vista unfolds.

That use of white space in the upper right is particularly telling, in that it offsets the detail on the rest of the coin and gives it a nice feel between the fingers. In fact, it rates up with the Connecticut State Quarter in being a coin that causes you to look at it after handling it, which was how I first encountered it in the wild. A well-done and well-executed bit of currency.

Rating A (Way Cool)

Acadia National Park

It is good to see that Maine has chosen to commemorate native Stephen King's boyhood home, the place where he returned to as a young man to write The Stand, the Dark Tower series, and film those American Express commercials that made his name.

Wait, what?

Oh, all right. Actually, it the Bass Harbor Head Light, a structure inside the Park itself. I think. Actually, it looks like Maine lighthouses in that area all were built with the same kit. But I'm going to go with Bass Harbor.

The area of the park itself was at one point the haunt of the upper classes - Rockefellers, Morgans, and Carnegies. It was an unspoiled territory within easy reach of the centers of civilization, where they could build large estates and call them cottages. So there was some motivation to keep the area protected, and this evolved over time into a full-fledged national park.

The coin itself shares some of the properties of the Chaco Culture coin, with a solid white space in the upper right. But is it a little more similar in the rest of it (water, rocks, lighthouse) that it doesn't have the same level of different textures that the New Mexican coin has. Still, it is a solid design and shows the evolution of such carvings.

Rating B (Not Bad)

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

The first Lovecraftian quarter in the series, this coin shows Cthugha rising as an amorphous and leprous flame, pressing apart the cracked ebon skin of the world to return to its task of destruction.

Nah, I'm kidding. Actually we're looking at an eruption of Kilauea, which is still erupting, adding land to the Big Island and subtracting houses from those who choose to build developments near that land.

The coin itself is beautiful, with a strong central image and a variety of design techniques to differentiate between the volcanic rock, lava, and erupting magma. Ultimately it depends on the carving itself to determine how it will feel in the hand. This one has real potential, and captures a dynamic moment, a difficult thing for quarters that are primarily about land. It depends so much on the final rendering that I am tempted to give it an I (Incomplete), but it looks so cool.

Still, I wonder if we can get some non-euclidean geometry for an American Samoa quarter.

Rating A (Way Cool)

Denali National Park and Preserve

After a strong showing for the other quarters, the year closes out on a bit of a dud. The combination of Mammal+Mountain is sort of the National Park Quarter version of the grab-bag of state symbols that plagued the earlier State Quarters. It has been done (Washington's Olympic and Montana's Glacier, for example), and is the coinage equivalent of fast food or syndicated sitcoms - empty calories that do the job and little more.

Mind you, we ARE dealing with National Parks, and their bread and butter are scenic wonders such as mountains as well as the local wildlife. But we've seen this before, and I fear, will see it again as we move through the rest of the states. It is not a horrible coin by any means, but we need to break away from this. There are still a lot more states to cover.

Rating: C (Meh)

Next time: New Hampshire, Ohio, Nevada, Maryland, and South Dakota. The South Dakota coin is for Mount Rushmore, making it the first coin that sees a repeat from its State Quarter.

More later,