In 1999, the U.S. Mint launched the 50 State Quarters Program. The purpose of the program is to honor each state by featuring, on a quarter's reverse, a design created by and representative of said state. The coins are being released in the same order the states joined the union; the program concludes in 2008.
So far, nearly 30 of these coins have been minted and issued, with most of the designs being what one might expect: bland renderings of the state seal or tree or bird or a beloved patriot or a hackneyed historical event.
That so many of the easy, expected ideas have been used and reused already has left the westernmost states, the last to join the Union, scrambling. Scrambling to distinguish themselves. To stand out. To come up with something unique and, in the process, change the course of the nation's pocket change. Will they succeed?
Here's what each has proposed to the U.S. Mint (in the order in which they'll be issued).
Judge for yourselves.
Nevada: Riverboats and Indian casinos might be attracting more and more of America's gaming dollars, but don't bet against the savvy legislators in the Silver State. They've decided to make their quarter a straightforward marketing tool, engraving it with the words, "Good for one free play on any quarter slot machine in Nevada."
Nebraska: In a bold move, Nebraska will leave their side of the quarter imageless — plain, smooth, completely blank. Asked what the minimalist-to-a-fault design means exactly, State Speaker of the House Bill Porquer colorfully explained, "It means we hired some hot-shit, bullshit Omaha design firm and all we got for $250,000 of taxpayer money was a smokescreen of pretentious buzzwords and theoretical claptrap about keeping the graphics 'clean' and 'empowering individual coin-sumers with a virtual blank canvas where they can interface with their own aspirational assumptions.' My sweet ass!"
Colorado: Apparently, no one in the state legislature had the nerve to tell Gov. Bill Owens that the picture of his (then) 3-year-old daughter Monica sitting on the training potty wasn't "the cutest damn thing" they'd ever seen, and therefore that image will grace the Colorado quarter.
North Dakota: A likeness of famed South Dakotan Mary Hart being guillotined.
South Dakota: A likeness of Mary Hart urinating on famed North Dakotan Lawrence Welk's grave.
Montana: No one is quite sure if Montanans are tired of their climate or their proximity to Canada, but clearly something is troubling them. Their design is a pair of hands joined in prayer beneath the question, "Does any other State want to switch places with us?"
Washington: Bill Gates and Microsoft bought the design rights from the financially strapped state and have announced their intent to launch the first high tech currency. Each coin, in addition to carrying the Microsoft logo, will house a powerful computer chip that, a company press release claims, make it "change for a dollar-friendlier." Critics of the so-called "SoftCurrency" object to the quarters being incompatible with cash registers using non-Windows-based operating systems.
Idaho: A high concentration of anti-government, anti-globalization, "off the grid" survivalists has spawned a contradictory proposition unseen since Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book. Idaho's quarter simply states, "Not legal tender."
Wyoming: Long pigeonholed as a land of cowboys and cattle, state legislators are anxious to put a contemporary foot forward. Thus they've depicted a gene-spliced "half cowboy-half cow" creature recently created at a suburban Casper bioresearch lab under the legend, "Wyoming. Home of the self-round-uppable steer."
Utah: Utah's design features the four members of the Sharpe family, who in 2003 became the first and only black family to ever reside in the state. Accompanying the Sharpes is the declaration, "Diversity. Done and done."
Oklahoma: Hoping to attract less-than-worldly tourists to a state without many attractions, Oklahoma's quarter bears images of the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids and Graceland. An asterisk and nearly unreadable fine print clarify, "See them in the Miniature Gardens of Ada, OK."
New Mexico: Fearing any reference to the atomic bomb tests in the Los Alamos desert might be a downer, yet wanting to pay tribute, New Mexicans voted to "lighten up" the reference by depicting Wile E. Coyote finally getting Road Runner with an "Acme nuclear device."
Arizona: The state's enormous and powerful senior citizen lobby, with nothing but time on its hands and the same old axe to grind, mobilized to push their design through. The result: a masterfully conceived, exquisitely executed and finely detailed image of an ungrateful nation stabbing The Greatest Generation in the back with an origami dagger folded from a Social Security check that barely keeps up with inflation.
Alaska: Totally pissed at the federal government for not allowing oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, thus denying them huge revenues, the state refused to put any time, money or other resources into the project. Instead, the coin will carry a reproduction of a doodle done by the Lieutenant Governor when he was talking to his wife on the phone.
Hawaii: The 50th state has chosen to put the exact same design on its side of the coin as appears on the obverse — i.e., Washington's profile, the date, etc. — and thereby create the first two-"headed" coin. Asked to explain why, State Secretary of Agriculture Don "Freaky" Batiki simply said, "Cuz it's, like, a total mindfuck, dude."
His column appears here the last issue of each month.