- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2000

The new quarters may look funny but coin dealers are laughing all the way to the bank.
"People are in love with them. I didn't think they would be as widely appealing as they have become," says Jay Jefferson of Coins of the Realm in Rockville, Md. "Last year, we had hundreds of people coming in to buy holders relating to the new quarters that never would [have otherwise] come into the store."
Since early last year, the U.S. Mint every 10 weeks has released quarters with a difference: On the backs are a new design from one of our 50 states.
On Monday, the Mint releases the latest: the state of Maryland featuring the dome of the Annapolis Statehouse (the nation's oldest working statehouse) and the inscribed motto, "The Old Line State."
Virginia's quarter, with three sailing ships for Jamestown's quadracentennial, comes out in September.
New designs are placed on coins in the order the states came into the Union; and the series runs through 2008.
District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has proposed a bill to Congress that would have new quarter designs for the District and the nation's territories, too. "They've got nine years to pass it," says Mint Director Philip N. Diehl. "That's a big window of opportunity. These coins are a proven winner.
"It's a win-win situation: The District and the territories will like it, collectors will like it, and over the span of the program, the federal government will reap an incremental profit of $6 billion to $8 billion directly."
The program so exceeded expectations that the Mint will produce 1 billion Maryland quarters, twice as many as for Delaware, the first state design. Collectors have been buying them by the bags.
The front of the quarter shows George Washington's stony profile, as usual, but his head is shrunken a bit with more textured hair. Crowded on to the front, also, are all the creeds: "Liberty," "In God We Trust" and so on. This is probably the biggest complaint about the coin, even among fine artists.
"It's a little too busy," says Mr. Jefferson.
The George Washington quarter began in 1932 as a one-time-only commemorative of the 200th anniversary of the president's birth. Old Town Coin and Jewelry Exchange's Gene Brandenburg, who has been dealing since 1967, says until the state quarter series, the 25-cent piece was "the least popular" among collectors.
"That's turned around," he says from his Alexandria, Va., shop. "The wholesale value was stagnant for years. I wouldn't quite equate it with Internet stock, but they're suddenly increasing."
The Mint itself has been on a roll. In January, the "Golden Dollar" was introduced, showing Sacajawea, the American Indian who in 1804 led Lewis and Clark from the Northern Great Plains to the Pacific Coast and back. Also on the coin, her son, Jean Baptiste, clings to her back. On the coin's reverse flies an eagle with 17 stars, one for each state when the territory was explored.
"It is so much fun," says Mr. Diehl, whose two kids swipe his dollars daily. "When I started using it, people would say, 'What's this?' They'd look at me funny and accept it on faith.
"Now what typically happens … it stops everything. A person will show it to somebody else behind the counter or say, 'Can I trade you for a buck?' "
Yet the Mint acknowledges it faces two hurdles: overcoming the stigma of Susan B. Anthony and changing public habit.
The Anthony dollar ran from 1979 to 1981 and then for a few months last year. The Anthony dollar was nicknamed the "Carter quarter" because it was issued during that president's term and for its closeness in size to a quarter. The Mint has gone all out with the Sacajawea dollar to avoid any public confusion.
The size remains the same to please the vending industry and its 15 million machines. Also, Mr. Diehl says, the public won't use large coins. ("The Kennedy half-dollar is a nice design, but there is no doubt a big coin will not circulate," he says.)
The Mint has coated the copper, nickel and zinc coin with manganese brass, though some chide the Mint for using the "golden" label. The coin's color, smooth edge and wider border is joined by aggressive mass-marketing.
A "Golden Dollar" float appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. Dollars have been springing up in every 2000th box of Cheerios since January, with General Mills promising to produce 10 million boxes.
"Treasury was very naive" when it marketed the Anthony dollar," Mr. Diehl says. "They just put it up there and hoped for the best."
Wal-Mart distributed the Sacajawea dollars first on Jan. 28. The American Bankers Association protested to the Mint. Mr. Diehl, however, says that before they marketed the dollar, extensive research 11,000 interviews from among 4,000 banking institutions told them the banks were not interested. Richard Giedroyc also noted in "Coin Universe" that "the banking system failed" to get the Anthony coin in circulation.
"The banks have never been enthusiastic," says Mr. Diehl. "Coins are more expensive, they're heavier than bills, they have to be wrapped, and tellers have to be trained. People have to come in and ask for coins and banks are trying to get them to use ATMs. The reaction of the American public surprised everyone. People started calling their banks, and the banks said, 'Oops.' "
According to Mr. Jefferson, some customers complain the coloring looks fake or cheap, but most like the new dollar and the color doesn't bother him.
"Some have said it's a big improvement over the Susan B. Anthony because it was the same color as a quarter and had the reeded edge," he says. "And the portrait wasn't terribly appealing or flattering."
Mr. Jefferson says he has not seen the new dollar actually in use yet.
"We had to buy uncirculated rolls at a premium, just so we could have some," says Mr. Jefferson, a dealer since 1974. He chuckles that he told customers there would be a glut of dollars down the road.
"They said, 'That's OK, I want one now. I want an exclusive uncirculated,' " he says. "So we sold 'em for $1.75."
The average coin, says Alexandria's Mr. Brandenburg, last 50 years while a dollar can last nine months. Mr. Diehl says he doesn't want to replace the dollar yet, he just wants the "golden dollar" to be a "workhorse."
"We did not design the dollar to be a great collectible," says Mr. Diehl. "We designed it to be a workhorse of American coinage. The next big challenge, now that they they want it and are holding onto it, is to pull them through and get them to let go of it."

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