Mint may bulk up state quarter program

Paul Gilkes, Coin World Staff

The United States Mint, anticipating a strong demand for the first of the statehood circulating commemorative quarter dollars, is contemplating a bulk purchase program that would allow purchase of 200,000 of the coins in one shot, according to Mint Director Philip N. Diehl.

Diehl, in a May 1 interview at Coin World's offices in Sidney, Ohio, said the Delaware quarter dollar is expected to enter commerce sometime early in 1999. The coins will be shipped to the Federal Reserve Banks that need them at the time they are ordered, Diehl said. There's no guarantee that the Delaware quarters will enter circulation in "The First State" first, Diehl said.

Advisory panels appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury are also being put in place to guide the 50 States Circulating Commemorative Quarter Program as well as for the selection process for designs for a new dollar coin, expected to be put into circulation during the first half of the year 2000.

There have also been some internal discussions at the Mint as to whether Mint-sewn bags of statehood quarter dollars struck at the Denver and Philadelphia Mints for circulation will be stamped on the outside with the state designating the contents. The final decision will be left up to the Federal Reserve, Diehl said. Currently the bags are marked denoting the Mint facility and date of production.

The quarter's main purpose is as the "workhorse" denomination of commerce, Diehl said. The Mint does not want the statehood quarter program to be disruptive to the Federal Reserve, he said. He was quick to point out the coins are not the individual state's coins, but are federal coinage with a statehood commemorative design. Individual examples of the statehood quarter dollars will be available in Uncirculated Mint sets and Proof sets, and in silver versions, he said. There are also a number of creative packaging concepts that are being discussed for the program, but none of them have been finalized, he said.

One suggests a tri-fold holder with a map of the United States with holes to fill in with the appropriate coin. Another is based on the successful limited-edition Young Collector's Edition, which combines a commemorative coin in a quality, full-color holder. Diehl said the idea proposed is to issue editions with a single statehood coin housed in packaging containing detailed historical information about the representative state.

Diehl has requested the Mint's engraving staff not only produce enlarged design sketches for the quarter dollar commemoratives, but also reductions to scale so those examining the designs during the review and selection process have a better idea about what the finished product may look like. Some of the states have suggested four or five concepts be included in the coin's design, and engravers have tried to stack or overlap the concepts in the designs so they will conform to the reverse design template, Diehl said.

"We've asked them to give us simple designs, since the design has to work in circulation," Diehl said.

The Delaware designs have already been scrutinized by the Commission of Fine Arts and CCCAC, but have not yet been forwarded to Rubin for his first look, Diehl said. The delay is that the obverse design, while retaining Washington, also includes movement of mandated legends from the reverse to obverse because of the statehood template.

Legislation has passed the House of Representatives allowing movement of the legends, motto and other lettering to accommodate the state designs, but has not yet received Senate action. Rubin was to have already received the designs and forwarded them to the Delaware governor's office by May 1 for the state's selection and return to Rubin by May 15. The date by which Rubin is to receive the proposed Delaware designs has been moved back to June 1, with Rubin to get the state's final selection by June 15.

The Mint's engravers have been busy working on design sketches based on concepts submitted through the governors of the next four states for which quarters will be produced - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut.

The CCCAC is expected to review the design sketches for the four states at its May 15 meeting. The sketches are also being targeted for Commission of Fine Arts review at its May 21 meeting, Diehl said.

The governors of the four states after Delaware are to receive the proposed designs through Rubin's office by June 1, with final selection returned by July 1.

Each state quarter dollar will be produced for a two-and-a-half-month period for circulation, and no more, he said.