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From the March 2005 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:


Some Thoughts on the Alaska State Quarter

By Mike Nourse  


        OK, boys and girls, your assignment for tonight is to start thinking about a design for the Alaska state quarter. Even though our quarter will not appear until fall of the year 2008, the entire process of selecting a design must be completed by late summer to early fall of 2007 so that the Mint can prepare dies for Proof coin production. Proof coins are often minted a month or two of the date that appears on the coin so that they are available for the Mint to put them on sale right at the beginning of the year they are dated.

         At this time, in early 2005, the states that will be featured on quarters in 2007 are forming their design selection committees and getting ready to accept designs. We will likely be at this same stage a year from now, though I have heard that the ball has already started rolling in terms of choosing members for an Alaska design selection committee. I suspect that design concepts will be accepted by spring of 2006 if not sooner.

         Hopefully you have started to think of a design. It will have to be good – competition is likely to be fierce. In a great state like Alaska, there are hundreds of ideas that would certainly work very well on a quarter, so you have to make your design stand out from the 5,000 to 10,000 other entries that are likely to be submitted. “Moose standing in a patch of fireweed” probably isn’t going to cut it. Get specific. And remember that you will have to be able to describe your design in words, as the Mint is not accepting graphic designs. Loren went over some of the specific rules and regulations concerning the design criteria in the February issue of this same fine publication.

         What have we seen so far in the state quarter series? Everyone will agree that we have some quarters that are good, some that are bad, and some that are downright nasty. There will, however, be disagreement about which quarter fits into which category, but the fact remains that some are better than others. I am hoping that our Alaska statehood quarter will fall into the ‘better’ category rather than the ‘others’ category, but only time will tell.

         You will have to keep some things in mind when coming up with a design. It goes without saying that your design must make people think of the state of Alaska. Helen Keller was very famous for overcoming her physical handicaps of being both blind and deaf, but she really does not make me think of the state of Alabama at all. It should also be noted that no busts of individuals may be portrayed, so scrap your idea for a bust of William Seward.

        Remember that your design must look good on a monochromatic canvas not even an inch across. You don’t realize just how small a quarter really is until you start trying to draw a design in actual size. Things look different when they are small; the charter oak on the Connecticut quarter looks more like a brain cell than a mighty oak. Also, the Mint has a policy of using the lowest possible relief on our modern coinage in order to extend die life, even though it this is done at the expense of fine details and artistic merit.

         A popular theme throughout the state quarter series has been the use of an outline of the state being honored. Alaska has a very distinctive and unique outline to be sure, but I can summarize my thoughts on the use of our state outline in one word: boooorriinnnnng. Is that really the best we can come up with, given all the possibilities that this state presents? Let’s be more creative than that, folks!

         The state quarters issued thus far can be pretty well separated  between those that focus on a single theme and those that try to cover several themes in the small space provided. Realistically, there just isn’t enough space on a quarter to effectively cover several different topics. My own personal preference is heavily weighted toward the single topic quarters rather than the ones with several tiny unrelated items pictured. A moose will work. A moose, musk ox, caribou, bear, eagle, raven, fox, porcupine, and seal all together in front of a mountain range with a stream below and northern lights above just will not work. Focus, people, focus!

         Lets take a look at some of the designs that have appeared thus far. Goodness knows I have no artistic talent or ability of any kind, but I will share my thoughts about these quarters, pointing out what I think went right and what went wrong. Remember, these are just one person’s opinions.



Delaware got things off to a great start. A simple, uncluttered design covering a single theme.



The artistic merit of the New Hampshire quarter can be debated, but again they have stuck to a single theme and an uncluttered design.



Rhode Island did a great job with their quarter. They stuck to a single theme, sailing, and created a quarter that really makes you think of Rhode Island. This is in contrast with the Alabama quarter noted above featuring Helen Keller. Does an image of Ms. Keller really make you think of the state of Alabama? A big thumbs up also goes to the state of Vermont for their depiction of a farmer tapping maple trees for their sap. That image clearly brings up thoughts of Vermont maple syrup, and thus the state of Vermont.



The Ohio quarter is a bit of a mess. If you remove the state outline and cover the state name at the top, would you really know that this quarter was meant to represent Ohio?



This design is a real disappointment. There is nothing particularly wrong with it on an artistic basis, but does it really make you think of Maryland? I am sure that somebody could have come up with a great design featuring Chesapeake Bay, which would have screamed ‘Maryland’ all day long.



South Carolina chose to put several different unrelated state symbols atop the dreaded state outline. Compare that to Mississippi, which concentrated on just one of their state symbols, their state flower the magnolia, and came up with a very decent design.



Tennessee successfully placed several items on their quarter. In this case, the design works well because the items are all related to a musical theme, and Tennessee is famous as a center for country music.



Lastly, here is our Alaska state quarter as it stands now. Let’s hope it is one of the best. You may be wondering if I have a design in mind. Yep indeed. Will I share that design concept with you? You bet… after the design submission period ends! Good luck to all, and remember to have fun coming up with a design for our quarter. See you all at the quarter release ceremony in Fall 2008!


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