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Ten Worst 50 State Quarter Designs

By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
The 50 State Quarter Program, which ran from 1999 through 2008, was a wildly popular circulating commemorative program that was responsible for introducing a whole generation of new collectors to the hobby we love. Each year of the program saw the release of five new reverse designs, issued in the order that each state entered the Union. Replacing the beloved Heraldic Eagle found on the reverse of the Washington quarter since its debut in 1932 (with the exception of the Bicentennial quarter, an inspiration for this program), the 50 State Quarter reverse designs were supposed to be emblematic of the states they represented and convey something of its cultural, natural, and historic legacy.

But out of 50 coins over 10 years, some were more successful at this than others.

Of course, no list of the 10 worst of anything is going to be truly objective. And “worst” doesn’t necessarily mean bad, either, since in the case of the 50 State Quarters, the modern United States Mint wasn’t going to allow truly bad artwork onto the coinage. Perhaps a state-mandated concept was less than thrilling or throttled by bureacracy. Or maybe the idea was good but the execution left something to be desired.

However it happened, here are our picks for the top 10 worst State quarter designs.

Michigan (2004)

The 2004 Michigan State Quarter. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
The 2004 Michigan State Quarter. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • 26th quarter in the series
  • Designer: Unknown. Mint Engraver/Sculptor: Donna Weaver

Coming in at number one on our list is the 2004 Michigan quarter. The coin’s reverse design depicts a simple outline of all the great lakes surrounding a topographical representation of the state. This was chosen from a group of five similar designs, all of which were based on an outline of the state. All other proposed designs submitted to the Mint included elements that showcased the state’s cultural and natural contributions to our nation. While arguably a well laid out design that uses the available space to good effect, the overall look is quite boring. Also, by doing only an outline of the state and lakes, Michigan is implying that they have not given or produced anything of value to the United States.

Wyoming (2007)

The 2007-P Wyoming Quarter dollar design proved to be polarizing. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
The 2007-P Wyoming Quarter dollar design proved to be polarizing. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • 44th quarter in the series
  • Designer: Donna Weaver. Mint Engraver/Sculptor: Norman E. Nemeth

As one of the most debated 50 State Quarter designs, the 2007 Wyoming quarter has been called ugly and unimaginative. The design consists of a simple cut-out shape of a cowboy riding a bucking bronco. While not certain, this design is believed to be based off of a 1903 photo of cowboy Guy Holt riding a horse named Steamboat. To the right is the state motto “The Equality State”, which it adopted because it was the first state to give women the right to vote. At the time, the federal Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) approved of the design as “powerful,” and the federal Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) stated the design was “authentic.” Nevertheless, once it was released, the general public didn’t like it.

Texas (2004)

The 2004 Texas State Quarter. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
The 2004 Texas State Quarter. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • 28th quarter in the series
  • Designer: Daniel Miller. Mint Engraver/Sculptor: Norman E. Nemeth

Next is Texas. For such a large and important state, it’s a shame that they chose such an uninspired design. A simple depiction of the state with a five-pointed star superimposed over it does nothing to promote Texas on a national level. Only the stylized rope lariat border alludes to the “cowboy spirit” of the state.

Most of the early designs were much better; one even included a depiction of the Alamo within the state outline. One would expect that, out of the nearly 2,600 design concepts submitted, the Texas Numismatic Association could have selected a bolder, punchier, design.

Florida (2004)

The Florida State Quarter features a Spanish ship and a space shuttle. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
The Florida State Quarter features a Spanish ship and a space shuttle. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • 27th quarter in the series
  • Designer: Ralph Butler (design considerably and adversely edited by the Mint). Mint Engraver/Sculptor: T. James Ferrell

Also released in 2004, the Florida state quarter is a jumbled mishmash of design elements. While each of the three (a Spanish galleon, two Sabal palmetto trees, and a space shuttle) are well rendered individually, they do not unite in a cohesive design. Also, the significant amount of empty field, especially in the center of the coin, is slightly disconcerting.

Earlier design candidates were objectively more beautiful and did a better job promoting the state’s natural and cultural history. Unfortunatly, this was the design chosen in a three-week public vote from between a total of five options: “The Everglades”; “Fishing Capital of the World”; “St. Augustine”; “America’s Spaceport”; and the winning design “Gateway to Discovery”.

Massachusetts (2000)

Some have suggested that a design featuring Bill Buckner missing a routine grounder might have been a better choice for the Massachusetts State Quarter. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
Some have suggested that a design featuring Bill Buckner missing a routine grounder might have been a better choice for the Massachusetts State Quarter. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • Sixth quarter in the series
  • Designer: Two schoolchildren. Mint Engraver/Sculptor: Thomas D. Rogers

Massachusetts is yet another 50 State quarter that uses an outline as one of the main design elements. Superimposed over this map is a depiction of The Minuteman, a statue that stands in front of The Minuteman National Historical Park in Concord. While this statue does accurately represent Massachusetts’s Revolutionary War history, I have to admit, there were many more appealing ways to convey the message. For example, one of the early design proposals featured a handsome representation of Old Ironsides (USS Constitution) under full sail. Launched in 1797, she is the oldest ship still afloat.

Maryland (2000)

The 2000 Maryland State Quarter design is less impressive than the design proposed by local artist Bill Krawczewicz. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
The 2000 Maryland State Quarter design is less impressive than the design proposed by local artist Bill Krawczewicz. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • Seventh quarter in the series
  • Designer: Bill Krawczewicz. Mint Engraver/Sculptor:Thomas D. Rogers

Issued in 2000, Maryland chose to depict the statehouse tower on the reverse of its quarter. Not only is this a rather lazy representation of the state but it is also not even a very skillfully rendered depiction of the building in question. The official design is, if anything, too detailed. Interestingly, the draft version of this design, submitted as a proposal, was much more appealing. Additionally, while the oak is the state tree, why use oak branches as the second main design element? There are so many better, more interesting things to include. Overall, not the worst design, but it is one of the weakest when it comes to representing the state.

Wisconsin (2004)

The 2004 Wisconsin State Quarter. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
The 2004 Wisconsin State Quarter. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • 30th quarter in the series
  • Designer: Rose Marty. Mint Engraver/Sculptor: Alfred Maletsky

While Wisconsin is called the “Dairy State” for good reason, does the state quarter really need to be all about cows and cheese? In a rather slapdash design, the coin depicts the head of a cow, a wheel of cheese, and an ear of corn.

This design was not actually supposed to be used. Instead, then-Governor Jim Doyle (D) scrapped the state panel’s choice: a handsome image of a Native American scout shaking hands with a fur trapper. Panel member Dean Amhaus, president of a Milwaukee-based tourism organization, lamented that this would only spur “more cheese head jokes.”

Idaho (2007)

The 2007 Idaho State Quarter design is for the birds. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
The 2007 Idaho State Quarter design is for the birds. Image: U.S. Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • 43rd quarter in the series
  • Designer: Don Everhart

Numismatic designs are all about proportions, and a skillful coin designer can fit almost any image onto the face of the planchet. The 2007 Idaho quarter, however, is not well proportioned. The design is dominated by a massive peregrine falcon ominously standing over a medium-sized outline of the state (again!), disrupting any balance in the composition. If either the state outline or the bird were smaller, it may have worked. As it stands, the outline is overshadowed by the bird, and almost looks to be an afterthought. To make matters worse, the level of detail employed in the falcon’s feathers stands at odds with the state’s outline and the rest of the empty fields. Also, if you squint, the position of the state makes it resemble an outstretched arm holding a gun to the bird’s head.

Earlier design proposals also did not have the best track record. Of the proposals, one even had the lyric “And here we have Idaho, winning her way to fame” taken from the state song.

New Mexico (2008)

The New Mexico State Quarter depicts a topographical representation of Walter White's home state. Image: U.S. Mint / CoinWeek.
The New Mexico State Quarter depicts a topographical representation of Walter White’s home state. Image: U.S. Mint / CoinWeek.
  • 47th quarter in the series
  • Designer: Don Everhart

Another uninspired design, the 2008 New Mexico 50 State quarter depicts the sacred sun symbol of the Zia people superimposed over a topographical map of the state. It may have been slightly better if instead of being placed off-center right below the state’s founding year (1912), the symbol were centered over the state map. Additionally, the state motto feels rather shoe-horned in at the bottom left of the design. While not outright ugly, the design is definitely uninspired.

Interestingly, unlike the other state quarters on this list, all four New Mexico quarter design finalists were quite similar, playing with a state outline and the Zia sun symbol.

Ohio (2002)

2002 Ohio State Quarter celebrates American aviation. "Wooster, we have a problem". Image: U.S Mint / Adobe Stock.
2002 Ohio State Quarter celebrates American aviation. “Wooster, we have a problem”. Image: U.S Mint / Adobe Stock.
  • 17th quarter in the series
  • Designer: Unknown. Mint Engraver/Sculptor: Donna Weaver

Lastly, we have the 2002 Ohio state quarter. This design makes much of Ohio’s aviation history. The four major design elements are: the state outline (sigh), an astronaut, the Wright brothers’ plane, and the motto “Birthplace of Aviation Pioneers”. While this claim is true (Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and Orville Wright were all born in Ohio), it doesn’t make for a good design theme. The reverse feels a bit disjointed, and while there is an overarching theme (aviation), it is not put together well. Like the Florida state quarter above, it’s just a jumble of mismatched elements.

Though it’s kind of cool that the astronaut looks like the old MTV logo.

* * *

Tyler Rossi
Tyler Rossi
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University's Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies sustainable international development and conflict resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington, D.C., he worked for Save the Children, creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the U.S. from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).

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1 COMMENT

  1. Interesting comments about Florida coin design. The final design as you stated was by a public vote which was based on, I believe it was 10 or 11 choices sent to Govenor Bush by the State Quarter Committee, in which I was its chairman. I did write an article in FUN Topics about 20 years ago about the entire selection process.

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