WASHINGTON A grizzly bear clutching a salmon, the Grand Canyon at sunrise and a scissortail flycatcher in flight. Those striking images will be on the final batch of state quarters as the most successful coin program in history draws to a close.
The U.S. Mint on Tuesday unveiled the final five designs for the state quarters with the first one, honoring Oklahoma, to be put into circulation in late January and the other four following at 10-week intervals after that.
The states have been honored in the order they were admitted to the union, starting with Delaware. It was honored with a quarter in 1999. The effort kicked off a collecting craze unlike anything ever seen before in the coin world.
Based on a 2005 survey, Mint officials estimate 147 million people have gotten involved in collecting the quarters with their constantly changing designs.
"The American people have made the 50 state quarters the most successful coins in United States history," said Mint Director Ed Moy.
The final five coins will start with Oklahoma, which entered the union in 1907. It will feature the state bird, the scissortail flycatcher, and the state wildflower, the Indian blanket.
That will be followed by a Zia sun symbol for New Mexico, which entered the union on Jan. 6, 1912. Arizona, admitted on Feb. 14, 1912, will be represented by the Grand Canyon and a saguaro cactus.
Alaska's coin will feature a grizzly bear wading in a stream with a salmon in its mouth while the Hawaii coin depicts King Kamehameha. Alaska and Hawaii were the last states to join the union in 1959.
Through the first eight years of the program, the Mint produced 31.2 billion quarters. Moy said about 20 billion of those quarters were due to the popularity of the changing designs which attracted collectors in record numbers.
It costs the government around 9 to 10 cents to make a quarter, but the Mint sells the coins at face value. The increased production has amounted to an estimated $3.8 billion in extra profits for the government.
"It is one of those rare programs that actually made money for the federal government," said Rep. Michael Castle, R-Delaware, the original sponsor of the state quarter legislation.
The quarters are scheduled to revert back to their pre-1999 designs after next year. George Washington will remain on the "heads" side of the coin, but the "tails" side where the state designs had been placed will once again feature an American eagle.
Collectors who are missing some states should not lose heart since the coins already produced should remain in circulation for about 30 years.