The 5 Worst US State Quarter Designs

In a completely unscientific survey conducted by AOL, over seventy-thousand people responded to a poll asking if they collected US state quarters that were produced under the US Mint’s extremely successful 50 State Quarters program.

Seventy-eight percent answered yes.

According to the US Mint the program was launched in 1999, as part of a 10-year initiative that honored each of the nation’s states in the order that they ratified the Constitution or were admitted into the Union.

Each quarter was minted for a 10-week period and they will never be produced again.

My US State quarter collection will never be valuable because I only bothered to collect one quarter for all 50 states.  If I was truly serious I probably should have collected three quarters for each state: one from the Denver mint, one from the Philadelphia mint, and the proof coins from the San Francisco mint.

Oh well.  Nobody will ever confuse me with being a serious numismatist.

In any case, the program ended a little over a year ago and I couldn’t help but marvel at all of the varied designs, some of which were quite beautiful while others, well…

The Internet is loaded with people who have opined on the best and worst designs.  In fact, in another unscientific survey, Wallet Pop asked its readers to vote on their favorite and least favorite designs.  The readers there concluded that Alaska was their favorite design, while Idaho was the worst.

The poll, however, failed to shed any light on why those quarters fared well or poorly, as the case may be.  Was the Idaho design really that bad, or was the state’s poor showing the result of some sort of anti-Idaho bias?

The world will never know.

In reverse order, here is my list of the five worst US State Quarter designs – but unlike those unsatisfying surveys, I will try to explain my reasoning for why I chose to bestow such a dubious honor on these coins.


United States Mint image

5. Wyoming

God bless Wyoming.  I have visited all but about a half dozen US states and I think Wyoming is one of the most beautiful of them all. It is very sparsely populated though – as of the last census there were less than a half-million people living there.   That probably explains why Wyoming was unable to find a capable artist that could produce a top-tier design for their quarter.  Although most of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, the designer decided against featuring it.  Why?  The dichotomy of the state motto with the actual design is what bothers me here.  I understand that Wyoming was a leader with respect to women’s suffrage, but if you are going to include “The Equality State” on the design, why not, at the very least, show a cowgirl on the back of that bronco, buckaroos?  On the other hand, this would have been one of the best quarters if Wyoming’s state motto was “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.”


United States Mint image

4. Idaho

I’ll never forget the time when I received my first Idaho quarter.  I got it as change during a visit to Wienerschnitzel – I believe I had taken advantage of their “Chili Cheese Dog, Chili Cheeseburger and Chili Cheese Fries for $3.33″ deal.   My first thought was “Hmmm, that sure looks likes an eagle being held at gunpoint.” So I showed the coin to my buddy Gibby to see if he could make heads or tails out of it (no pun intended) and he quickly informed me that: 1) It’s a peregrine falcon;  and 2) That’s not a handgun, it’s the state of Idaho.  Oops.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think a potato-themed design would have been more apropos.   Don’t you?  Then again, if I remember correctly, I believe “Esto Perpetua” is Spanish for “Pass me the home fries.”


United States Mint image

3. Pennsylvania

Do you know what this design reminds me of?  This design reminds me of the typical kid who is given three months to complete a major project for his social studies class and then waits until the day before it’s due to get started.  I realize Pennsylvania was the second state to join the union and as such they had less time than other states like, say, Alaska, to come up with their design, but come on.  At least Wyoming can lean on the “we barely have enough people living here to operate our Taco John’s and McDonald’s, let alone design a state quarter” excuse.  But I expect more from the great state of Pennsylvania.  If you asked me, the designer just ran out of time and put very little thought into this.  How could he forget the Liberty Bell?  Where is Independence Hall?  Even the Quaker Oats guy or Ron Jaworski would have been an improvement over that lame statue in the center.


United States Mint image

2. Ohio

My parents are from Ohio.  Youngstown to be exact, back when the steel mills there were thriving and the city was alive.  I still have relatives in the greater Youngstown area, as well as in Akron and Columbus.  I have some terrific memories of Ohio too – hanging out with all my cousins and aunts and uncles.  That’s why it pains me to include OH-10 here, but I have to call them as I see ‘em.   I will say, in Ohio’s defense, the problem I have with this design isn’t really their fault.  I know what they were trying to achieve here – but every time I see this design, and the space man in particular, all I can think of is MTV.


United States Mint image

1. Michigan

Kindergarten teachers:  Want to have some fun?  Give the Michigan quarter to your kids (preferably the ones that can’t read yet) and and ask them what they see.  Talk about a Rorschach test!  I bet most clinical psychologists carry one of these quarters with them wherever they go – just in case they get an emergency call.  Timothy Leary would have loved this quarter.  Next time you decide to get really drunk, or partake in some peyote, don’t forget to stare at this quarter for a couple minutes and tell me what you saw.   The last time I took the “Michigan state quarter Rorschach test” I saw a jumbled mess of human organs:  In the upper left I saw a liver, I think I also saw a pancreas and even a male, er, appendage hanging out.  On second thought, teachers, you better strike my original suggestion – perhaps showing this coin to your kids wouldn’t be such a great idea after all.

Disagree with me?

By all means, please let me know what quarter you think is worse than any of those five abominations.

40 comments to The 5 Worst US State Quarter Designs

  • Gah, Michigan’s is garbage!
    .-= 20smoney´s last blog ..Finding Deflation =-.

  • I think you did a good job with the list. When I see Ohio I think of three other states first because of the space man. Florida, Texas, and Alabama. Why is he on there anyway?
    .-= Kyle C.´s last blog ..Review – Crush It! (VIDEO) =-.

    • I believe Ohio’s main claim to fame for space is that it is the home and birthplace of John Glenn, who was the first American in space.

      • Paul

        I believe the spacesuited figure on the Ohio quarter is meant to represent Neil Armstrong, the first human on the moon. John Glenn was not the first American in space; he was the first American to orbit the Earth; Alan Shepard is credited as the first American astronaut in space (May 1961). Yuri Gargarin, Soviet cosmonaut was the first human to into outer space and to orbit the earth.

      • Yep. I blew that one, Paul. Good catch.

  • I really enjoyed this! And I totally agree- Idaho is so ugly!

    But I really like Wyoming. :)
    .-= Mrs. Money ´s last blog ..Kitchen Remodeling on a Budget =-.

    • I like Wyoming too! :-)

      I spent many days working in Cheyenne and in the plains just to the north of that town. I’ve also camped in Wyoming’s very beautiful Wind River Valley.

      I just think the state quarter is a bit boring.

  • I’m pretty sure the “spaceman” is Wapakoneta, Ohio’s own Neil Armstrong – the most underpublicized man on Earth, relative to his accomplishments.

    • Is that true? I knew John Glenn was born in Ohio, but didn’t know that Neil was too! I probably should have known that – Neil and I *are* fraternity brothers, after all.

  • I always thought of Idaho as a picture of some kind of giant pre-historic bird that was several times the size of the entire state of Idaho.

  • Bob Nostrof

    Len: John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth but I think Alan Shepherd was the first American in space.

    I think Iowa quarter should be on the list.

    • You are right, Bob, about Shepherd being the first American in space. My mistake. You think I would know that, being an aerospace engineer. You don’t like the Iowa school house? If you had to replace one of my picks with Iowa’s quarter, which one would you take off the list?

  • Ricky

    I don’t think it is funny The iamge on reverse quarter is the actual image of Michigan. I don’t see any worse about Michigan. The quarters representing all 50 states are equally worse Period

  • Eric

    You can add Alabama to the list as well. It’s great to put Helen Keller on your quarter, but the attempt to put lots of detail in metal just left her looking like an amorphous blob of an old woman in a chair. “Alabama – Grandma’s welcome!”

  • I am a non-native of Wyoming, and have learned that the one college in the state has a mascot of the Cowboys. The cowboy seen on the quarter is the college logo. No excuses, ‘just is what it is.

  • Bill

    The Idaho quarter is terrible, I live in Idaho and we could have done so much better, like a salmon, trout mountain goat or the Sawtooth Mountains. GEEZ

  • Jim

    I just want to know, How the blue blazes did a Peregrine Falcon end up on the Idaho quarter? I’ve been to Idaho several times and camped in the sawtooth’s but I have NEVER seen a Peregrine Falcon there, now Colorado, that’s a different story.IMHO I think that Kentucky SHOULD have been represented, Idyllic pasture scene with a horse and My Old Kentucky Home, granted all reconizable, but it should have been more like a giant distillery pumping out gallons of alcohol, and tended to by a overly obese man in overalls and 10 kids piling on wood to stoke the fire.

    • April

      From what I read, the governor picked the peregrin falcon because they had some peregrin falcon sanctuary or something that was doing a lot for the peregrin falcon in Idaho. Which is still a stupid reason, you’d think they’d want to celebrate something historical.

  • bob

    How was it determined it was a male on the Wyoming quarter?

    • Gary

      The main symbol in the bucking horse-It is based on a real horse name Steamboat that was know an the horse that couldn’t be ridden. He was ridden by and working cowboys, but later was in the rodeo circuit. He was born in 1896 on the M-Ranch outside of Chugwater, Wyoming and this symbol is on the Wyoming license plates. There is a plaque at The National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Steamboat’s honor. The cowboy is just a nameless cowboy doing his best to stay on.

      Wyoming’s motto “The Equality State” comes from the fact that Wyoming is the first place (a territory at the time) in the US to grant women the right to vote-in 1869. It also is the first state to allow women on a jury and it had the first woman governor.

      Both the image and the motto are historically correct and they can coexist with no problem.

  • @Bill: I know, it’s a shame isn’t it? Oh well. Maybe the Treasury will start a state 50-cent piece program and Idaho will get another chance.
    @Jim: LOL! I love it. By the way, I think Kentucky *is* one of the most beautiful states in the Union (and I’ve been to 46 of them so at least I can say I have seen most of them).
    @Bob: I didn’t see any pony tails, so I assumed it was a male. Granted, if it was a California cowboy, that assumption would have been a bit misguided.

  • Michael

    They threw out my idea in my home state of Washington. A profile of George Washington. Wait you say, there already is a profile of George Washington on ALL quarters. hmmmmm.

  • Yoda

    Yeah, Michigan’s the “Great Lakes State” but Lake Ontario doesn’t even touch Michigan. They could’ve left it off and made the rest of the map that much bigger and more visible.

    Or at least had the St. Lawrence delta running off the side of the coin so that Lake Ontario doesn’t look so much like a foot.

  • Jess

    On a few of the coins the relationship between the art and the state is so obscure that the people in the state don’t even get it. The NY coin does have the Statue of Liberty, but then on the state shape you’re supposed to know that the squiggly lines on the state are the Hudson River and the Erie Canal. And how many people know the state grain of Wisconsin is corn? And I’m sorry, but the buffalo on the Kansas coin is just wrong.
    While Arizona has art that is representative of the land, New Mexico put their old license icon on theirs. Connecticut has the Charter Oak, (which I really like), but because the oak was destroyed in 1856, and what passes for history that’s being taught in our schools, few know why the tree is important.

    In the US, coins, like postage stamps, are chosen by strange and arcane methods. And sometimes the crap floats to the top and gets chosen, which is a shame because we have so many wonderful things in this country. In every state there is beauty and things the people KNOW and love. Add that to the artists and technology we employ in of our minting system and you begin to realize the options amazing.

    The reason the National Parks didn’t go on the “state” coins is probably because they have a set of National Parks Coins, as well as I think 6 Territory Coins.

    • Gary

      I’m not sure why you would take issue with a buffalo on Kansas’ coin-There were thousands of buffalo there. I can understand maybe taking issue with them being pushed out and slaughtered.

  • Nancy

    I also live in Idaho and I believe the consensus among Idahoans is that the folks in charge of our quarter design really blew it. Rumor has it that the story behind the horrible design is this…Idaho’s Raptor Recovery Center played a role in helping to protect the bird from extinction. Which is great (although not a well-known story, even among we Idahoans). Our governor at the time, Dirk Kempthorne, chose the design. Several months later, he was appointed by George W. Bush as the Secretary of the Interior. Hmmm…interesting.

  • @Michael: That would have been awesome! A legitimate two-headed coin. LOL
    @Yoda: I don’t understand why they didn’t show the Mackinaw bridge?
    @Jess: Great comments. I have to agree with you on all your points. And although the Charter Oak is gone, I did visit the biggest tree in Connecticut last time I was there to visit some relatives. I believe it is a sycamore.
    @Nancy: Do we have a conspiracy here? How did the potato lobby ever let that happen?

  • Nicholas B

    Hahaha, as a Wisconsinite all I see in MI’s quarter is WI.

    And a big mess.
    I know what the Great Lakes look like, and what MI looks like, but this is a big gross mess.

    We got our quarter right!

    • valdy fox

      Yes… because when I think of a timeless, classy Wisconsin design, I think of a big old cow head next to a hunk of cheddar. Good job, Wisconsin. If the WI quarter were scratch-&-sniff, I’d expect to smell cheese curds or manure. Wisconsin should have been in the top 5, along with:

      Florida – Nice montage; almost as classy as a 1980s arcade token with that space shuttle on there

      Iowa – A one room school, lifeless, flat and forgotten! Just like our entire state!

      Indiana – A NASCAR car!? And not from the Southern state? Finally, something to offend people with good taste AND rednecks alike…

  • Krystal

    It’s funny the things other people see that are so obvious when pointed out (like the person who only sees WI). I’ve lived in MI all my life and when I saw MI @ the bottom of the list I thought, “What’s wrong with our quarter (other than it being a little boring)?” Then after reading this I realize that I only see the image clearly because I’ve been looking at it all my life, and that it really does look like a Rorshach test. Maybe the people who made the quarters were similarly “blinded” by what these look like to outsiders, because they’re images they’ve seen all of their lives.

  • Steve Jacobs (Starving Steve)

    The Michigan quarter is actually very interesting:

    a.) It shows the adjoining Great Lakes i.e, Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie, with Lake Ontario to the North-east but not adjoining Michigan;

    b.) It shows the subtle low relief of Michigan, including the Gogebic Range in the western U.P, and the Porcupine Mountains in the U.P;

    c.) It shows the interesting geography of Michigan, with its Upper Peninsula and its Lower Michigan, also its Isle Royale (National Park) offshore of Thunder Bay, Ontario in Lake Superior.

  • Karayray88

    In regards to the Wyoming quarter and the “cowboy” on the design. It is actually the State of Wyoming logo and is a registed trade mark. The University also uses it. Any why would a state that is know as forever west not have a cowboy featured on it? Just sayin!!!

  • FireFox

    Nevada quarter is the best.

  • Derf

    New Hampsire’s is pitiful. The old man on the mountain fell into the valley…the people of that state way overvested their emotional attachment to a rock that wouldn’t get a second look in most western states.

    Thumbs up to the states that resisted using an outline of their state in their motif.

    • Len Penzo

      I agree; using the state’s outline in the design was pure laziness, Derf.

      The New Hampshire coin became kind of irrelevant after the Old Man collapsed into the valley. I remember when it happened and I immediately thought “Well, so much for NH’s state quarter!”

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