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State-quarter program ending after successful 10 years
By Dana Herra

Bob Rozycki, owner of the Sycamore Coin Gallery, estimated that his shop has bought and sold more than 1 million state quarters over the past decade and more than 5,000 of the cardboard maps designed to display the coins.

But as the U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program – a 10-year initiative that has introduced millions of Americans to coin collecting – draws to a close next week, he admits the program had a good run and is ready to end.

“When it started, I thought we’d have a few people collecting them, but I didn’t imagine it would catch on like it did,” Rozycki said. “It’s a whole new echelon of collectors. It’s gotten a lot of people interested in collecting who never would have looked at their change before.”

Each of the 50 quarter designs commemorates a different state, and the coins were released about 10 weeks apart in the order the states joined the Union, starting with Delaware in early 1999 and ending last month with Hawaii. The Mint estimates 147 million Americans have been collecting the coins, and said in a news release the program has generated between $2.7 billion and $2.9 billion, not counting funds generated by the Alaska and Hawaii quarters.

“Before we did it, we were required to do a feasibility study, and that showed us it would be popular,” U.S. Mint spokesman Michael White said. “But it really outstripped expectations completely. ...Coin collecting used to be a more specialized hobby, and now it’s a more mainstream interest.”

The Mint is expanding the program in 2009 with six quarters honoring the U.S. territories, White said, and recently received Congressional authorization to start a new 10-year program in 2010 commemorating state parks.

“I think the government’s found a golden goose and they’re going to stretch this as far as they can. They’ve invented their Beanie Baby, so to speak,” Rozycki said. “But I think they’re overdoing it now. A lot of people are saying, ‘I finally got my 50 states, I’m not collecting any more.’”

The accessibility of the quarters made them the ideal entry point for children and beginning collectors, Rozycki said. The program was more successful than many of the Mint’s collector coins because quarters are actively circulated, unlike the dollar coins that are often used for collector editions, he said.

“If you’re an avid collector, you can buy the sets, but you can also just collect out of your pocket change,” White said. “And for $12.50, you can have all 50.”

The quarters also provided a fun way to learn history and geography, Rozycki said. The designs celebrate unique characteristics of each state, such as Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois coin, a grizzly bear on the Alaska coin and an astronaut and early airplane on the coin for Ohio, birthplace of both Neil Armstrong and Orville Wright. Nearly six million lesson plans about the quarters and states have been downloaded from the Mint’s Web pages for children, a news release said.

More than 34 billion quarters were issued, with just about half coming from the Denver Mint and half from the Philadelphia Mint.

“Those are the two main mints that produce quarters for circulation,” Rozycki said. “More advanced collectors may want to get one from both mints, though a lot of people just want one and are just happy to have completed their set.”

While some of the new coin collectors may become lifelong numismatists, many people are happy to have completed their collection and are done with the hobby, Rozycki said.

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