I started collecting coins around 1998. I was a very casual collector, and I still am. Every now and then, I go through the bowl of loose change we keep in our house, and look through every coin to see if there’s one I don’t yet have. I keep them all in Whitman Coin Folders. Most of the folders are full, which means I have just about every coin released in circulation over the past few decades, every denomination, every year, from both the Denver and Philadelphia Mints. There are still some holes in my collection, and of course every year brings new holes, so I check. My father did a bit of coin collecting when he was a kid, and he gave me his collection a while back. So that filled in a lot of the 1940s and 1950s. It’s a very low-key hobby, but I enjoy it. I probably have $100 or so sitting in those folders, and because they’re circulated, the whole collection is probably not worth more than the face value of the coins. But that’s fine — it’s not for investment, just for fun.
The US Mint did me an enormous favor, right at the beginning of my collecting. It announced that there would be new quarters (which are worth twenty-five cents each, natch), five different ones released every year for ten years. The obverse (front) of the quarters would be slightly altered from the “old” style, but stay constant. The reverse, however, would change every few months. There would be one design for each of the fifty states. This was so exciting! Whitman released a special book, just for collecting these “Statehood Quarters.” From 1999 through 2008, I looked carefully for these quarters, getting excited whenever a new one came out. I usually found the Philadelphia editions within the year of their minting; the Denver ones would slowly trickle past me over the following two or three years. But the quarter I was most excited about was the Pennsylvania one. I have lived in PA my whole life, and I’ve always been a bit more patriotic about being a Pennsylvanian than about being an American. The quarters were being released in order of statehood, so I knew I would see Pennsylvania’s second, sometime in the spring of 1999. When I found my first one, I was a little underwhelmed. As I would discover over the following ten years, some of the designs were gorgeous, some were historic, some were so true to the nature or history of the state. But Pennsylvania’s? Meh.
It’s an outline of the state, with a keystone (the state symbol) and an image of the statue “Commonwealth”, which sits atop the state capitol in Harrisburg. I suppose it was a compromise, so that Philadelphians wouldn’t get upset if they chose a Pittsburgh-centric image, and vice versa. Instead, they annoyed everybody. Because here’s the thing I found out: there were four images in the running to be the final design. One of them was the one that won. Two of the others were nice, but not great: images of the state bird and the state flower. Pretty, but seriously: does anybody really care about the ruffed grouse? But the fourth one. Oh, the fourth one. Just look at it:
I have no qualms about saying this: that should have been our statehood quarter. It’s an image of William Penn and a Lenape chief shaking hands over a treaty and a peace pipe. The best part of Pennsylvania’s history: William Penn was an honorable leader, and took his Quaker faith very seriously. He wanted to treat the Lenape and other tribes with respect and decency, and he did. (Unfortunately, after his death, his sons did not continue this tradition. Google “Walking Purchase” for one nasty example.) But the image on this coin would forever enshrine the hope, the promise that Penn wanted to provide both for white settlers and for natives. Plus, it says “PENN’S WOODS” on the bottom, the English translation of Pennsylvania. I so wish I had this in my wallet, and in my Whitman folder instead of that dumb statue. Would have been worth far more than twenty-five cents to me.