Click here to read reviewer Br. Benet Exton's take on A Pocketful of History.
In 1999, a decree went out to all the land: Let there be more quarters! The Congressional Act which called for the minting of a quarter for each of America's fifty states had two purposes. One was to fill the drawers of professional numismatists and amateur coin collectors, and the other was to increase "seigniorage" – read, profit – for the US Government. It turns out that for every quarter the Mint produces, there is a whopping profit of 20.9 cents.
The quarter coins, our most useful by far, hadn't been updated for 25 years, so it was time for a facelift. Coin fanatics looked to the success of what was called "the Loonie" – a similar initiative in Canada which netted such gains that the coins, representing Canadian provinces, are now out of circulation, quickly snapped up by collectors.
As in Canada, each state was called upon to design its coin. The first coin minted was to be that of Delaware, not only because Representative Mike Castle (R-Delaware) led the charge to get the quarter bill passed but because Delaware was among the first states, and its coin depicts an event from the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The order of coinage is the order of statehood, beginning on the East Coast and ending on the West -- Hawaii and Alaska's coins have not yet been minted. Their coins will be released during the last year of the mintage, ten years after the first.
The collectors are therefore shy six quarters, which raises the question of why the author didn't wait a year to complete the book. "But we now know," says freelance author Jim Noles, "what imagery will grace each state's quarter. We know that Alaska's quarter will feature a grizzly bear. Hawaii's will display King Kamehameha the Great."
The book's chapters are, of course, the stories of the quarters themselves. Even if you live in one of the final un-minted six, you will be able to look at the coin for your state. Each state decided upon their design differently – some sent out a general call for prospective designs, others relied on an arts council or other entity to come up with the iconography that would best represent the state. Indiana, to many people's surprise, celebrated the Indy 500 on its quarter, and Arkansas chose a diamond, celebrating a little known chapter in its history.
My home state, North Carolina, has acquitted itself admirably, in my possibly biased opinion, by choosing for its image the first flight of the Wright Brothers, who were not from North Carolina but Ohio. However, they were lucky to make contact with an intrepid and curiosity-loving son of the Tar Heel state, one Bill Tate, who, upon receiving their letter inquiring about the possibility of running some tests on the Outer Banks (notable for their windy sandy hills), immediately took up the challenge and more or less adopted the Wright brothers once they arrived. It was interesting to note that Wilbur, the first to arrive, had to travel on foot and by boat from Elizabeth City, aided by a guide. Things are not so rough these days. Kill Devil Hill, where the first airplane made its maiden voyage, is now a major tourist draw, though the winds have yet to die down along our naturally picturesque coastline. Eco-tourists also flock to the Outer Banks, drawn to its starkly beautiful protected game habitat.
Noles expresses his surprise that some of his own favorite moments in history – the Battle of New Orleans, Wounded Knee, even the ratification of the Constitution – were not deemed coin-worthy. But that's states' rights for you. The process allowed each state and its populace to have a say, and each picked its own proudest moment. It allows us all to get better acquainted, like those games that are played at big workshop events, where you have to match up some odd secret with its rightful keeper – it's a learning experience, and that's a good thing.
This book will be a necessity for collectors of the new quarters, and a good read for older schoolchildren, encapsulating a lot of state history in a readable and unique form.