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U.S. Mint Hopes Collectors Will Flip for New State Quarter

Times Staff Writer

Jim Hunt has collected coins for more than 60 years. But on Monday he had a chance to admire some new quarters that he, in his own way, helped create.

Hunt, 67, served on the state commission that selected the design for a quarter honoring California, and he joined state and federal officials at a ceremony in Sacramento to mark the release of the coin. Hunt, the director of education for the California State Numismatic Assn., purchased five rolls.

“It’s the max we could get,” he said.

The coins feature naturalist John Muir, Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and a California condor. The California coin is the 31st issued in the U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program.

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“They are like our offspring,” Mint Director Henrietta Fore said of the coins. “We can’t wait for them to come off the press.”

The John Muir design was among 8,000 concepts sent to the state commission on which Hunt and 19 other people served. Graphic designer Garrett Burke of Los Angeles created the winning entry.

“The quarter will be a small ambassador,” Fore said of the new coin. “It will tell the nation and world about the Golden State.”

The U.S. Mint estimates that 140 million Americans are collecting the state quarters.

“What we are teaching in this program is the history of our nation,” Fore said. “These coins represent the values of the nation, and in this case, the values of the state.” The Illinois coin, for example, shows a young Abraham Lincoln; North Carolina’s celebrates the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.

The quarters are released in order of the states’ admission to the union. Since 1999, a new quarter has been released every 10 weeks.

The program will end with Hawaii in 2008.

Larry Goldberg, president of Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles in Beverly Hills and a third-generation numismatist, said the state quarters have created more interest in coins than he has seen in 25 years.

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Goldberg said interest in the quarter series has even increased prices of rare coins.

He said a 1932 Washington quarter with a Denver Mint mark, one of the more collectible quarters, sells for $100 to $24,000, depending on its condition. In 2000, he said, its highest price was $4,500.

“Everyone in the coin business wanted this to happen,” Goldberg said of the program. “It’s good for the country and good for the coin business -- the Mint is making a fortune on this.”

Michael White, a Mint spokesman, said the agency made about $200 million last year by selling proof sets of the quarters. An estimated 450 million to 500 million California state quarters are scheduled to be minted.

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After a new quarter is ready for circulation, the Mint ships the coins to the Federal Reserve, which distributes them to the commercial banking system.

Although some coins were available at the Sacramento event, it could be two weeks before the California quarters enter general circulation.

A nickel with a new profile of President Thomas Jefferson will also be released this year, and Fore hinted at a possible change in the Lincoln penny for its centennial in 2009.


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