It seems that among U.S. coin designs, some are universally praised
and some seem to enjoy consistent disdain from collectors.
From the soaring heights of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ 1907 High
Relief double eagle — considered by many to be the finest U.S. coin
design — to the lowly Anthony dollar, the more than two centuries of
coins produced by the U.S. Mint have seen high points and low points.
What follows is the result of an informal survey I conducted with
more than 50 of my coin collecting friends. I asked a simple
question: What is the least attractive U.S. coin? The results allow
us to have a discussion on aesthetics and ways of seeing and helps
us evaluate what design elements work on a coin (and what ideas
The following is the fourth part of my look at ugly U.S. coins.
Read Part I, Part II and Part III.
Modern State Quarter Dollars
Because of their sheer number and variety, quarter dollars from the
50 State Quarter series are often singled out by collectors as
representatives of bad design. The program was launched in 1999 and it
was 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, extended in 2009 with the District of Columbia and U.S.
The legislation gave each state flexibility in determining the
design that would represent it. Many states formed advisory committees
that included coin collectors, to help pick designs from public
submissions. Generally, governors of the states would then submit
three to five design concepts to the secretary of the Treasury who
would return designs to the states for selection of a winning design.
Connect with Coin World:
In total, nearly 35 billion State quarter dollars were produced.
Some were simple, such as Michigan’s 2004 quarter, which featured an
outline of the state along with representations of the Great Lakes and
the caption “Great Lakes State.” As an astronaut on Michigan’s state
quarter dollar selection committee pointed out, Michigan is the only
state clearly visible from space, and the design is representative of
the state. It is perhaps not the most exciting design, but it serves
its function well.
Coin World pricing analyst Eric Justice and others pointed out
that designs with multiple, unrelated themes were generally
unsuccessful. He said, “packing all of these themes on a small quarter
dollar does not get the state’s message across.”
The year 2004 saw Florida’s State quarter, which is an odd mix of
three elements: a Spanish galleon, two Sabal palmetto trees and a
space shuttle with the caption “Gateway to Discovery.” Arkansas’s
quarter the prior year had four elements: a Diamond (Arkansas’s state
gem) levitates over a lake with a flying mallard and rice stalks in
the foreground. Gerry Tebben called it the “everything but the kitchen
sink approach” to design.
While simplicity worked on Michigan’s quarter, the 2007 Wyoming
quarter dollar was singled-out as being particularly ugly. It has the
silhouette of a bucking horse and rider and the caption “The Equality
State.” Paper money specialist Dustin Johnston summed up Wyoming’s
quarter succinctly, saying, “They didn’t try too hard, did they?”
Nebraska collector Mitch Ernst added, “To me there’s a difference
between simple and unimaginative. I find the stark, plain, severe
simplicity ugly and in my opinion the design does not represent the
grandeur of the state nor the strength of its people.”
Colorado Springs, Colo., collector Steven Roach says the Wyoming
quarter represents “an excellent concept executed poorly; a simple
design of a cowboy with no definition or major detail, leads to the
Wyoming state quarter as the ‘ugliest’ of all the state quarter program.”
Other states received honorable mentions for unattractiveness: the
2008 New Mexico quarter dollar was noticed as was the Idaho quarter.
On the latter, Indiana’s Fran and Ray Lockwood wrote, “The ugliest of
the ugly has to be the Idaho Quarter where you see a BIG bird looming
over a small outline of the state! Most people would think of the
potato when you mention Idaho, but for reasons known only to the Idaho
Quarter Committee, BIG bird won out.”
Keep reading our
breakdown of the U.S. Mint's ugliest coins: