The America the Beautiful Quarters Program, at a Little Past the Halfway Point


An Editor Reminisces

With the release of the Fort Moultrie (Fort Sumter National Monument) design on November 14, we have now reached the 62.5% mark in the America the Beautiful quarter-dollar program. By the time the series is completed in 2021, 56 national parks and other national sites will have been commemorated.

At the time the site selections were first announced, I was editorial director at Whitman Publishing (the parent company of this blog). Our department was tasked with producing a book covering all 56 sites. Each would get a page spread: on the left-hand (verso) page would be the text and a vertical image, while the right-hand (recto) page would consist of a full-page image of the park. Now, there are many reasons high-quality art books are outrageously expensive, and image licensing is one of them. This wasn’t intended to be a treasured object or a high-end coffee-table book; its aim was to be attractive, informative—and affordable. It was time to get creative.

And so, for several weeks, I went “off-road” in search of good-but-cost-effective photos. It ended up being one of the most challenging projects I’d ever worked on, and probably the single most enjoyable. While the writer worked on the manuscript, I scrolled through thousands of National Park Service and Flickr photos of beautiful places I’d never seen (and in some cases, never even heard of). I began to think about the designer’s job: actually representing these sites—some with clear, striking features, others with subtler qualities—on the coins. After subtracting the rim area, the canvas measures about 18 millimeters across, and there’s only one color—silver—in the palette. The designer and engraver would have a depth of about a cat-whisker’s thickness in which to use highlights and shadows to create images.

Obviously, that’s the case with every coin, but this was the first time I’d approached a coin series from the concept end. The more I thought about it, the more my respect for the Mint’s designers grew.

America the Beautiful holds together across the series much better than the popular 50 State Quarters program, in part due to the lessons of the latter. In the early years, when the states selected their own coin designs, the result was often an embarrassing clutter of unrelated images demanded by the state’s political and economic interests. (I won’t name names; I’m just grateful my home state wasn’t among them. Although I will say that, as a native Mississippian, I am heartily sick of magnolias.) After the roll-out of the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program in 2005, the quality of the designs improved dramatically. The ATB program has been beautifully consistent from the outset, and although the 50 State Quarters program, being novel, was more popular, a complete ATB collection will make a nicer presentation in an album.

Between public-domain resources like the National Park Service and the many talented photographers on Flickr and other sites who were willing to share their images for a modest fee, we were able to illustrate every park and historic site—quite handsomely, too, although of course I’m biased. After that, it was time to move on to the next book and wait for the ATB series to develop, which it has done beautifully. Inaugurated in 2010 with the Hot Springs National Park coin, the series has depicted landscape features, people, historic structures, war monuments, battle scenes, and wildlife. Although a few of the sites have presented challenges, the artists have largely succeeded in bringing them to life in a numismatic format. So far, two of the designs—the 2015 Kisatchie National Forest (LA) and the 2013 Mount Rushmore National Memorial (SD)—were named COTY Award winners for “Best Circulating Coin.”

The series is far from over, but with more than half of the issues released, I can’t help making a few lists. My picks will change as the rest of the series emerges—they’ll probably even change between now and next Tuesday—but for what it’s worth:

Most obscure site—One of my favorite parts of working on the book and following the coin series is the chance to discover obscure parks I never would’ve encountered otherwise. A good dozen or so compete for this title; I’m going to go with Block Island National Wildlife Refuge (RI, 2018). Either that or Weir Farm National Historic Site (CT, 2020). What other small, hidden treasures are out there, unknown to the wider public but worth a visit?

Most unexpected perspective—To date, this goes to Mount Rushmore, hands down. Nearly every other depiction of  the monument shows the faces from the point of view of a tourist photo, but here, the designer took a bird’s-eye view of the work in progress.

Most difficult feature to render—The Great Sand Dunes National Park (CO, 2014) must have been a bear, but my pick for this category, at least so far, has to be Effigy Mounds National Monument (IA, 2017). It takes imagination to recognize the shapes of the mounds in person—but to recreate them on a coin? Not for the faint of heart. (This was also one of the most difficult parks to illustrate in the book.)

Personal favorite (to date)—I don’t know what they’re doing these days at the Mint, but their ability to create the illusion of great depth in a shallow surface is amazing. It’s most evident on coins like the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (WV, 2016)—those barrels seem to lift right up off the coin. And it looks as if you could reach an arm’s depth into the tunnel on 2015’s Blue Ridge Parkway (NC) coin, or the kivas on the 2012 Chaco Culture National Historical Park (NM) quarter. When one of those turns up in my laundry quarters, I feel a pang at the idea of running it through the jaws of the machine.

But my favorite has to be this year’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND) design. The pose of Roosevelt and his horse, and the sweep of the landscape behind them, are perfect. So many landscape coins “clog up” with shapes; here, the severity of the landscape helps the artist capture the scope with a few simple lines, and the narrowing of the river toward the horizon deepens the perspective. (At arm’s length, the horse’s ears and mane do tend to blend in with the foliage, but it doesn’t ruin the overall effect.) To top it off, the tiny face on the main figure actually looks like Theodore Roosevelt. On many of our coins, when the full figure is included and the head is necessarily very small, the face is a fright under a loupe. Here, the designer’s deft touch, aided by TR’s simple, distinctive facial features, results in a masterpiece in miniature.

What do you think—what are your favorites (or least favorites)? Which under-appreciated parks would lend themselves to a coinage format?   ❑

The book we were working on was America’s Beautiful National Parks. Sadly, it’s no longer available, but a few of its pages can be viewed on the website.



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  1. cagcrisp says

    There have been 3 American Eagle Golds SO…

    1 oz. Uncirculated @ 6,573. That’s 100.6% of 2015 Individual coin mintage
    1/4 oz. Proof @ 7,135. That’s 121.8% of 2015 Individual coin mintage
    1/10 oz. Proof @ 21,653. That’s 128.5% of 2015 Individual coin mintage

    That’s pretty impressive considering the 4 coin American Eagle set is Still on sale and at current sales of 15,421, that’s 155.5% of 2015 mintage for the 4 coin set…

  2. bobo says

    Thank you Cag, for always posting the latest sales numbers.

    I find it surprising that the walking liberty half gold is not moving, when other gold coins are selling so robustly.

    For example, it will not surprise me at all if the NPS gold UNC sells more than the Jackie Robinson’s 5,174, which I would have not thought possible a month ago. I remember how many sold for the star spangled banner in the last few days of availability. Like that time, this would again be a bitter outcome for all those chasing lowest mintages (and trying to catch falling knives).

  3. one fine dime says

    @D Rittenhouse says:
    Did Liberty really need to have a cornrow hairdo? Pathetic politically correct nonsense from the U.S. Mint.

    @Barry says:
    Branding someone a racist because of a individual interpretation of what is “PC” or not is going to far. Seems like nothing more than an attempt to shut people up if the slightest nuance of offence [sic] is interpreted.

    Interesting comment Barry. I said his comment (D Rittenhouse) reeks of racism whether he intended it to or not. I did not “brand” him a racist, but I do believe his comment was racist. I’m most certainly not trying to “shut people up”. What I would like to see is a bit more tolerance and empathy to accept more than one representation of what is “American” in contemporary United States numismatics. Are you trying to shut me up by saying that criticizing the critic is going too far?! If anyone has a strong opinion about it, why not tell us why you dislike this design; because simply making statements like “pathetic PC nonsense” implies that you are intolerant of depictions of human beings that don’t fit a particular mold or stereotypical norm…and that you “might” be racist to some extent. Obviously, Liberty did not HAVE to have a cornrow hairdo, but the depiction is of an African American woman. So it seems it is D Rittenhouse that is the one who is offended here.

  4. Buzz Killington says

    Interesting press release for these Niue issues from the Polish Mint. I like how they say the first coin “sold out quickly” and “is holding its value” along with a link to purchase one right at this very minute.

    These are attractive issues, and the Polish Mint usually does a good job with interesting and creative new designs. However, it will take more than this kind of puff-piece press release to make me believe the hype that I will lose out if I don’t buy one.

    I don’t have to own every interesting piece from every world mint. I am, however, glad to see that world mints are raising the bar with interesting new concepts.

  5. Louis Golino, Author says

    Buzz- It does not say anything about losing out if you don’t buy. And you must need new glasses as it is not a press release. I wrote it, which is why there is a byline. I don’t give a rat’s behind if you buy one or not, and I don’t get a penny either way. I simply was bringing it the attention of someone who might be interested. Who said “you have to own every interesting piece from every world mint”? Where does it say that? The coin was just launched, and I figured it may be of interest to some people. That’s all.

  6. So Krates says

    @ Louis – I appreciate the link to your article. I’m interested in this series despite my allergy to ultra high premium silver. I find the subjects fascinating. The reverse is suggestive of the interior of the particle accelerator at Cern, the Large Hadron Collider. Great to see you including some science backround as well. I wonder if they’ll have a quantum coin in the series. If you haven’t read up on quantum entanglement and the double slit experiment, look into it a bit. It may change how you view reality.

    I also had the impression the AI coin was sold out but then read it isn’t (kinda glad/may order both). Don’t think Buzz meant his comment in the manner you took it.

  7. Phil says

    Thanks for the article Louis. I find these coins very interesting and this is just the type of coin that might get a few new collectors interested, which the hobby could certainly use right now. I didn’t see in your article anything about how many coins will be produced in this series. Do you know?

  8. So Krates says

    FMT – They have real gold Trump coins. Bernard Von Nothaus (of Norfed infamy) is off house arrest and started up his minting business again offering a variety of high quality Trump coin products. There is a triple Piedfort Trump coin. Something crazy like 2 half ounces of gold with 1 oz of silver in the middle I think. Last I heard they claimed a problem with their POS processing at their bank was causing delivery delays and massive business problems. I believe Longarm said he ordered from him. I bet they look best in pure copper 🙂

  9. So Krates says

    earthling says, “People love Proof Gold Bullion this year. Forgive them for they know not…”

    I hear ya, but if they like it why not? If you stick to AGE 1 oz proofs or 4 coin sets, and look real hard at selling time for a strong dealer, you can usually get spot plus $200/oz. Not quite the haircut you take when selling for spot, just a trim.

  10. So Krates says

    Just Another Dave in PA – Been meaning to thank you for sharing that link to Time (The Revelator). Quite a piece of work.

  11. Buzz Killington says

    @ Louis —

    I did think you were just posting a press release. You described the box for this coin, which has not been released yet, as “attractive” and mentioned it was “sure to be a hit.” The page where the coin can be ordered has the very questionable statement “Excellent investment (price will rise)”. You did mention that this coin has “held its value” which is not true, if you consider that the AI coin has sold on ebay in recent true auctions for under $170.

    You are entitled to your opinions, and even a generous interpretation of “holds its value” to mean that it hasn’t fallen off a cliff, I guess. However, from my perspective, your “article” reads like a press release. You seem like a nice guy, and I do at times appreciate comments of yours on this blog. I also appreciated the opportunity to read about this latest issue, which also reminded me of a particle accelerator, although that is not stated.

    The thing I appreciate the most about this coin is the honoring of science. It is not easy to commemorate “Artificial Intelligence” or “The Speed of Light” on a coin, and as pieces of art (as opposed to investments) I think these pieces are wildly successful. I remember in college learning that a clock on the floor runs faster than a clock on a shelf, and it really did change everything I thought I knew — that time is not a constant, but is indeed “relative”. I also thought the Nova series on physics with Brian Greene was very well done, and enjoyed a similar show on using the particle accelerator to prove that the Higgs boson actually exists. The story of the Higgs boson itself is a triumph of modern science.

    I applaud the Polish Mint for its artistic effort on this coin series — I wish the United States had this kind of vision, instead of honoring Father Flanagan’s Boys Town, which is a junk mail factory made famous by a very old movie, which may or may not actually do good deeds (Charity Navigator seems to indicate it is better than average — but that doesn’t mean it deserves a commemorative coin program.)

  12. So Krates says

    Picked up my sloppy seconds dime today at the PO. I sat out the first round but did acquire a few second-hand over the summer. Besides the protective gauze smushed inside the box and a spot on the capsule, the coin looks perfect. Added bonus… the packaging is a bit less toxic smelling. More time to offgas I guess. Thanks Colonel Klink!

  13. Tinto says

    My favorite ATB pucks are TR,, Grand Canyon (backpacked there a few times many many years ago ..good memories) , Chaco Canyon and GSD.

    One that I have and a least favorite is Yellowstone .. that is one sad looking Bison with a plume of something gushing behind him. I bought it because I had visited Yellowstone before and want to go back there again.

    As for a suggestion for an underappreciated park .. how about Grand Tetons ? Right next to Yellowstone and I’ve been there too, did some short term volunteer work near there once, hiked there (all this about 20 years ago..) a beautiful place.

  14. Qui Transtulit Sustinet says

    I like and collect the ATB five ounce silvers, but don’t have, or feel I need to have, every one to fully enjoy the series. I do buy at least one of the ATB silver proof sets every year.

    The “pucks” really have more in common with large high relief medals than quarters, and I also collect high relief bronze medals, which vary in size, weight, and even shape.

    Among those I own, my top five favorite ATB five ouncers, in order of issue, are: Chaco Culture NHP, Arches NP, Everglades NP, Kisatchie NF, and Bombay Hook NWR.

    I’ve visited the first three in my list.

    The recent poster who implied that the upcoming (last issue of 2018) Block Island NWR (Rhode Island) site was somehow not worthy needs to get outdoors more often.

  15. bobo says

    Overly appreciating French trappers in the 1600s referred to those underappreciated mountains as les grand tetons (slang for large breasts in French).

  16. Numismatrix says

    “a clock on the floor runs faster than a clock on a shelf” – BK


    I believe that a clock in motion runs slower than those at rest, relative to it.
    This is the basis of the twin paradox in relativity.

    Also, the “speed of light” motif on the coin may represent the motion
    of optical solitons in a fiber optic cable. It is also known that in some
    instances that the “phase velocity” of an optical wave can be “faster”
    than the speed of light.

  17. says

    The rate at which those NPS coins are flipped on the bay will be “faster”
    than the speed of light, as well.

    Though I don’t know who they’re going to sell to; I’m with Cag, it takes original demand to make something special, demand just doesn’t create itself out of thin air for this stuff.

  18. one fine dime says

    The recent poster who implied that the upcoming (last issue of 2018) Block Island NWR (Rhode Island) site was somehow not worthy needs to get outdoors more often.

    I agree, Block Island is a very special place indeed. I haven’t seen the design yet, hope it’s a good one.

    btw, any idea why a post of mine from yesterday evening has now been “awaiting moderation” for over 12 hours? Must have been too controversial.

  19. says

    bobo says,

    “I find it surprising that the walking liberty half gold is not moving, when other gold coins are selling so robustly.

    For example, it will not surprise me at all if the NPS gold UNC sells more than the Jackie Robinson’s 5,174, which I would have not thought possible a month ago. I remember how many sold for the star spangled banner in the last few days of availability. Like that time, this would again be a bitter outcome for all those chasing lowest mintages (and trying to catch falling knives).”

    Good point, I remember that, seems like we go through one of these last minute run ups every other year.

    The $5 5 Star Generals had a nice short-lived pop though that was attributable to the surprise of the sell out in early November. The $5 proof can now be had for a $30+ over spot, the UNC $5 in a MS 70 maintains a $150-$200 premium over spot, though recall gold was much higher in 2013 so the premium over the originalcost basis isn’t that great

  20. says

    For those wanting 2014 & 2015 $5 Comms, now is a good time to pick some up for around $300, on OBO’s or auctions. I just did earlier this week.

    Mint issue price for those years ranged from $380 to $429, that speaks volumes.

  21. So Krates says

    @ one fine dime – Did your post include the first mint director’s surname? I suspect that key word alone may trigger a review.

  22. Buzz Killington says

    Numismatrix —

    You are correct about a clock in motion running slower than a clock at rest as well. I believe that Carl Sagan was able to demonstrate this with clocks that were *extremely* precise, since we are not able to travel at speeds fast enough to demonstrate this easily.

    If we were travelling at the speed of light,, time would stop for us. Likewise, time stops on the surface of a black hole, due to its incredible mass.

    Put *that* on a coin, Polish Mint, and I may well buy it, ridiculous premium be damned!

  23. hawkster says

    The Block Island (Rhode Island) National Wildlife Refuge, which will be depicted on an upcoming ATB quarter, actually has the potential to be a very picturesque one. Hopefully, the North Lighthouse will be imaged in the background with the salt pond and reed grasses in the foreground. I agree with the previous commenters who praise the beauty of this pork chop shaped Island out in Block Island Sound. It’s great for cyclists, although a bit hilly in sections.

  24. one fine dime says

    bobo said:
    …it will not surprise me at all if the NPS gold UNC sells more than the Jackie Robinson’s 5,174, which I would have not thought possible a month ago. I remember how many sold for the star spangled banner in the last few days of availability. Like that time, this would again be a bitter outcome for all those chasing lowest mintages (and trying to catch falling knives).

    Just ordered mine, along with two unc halves. I have several unc modern commem gold $5 coins, and I really like the design on this one. I did not buy the Twain coin so this is my only 2016 gold coin, and I waited to buy it more in hopes that the gold spot price would decrease by year’s end (compared to when these went on sale) than to see if this would likely break a low mintage record…though I’ll be thrilled if the latter does occur. So I’m not a flipper but I do think it’ll be cool for this coin to beat out the Jackie Robinson as the new low mintage!

    Sales through Dec 25 are 4,459, so in order for this not to be the new low mintage in the series, we’d have to see 715 coins ordered in 3.5 days. Is that really going to happen (post-Christmas)? Did the final week of sales for the star-spangled banner or five-star general half eagles go that high?

  25. Dustyroads says

    KCSO says
    December 28, 2016 at 9:44 am

    “The $5 5 Star Generals had a nice short-lived pop though that was attributable to the surprise of the sell out in early November.”

    I decided to pick one of those up late late in Dec. that year. The Mint incidentally overrode their usual protocol of ending sales on the 17th for those coins, but they went to SO before the announced end of sales deadline. So yes, they did suddenly sell out, just not in November. FWIW

  26. Dustyroads says

    one fine dime, I can’t remember if the Generals gold unc. was thought to be able to beat the JR, at least in Dec. In my mind, at the end I bought it because I expected it to be #2, which I now see does not help the price at all. In commemoratives, it’s either #1 or nothing if one is looking for appreciation, that is out side the unusual releases such as the BBHOF or the 2001 Smithsonian Buffalo dollars.

  27. Just Another Dave In Pa says

    I’ll second or third the support for Block Island NWR. I like birding so I have a profound appreciation of these places. On a visit to Acadia in Maine I went to Petit Manan NWR. I really wanted to visit Grand Manan to see Puffins but I think that’s Canadian and you have to go to Nova Scotia first.

    I loved that Bombay Hook (DE) got some recognition. Delaware is a great little state. I love the design but I wish they had included a Horseshoe Crab because that part of Delaware Bay gets inundated with them in the Springtime.

    @So Krates — so glad you enjoyed Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. They’re amazing. There’s another song they do called April the 14th (Ruination Day). It’s about the day the Titanic sunk, a dust storm hit Oklahoma (black Sunday) and Lincoln was assassinated. They mention the “staggers and the jags” in a couple of their songs. One is April the 14th Part 1 and the other is the long and beautifully haunting I Dream A Highway. The phrase “staggers and the jags” is apparently a phrase used by Canadian legend Stan Rogers in Barrett’s Privateers which is a really great kind of sea shanty.

    Sorry to drift off topic.

    I think the best states for National Parks are Colorado and Utah and the western states, in general. I did Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonlands, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks as well as Colorado National Monument in Sept of this year. Hovenweep National Monument is a great Native American park. A couple years ago I did Arches, Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. That whole area is incredible and California is incredible too. Joshua Tree and Death Valley and Yosemite, etc.

    This is such a big and beautiful country. It would be interesting to see Biscayne National Park (FL) on a coin. it’s an aquatic park that’s almost entirely underwater.

    I also went to Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens (DC) in July to see the lotus flowers in bloom. A great park.

    I love that Obama has designated a lot of National Monuments during his two terms. I put that that at the top of his accomplishments.

  28. cagcrisp says

    The U.S. Mint has announced that the cost of producing a penny has gone up in FY16 for the first time since 2011. In FY16 the cost of the penny Rose to 1.5 cents…

    FY11 2.4 cents
    FY12 2.0 cents
    FY13 1.8 cents
    FY14 1.7 cents
    FY15 1.4 cents
    FY16 1.5 cents

  29. Teach says

    I heard it cost 8 cents for a nickle to be made, but they make it up by producing dimes for like 4 cents.

  30. earthling says

    I hope Platinum does a crash and burn soon. I need about 7 more years to have a complete date set of the 1 ouncers. Even at the current spot, the things are not to my liking. But at least its not as bad as when Platinum was up over $2000/ounce.

  31. Louis Golino, Author says

    @one fine dime- Once again I agree with you. I find it hard to believe they will sell that many NPS $5 unc’s in half a week. It may have happened with some spouses, but for the $5 commems, I do not recall anytime that many were sold in such a short time. Whether it will matter, as I wrote in my Coin World article, is another matter.
    I have one and think the design is terrific, and I am considering a 2nd tomorrow but am on the fence as I too do not like the premium.

  32. dpaussie says

    The “America’s Beautiful National Parks” book is still available on Amazon with a wide range of prices new and used.

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