Nov 10, 2010

I'm One Quarter Numismatist.

It's been a long time since I routinely kept paper money about my person. I tend to use either my credit card or cheques. My wallet has what could be best described as vestigial compartments for coins or banknotes, so when I break a note I have no real system in place to deal with the ensuing change. I tend to throw loose coins into my bag, my coat pockets or over my shoulder in the car with little interest in what becomes of them. The only times I ever follow up on my ducats are the rare occasions that I want something out of a vending machine. Then it becomes an all out scavenger hunt through my belongings to put together one dollar and five cents for a bag of crisps (chips). On one of these recent pursuits -I think on this occasion I wanted coffee -I realized that an oddly high proportion of my quarters were State quarters. I had four in all: Texas, Missouri, Montana and Indiana. I have never really paid much attention to the inscriptions on these quarters, but it struck me as a pity to spend so many at once (and, more importantly, I had enough in non-state quarters for my coffee). I took them back to my lab, and on my lunch break, I looked up what each of the inscriptions represents. I found a pretty neat website that has a brief description of each State's quarter. It seemed like a reasonably fun way to learn about each State. As I can get a lot closer to listing the fifty States than I can in listing the 26 counties of Ireland (on a recent attempt, I produced 19, two of which turned out to be towns), and as I will be taking my citizenship exam soon, it seemed like a moderately good idea to try and collect all 50 State quarters and read up on each one as I come across them. On my subsequent coffee trip, I was given 25¢ in change, which turned out to be the South Carolina State quarter. I should have been given 20¢, so I gave the teller 5¢ and checked the Palmetto State off my list.

Here's what I have learnt so far:

8. South Carolina
The Palmetto State, so named because a log cabin was built out of Palmetto trees by colonists in 1776 and used to hold off British soldiers. The coin has the shape of the state, a Palmetto tree, and a Carolina wren holding yellow Jessamine, all of which are state symbols. It is the eighth coin in the State Quarters collection because South Carolina, one of the original 13 colonies, was the 8th State to be admitted to the Union on May 23, 1788. Before gaining statehood, South Carolina was part of the Province of Carolina, named by King Charles II for his father, King Charles I, using the Latin of Charles: Carolus. Evidently, naming it the Province of Daddy-Issues was a little on the nose for Chuck. Not famed for putting chinks in the glass ceiling, South Carolina dragged its heels on ratifying the 1919 19th Amendment until 1969 (and not certifying that ratification until 1973). Only Mississippi joined the Missi-Voters later than South Carolina (1984!). State Capital: Columbia.

19. Indiana
The Hoosier State (#1 in ridiculous origin stories for State monikers) was the 19th State to be admitted to the Union on December 11, 1816. The coin face has a racecar (making it the only State with a palindromic symbol), the outline of the State, and nineteen stars to represent its position on the statehood time-line. The racecar symbolizes the Indy 500, which has been run every year since 1911, with the exception of the World Wars. Indiana has more miles of highway per square mile than any other State, a fact they are so proud of that "The Crossroads of America" is emblazoned across every license plate. So, if you want to stop somewhere to get gas, stretch your legs, and maybe grab a 32oz. Slurpee™ while en route to Grandma's for Thanksgiving, this is the State for you. State Capital: Indianapolis.

24. Missouri
The Show Me State was the 24th to be admitted to the Union on August 10th, 1821 as part of the Missouri Compromise. Basically, they could be a State and still sell slaves (Yay?). Accordingly, Maine was admitted as a Free State to keep the balance of Slave and Free States in the Senate. The State quarter has a depiction of Lewis and Clark returning along the Missouri River, with the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial/Gateway Arch in the background. The phrase "Corps of Discovery" on the coin refers to the body commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to explore what they had bought in the Louisiana Purchase (Missouri itself being part of that purchase). It came cheaply because Napoleon had a war to fund and was therefore a "motivated seller". This brought about the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition which was the first overland trip to the Pacific Ocean (and back). Thank goodness for Eisenhower's 1956 Highway act, or it would still take us two years to get out to the West Coast by car. Now, the tedious trip down the freeway just feels about that long. Despite the many references to Thomas Jefferson in Missouri's history, he was from Virginia and never actually lived there. Rather, he set a lot of policies that impacted the history of the State. Nevertheless, it's fun to mention him because he is my favourite of the Founding Fathers (And, yes. I have an answer to that question. Suck it, Palin!). State Capital: Jefferson City.

28. Texas
The Lone Star State became the 28th State on December 29th, 1845. Its coin features an outline of the State with a single, or lone, star surrounded by a lariat (big rope). The lariat symbolizes the role of the Cowboy in Texan history. The pre-colonized Texas was home to many diverse peoples who lived in relative harmony, and the word Texas fittingly comes from the Caddoan word for "Friend". This cultural love-in would have continued, owing to a general disinterest on the part of European colonists in the region were it not for René Robert Cavelier de La Salle, whose miscalculations caused a settlement there, instead of along the Mississippi River, in 1685. His miscalculations were also the basis of the hit show in that era, "I'm a European, Get Me out of Here!", and the settlement was abandoned four years later. European colonization continued concurrently with turf wars between the colonists and Mexico, until the Republic of Texas was born in 1836. The Alamo happened after this, so the R.o.T's woes were far from over just because they called themselves a country. After defeating Mexico, the inevitable in-fighting began. Specifically, to join the Union or not? Mirabeau B. Lamar was a nationalist who wanted to keep the Republic of Texas, whereas Sam Houston was a proponent of the annexation of Texas to the Union. I don't want to spoil the ending for you, but Lamar county has a population of less than 50,000 touting Lamar's grave as its one and only landmark (according to Google Maps), whereas Houston is the largest city in the Texas (4th largest in the country) with a population of over 2 million. I'm loathe to make too many jokes about the Lone Star State, because I like many others have completely misinterpreted the trademarked (seriously, they sue!) anti-littering motto, "Don't Mess with Texas". State Capital: Austin.

41. Montana
The Big Sky Country joined the Union on November 8th, 1889. The coin features a Bison head, important to the indigenous Native American people of Montana, hovering over a representation of the State's landscape. Everything east of the Continental Divide (a diagonal line across the State formed by geological formations) came with the Louisiana purchase. I can't find any information on where the other half came from, so I'll have to assume it was a free gift for test-driving a covered wagon. Montana attracted fur-trappers and then gold-rushers in the 1860's. Evidently, the prospectors didn't bring many female traveling companions with them, because Montana has the third lowest population density of any State. That said, it's the bovine equivalent of Manhattan. Montana is politically a swing state, with a slightly bluish hue. Of current note is the democratic Senator Max Baucus who unveiled the Health Reform bill (meaning the so-called Obamacare would more accurately be referred to as Baucucare Bill). State Capital: Helena.

Phew, that was a long post. Assuming I don't get 75¢ in State Quarters when I next break a dollar, the future entries should be a bit shorter.

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