April 19, 2019


Having better things to do with your time, you may not have heard about the to-do over

the new Kansas quarter when that state’s coin finalists were announced last year. The most popular version had a buffalo thinking 25-cent thoughts on the back, thoughts that included this: Would it have hurt to have spent a little more time with a buffalo before trying to draw one?

The buffalo’s horns, according to news reports, were pointing in the wrong direction – forward instead of up, a discrepancy pointed out by a former buffalo rancher. The mistake was fixed by the time the coin was struck Monday, but the wayward horns sounded like some of struggles Maine had with its own quarter in 2003. Its winning design had displayed the famed and historic three-masted schooner Victory Chimes, the very flagship of Maine’s windjammer fleet, but was re-rendered at the U.S. Mint as a nondescript two-masted schooner, perhaps even the Pride of Baltimore II, flagship of the state of Maryland.

Unflagging protest eventually sank the imposter schooner and returned the proper one to the scene, a type of rescue Marylanders themselves were unable to achieve to save their state quarter, issued in 2000. It features the dome of the Maryland Statehouse, which, as they ruefully observe, looks generically like a dome on any other statehouse. Some Missourians had similar complaints about their Lewis and Clark design, and lamented the Gateway Arch as depicted bore resemblance to half a McDonald’s logo.

These slips, gaffes and instances of bad judgment are not the result of those who protest over their home-state quarters being improperly exacting or of the U.S. Mint being less competent than any other part of government. It is the quarter itself, the solid, undeniable evidence of government performance that reveals so much about whether an agency got it right or whether it got the wrong schooner.

Municipal government demonstrates its ability when it paves a road or cuts the grass at a ball field. And the state has either plowed the highway or it hasn’t. Washington, at several removes from the public, is mostly about paperwork or services well out of the public eye, so its errors, if not hidden, are at least more easily defended.

The new quarters remove the layers of protection that usually surrounds the federal government, making their worth considerable.

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