Four Hundred Years of America--One Quarter at a Time
Age Range: 1758 - 1819
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Breezy collection of the stories behind the 50 commemorative quarters, one for each state, now making their way from the U.S. Mint into circulation.

Veteran anthologist Noles (Hearts of Dixie: Fifty Alabamians and the State They Called Home, 2004, etc.) provides 50 short essays on the images that appear on the quarters’ obverse sides. (An identical portrait of Washington graces the fronts.) Canada provided the inspiration in 1991, when it released 12 quarters dedicated to the 12 Canadian provinces. They were so popular and lucrative that U.S. coin collectors began pressuring their representatives to make U.S. state versions. Noles describes the political maneuvering in a numbingly detailed prologue readers will do well to skip, along with the fulsome foreword by Congressman Mike Castle. The coins began appearing in 1999 in the order in which each state joined the nation, from Delaware (1787) to Hawaii (1959), and the essays follow this sequence. The Delaware quarter features Caesar Rodney on a galloping horse; Noles explains that this Revolutionary War patriot, although ill, rode 80 miles to Philadelphia in 1776 to swing Delaware’s vote in favor of independence. The peach on Georgia’s coin inspires a history of peach agriculture in that state plus the essential trivia nugget: Georgia ranks only third in U.S. peach production; it’s first in peanuts and pecans. The single Native American gracing these coins is Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I (1758–1819), whose impressive accomplishments Noles recounts. For those who make lists, four state coins feature ships (not including New Jersey’s reproduction of Washington crossing the Delaware); four show horses (two with riders) and three portray the American bison (Montana’s depicts only the skull). Most chapters devote a few paragraphs to each state’s competition for the winning design, so readers will encounter descriptions of the losing designs as well as each governor’s less-than-deathless prose as he or she announces the winner.

An easy read apparently aimed at coin collectors, though history trivia buffs will also find plenty of material.

Pub Date: May 15th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-306-81578-2
Page count: 342pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2008


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by Jessica Weisberg