Striking the wrong note

Yesterday’s Vaguely Interesting article looked at the numismatic phenomenon that is the US 50 State Quarters programme. Whilst it was an unrivalled seigniorage success story, the programme was not without its mishaps, mistakes or unintended consequences. Once a state’s chosen image was minted, it was there for posterity in hundreds of millions, if not billions, of copies.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire depicted the Old Man of the Mountain in its state quarter. It was issued on 7 August 2000, with the craggy old man staring out implacably to the similarly implacable state motto – live free or die.

The Old Man of the Mountain was one of New Hampshire’s iconic natural landmarks. Its geological description is uninspiring – just five granite cliff ledges jutting out from the side of Cannon Mountain in the state’s White Mountain range.

But, when viewed from the north, it magically transformed into the furrow browed profile of a face. It became famous enough to be chosen as New Hampshire’s state emblem in 1945, given pride of place on car license plates and state route signs and, of course, was chosen to represent the New Hampshire on its state quarter.

Unfortunately, less than three years after it was immortalised on the coin, the Old Man collapsed. Water seeping through the formation’s joints and fissures would freeze during New Hampshire’s harsh winters, expand the cracks and then melt away in spring. Over the centuries this was enough to weaken the rock and even man’s intervention couldn’t prevent its collapse on 3 May 2003.

Georgia and Indiana

When states were considering the designs for their quarters, putting an outline map was a popular choice for many. Georgia put its outline shape at the centre of its design – the map of the state was wreathed in oak sprigs with a peach in the middle of the outline.

Unfortunately, whilst the map covered most of Georgia, it didn’t cover all of Georgia. Residents of Dade County, GA were surprised to see they had been omitted from the design. Was this a botch job or a sly reference to Dade County’s impatient secession from the Union in 1860?

A similar mapping failure saw Indiana’s Lake County (or at least a portion of the county) omitted from the outline featured on its state quarter. With no interesting Civil War connection, this deletion did not get nearly as much attention as Dade County’s omission.


Tennessee wanted to use its quarter to highlight the state’s enviable reputation as home of musical legends. Nashville is the capital of country music, whilst Memphis-based musicians had a huge influence on early rock and roll and were prominent in blues and soul music. Nashville styles itself as Music City, U.S.A. and Elvis Presley’s Graceland was in Memphis.

So it was natural that Tennessee’s state quarter featured a fiddle, trumpet and guitar. But it was surely a design flaw to depict a guitar that had six strings at the top and only five strings at the bottom. Purists also found fault with the depiction of the trumpet, complaining that the valves were in the wrong place.