The Michigan State Numismatic Society

A History of the Michigan 50 State Quarter Design by  Steve Roach

A History of the Michigan 50 State Quarter Design by  Steve Roach

[This chronicle appeared in successive issues of The Mich-Matist, Summer 2003, Fall 2003, Winter 2003, and Spring 2004. Editor]

I’ve been involved in numismatics and the Michigan State Numismatic Society for over a decade now, and my involvement with the Michigan State Quarter Commission certainly stands out as the most interesting hobby-related activity that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in.  Being a part of the team that selected the five themes for Michigan’s quarter was a fantastic experience and this series of articles is intended to help document the process of selecting Michigan’s State Quarter and will hopefully illuminate what went on in the committee and record the quarter’s ultimate reception in 2004.  Of course, I’ll be talking about this from my perspective and including my opinions when appropriate.  I hope that this series will serve as a definitive document about our State Quarter, so I’ll err on the side of length and publish this in several installments in the MichMatist over the next year.

At the moment, I think that it would prove most useful to publish this in four parts, spread out through the Summer, 2003 to the Spring, 2004 issues. At present, the four installments of this series will cover the following:

Ø      Summer, 2003: Some background information regarding the formation and announcement of the committee and design process for Michigan’s quarter.

Ø      Fall, 2003:  The goings on of the committee and the selection of themes, along with the steps of the design process and the Mint's guidelines for it.

Ø      Winter, 2003:  The announcement of the five designs and the transition from the themes agreed upon by the committee to the Mint’s designers.

Ø      Spring, 2004:  The ultimate selection of the final design and its reception with both Michigan residents and the numismatic community.

While I’m not about to state that I was a particularly vocal voice on the committee, I was an attentive participant and I hope that these articles will prove both interesting and informative.

In January, 2001, during his State of the State Address, Governor John Engler announced his plan to appoint a State Quarter commission.  In a November 28, 2001 press conference, he announced the names of the 25 members appointed to the Commission.  Although the quarter was not to be issued until January 2004, he stated:

 “It is not too soon to begin thinking about a design that honors our unique history, traditions, and symbols. Who should submit ideas for our Michigan quarter? I hope that this wonderful opportunity energizes people of all ages all across our state – school children, their teachers and parents, history buffs, coin collectors, all who love the Great Lakes State.”

Curiously, artists were left out of the statement; in retrospect, one of the first suggestions that themes, rather than specific designs, would be emphasized with Michigan’s design process.

The deadline for submitting designs was February 15, 2002 and Engler cleverly stated that it was, “…The day after Valentine’s Day. It’s how you can show your love for Michigan!”  Engler concluded his statement by saying, “Already people are speculating about what the winning design should look like and what symbols best capture the spirit of Michigan. The possibilities are endless. We in the Great Lakes State have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to our state’s contributions to America and the American way of life.  If I know our citizens, I can say with confidence that they will submit much more than just two bits’ worth of ideas! In fact, I’ll wager that Michigan will have the best quarter in America!”  The meeting concluded with Engler presenting a computer-generated design concept that included him seated on a car with the motto Great Cars, Great Lakes, Great Governor and the announcement of the Michigan residents who made up the Commission:

    Arthur Ellis-Chair Mt. Pleasant (Isabella County) Former Superintendent, Michigan Department of Education

    Connie Binsfeld-Co-Chair Maple City (Leelanau) Former Lieutenant Governor

    Judith Bailey Marquette (Marquette) President, Northern Michigan University Appointed Member, Michigan Humanities Council

    Ann Bobrofsky Battle Creek (Calhoun) Secretary, Michigan State Numismatic Society Former County  Commissioner, Calhoun County Michigan State Numismatic Society Member

    Marlee Brown Musser Artist

    Reverend Ira Combs, Jr., Th. B. Pastor

    Karen Davidson Bloomfield Hills (Oakland)

    Irma Elder Bloomfield Hills (Oakland) Appointed Member, MEDC Corporate Board

    Frank Ettawageshik East Lansing (Ingham) Artist/Consultant

    Rhonda Grant Eaton Rapids (Eaton) Vice President, Jackson National Life Insurance Company

    Steven Hamp Ann Arbor (Washtenaw) President, Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village Appointed Member, Michigan Travel Commission

    Patrick Heller Lansing (Ingham) Owner, Liberty Coin Service Active in getting young people involved in designing the Michigan Quarter Member of the Michigan State Numismatic Society

    Patricia Hill-Burnett Bloomfield Hills (Oakland) Artist

    Dorothy A. Johnson Grand Haven (Ottawa) Appointee, Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees

    Joan H. Krause Grand Rapids (Kent) Western Michigan University Board of Trustees (Emeritus)

    Charles Langton Sterling Heights (Macomb) President/Attorney, Langton & Associates, P.C.

    Jerry Linenger Linenger Communications Traverse City (Grand Traverse) Former Astronaut

    Keith Molin Ann Arbor (Washtenaw) Appointed Member, Michigan Historical Commission

    Steven Roach Livonia (Wayne) Student, University of Michigan, Majoring in Art History/Organizational Behavior Member of the Michigan State Numismatic Society

    Victoria Jennings Ross Bloomfield (Oakland) Lecturer in the field of Art and Architectural History

    Nettie Seabrooks Detroit (Wayne) Mayor Archer's staff member

    Judith Singley Cassopolis (Cass) Sam Adams Middle School (4th Grade Teacher)

    Dennis Starner Midland (Midland) Chair, Midland County Republican Party

    Clifford Taylor East Lansing (Ingham) Justice, Michigan Supreme Court Honorary member of the Michigan State Numismatic Society

    Craig Whitford Delhi Township (Ingham) Past President, Michigan State Numismatic Society Member of the Michigan State Numismatic Society

Engler’s stated goal was to, ”…Make sure that, when it’s time for the Michigan quarter, that we’ve got a design that honors our unique history, our traditions and symbols.” The Department of History, Arts and Libraries kept track of the submitted proposals and organized and managed the process.  The Detroit News reported on December 1, 2001 that the dominant themes in the already submitted designs were the Mackinac Bridge, outlines of the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, the Great Lakes, lighthouses, and cars.  In an article that was carried across the state via the Associated Press, I was quoted as saying, “I just want it to be something beautiful and something a little different” (from the 15 state coins in circulation).  Initially, my hope was to get a quarter that was both extremely well-designed, and representative of the state. While nearly all the quarters are the latter, very few are the former.  My ideal design was something that wouldn’t be too obvious, but still was indicative of Michigan.  Vermont’s issue still has to be my favorite, because I like the idea of a quarter that requires a bit of thought.   On the Vermont issue, a man in a scarf and cap is checking sap buckets on maple trees with the shape of the Camel’s Hump Mountain in the background. To me, it is a beautiful quarter that is truly representative of the state.  It is neither generic, nor obvious.  But, arguably Michigan has more history and resources to draw upon than Vermont, and with such a distinctive shape that is framed by the lakes from which Michigan gets its nickname, an outline would simply have to be incorporated into the design somehow.  Somehow, a Michigan outline is much more inspiring than that of Wyoming, or Kansas.  With that in mind, how would Michigan produce a quarter that looked different than the many other states that combine a motto, a small emblem of the state, and the state outline in their designs?

            A statement by Maureen McNulty Saxton, spokeswoman for the Department of History, Arts, and Libraries, hints at the trouble that would emerge with the process. The same Detroit News article reports her as saying, “We expect to have loads of winners”.  While I have no doubt that everyone who submitted a design is a winner in some regard, the lack of selecting five designs produced by Michiganders reflects one of the main problems of Michigan’s design process.  Following a rather ambiguous mandate issued by the Mint to get the five design concepts rather than an actual design, the process’ goal was to select five themes that could be described in words for the Mint’s artists to interpret.  Most likely this was a result of controversies with several states such as Missouri or Indiana, where artists complained about not getting enough credit or involvement in the design process.  Putting the responsibility for design on the shoulders of the Mint artists let the individual states create clear instructions on how their quarters were to look, but in theory, effectively limited their participation in the actual design process. Unfortunately, as further installments will show, Michigan’s process proved to be inconsistent with that of other states and the final concepts would look eerily like the design that Engler presented in jest during the November 28, 2001 press conference.

[Michigan State Quarter Article Part II:  Fall, 2003:  The goings on of the committee and the selection of themes, along with the steps of the design process and the Mint's guidelines for it.]

            The first meeting of the Michigan State Quarter Commission met at 1:00 PM, Tuesday, January 14, 2002, in the Board Room on the 5th floor of the Library of Michigan.  At that meeting, we were welcomed by Maureen McNulty Saxton, Coordinator of the Michigan State Quarter Commission and Director of Communications for the department of History, Arts & Libraries.  After the welcome, MSNS and Quarter Commission member Pat Heller provided a prospective on the history of coins and coin designs that included handouts summarizing other state quarters that had already been produced along with some examples of attractive coin designs throughout history.  Current MSNS counsel Steve Bieda, who designed the reverse of the 1992 Olympic Commemorative Half Dollar, was slated to discuss working with the U.S. Mint, but was unable to attend.  Victoria Jennings Ross provided a perspective on Michigan history and Marlee Brown Musser, an artist, shared her thoughts on Michigan art.

            Following those talks, the meeting went on to describe the design selection process and what the next step was.  A subcommittee to par down the entries was formed and nine people, including MSNS members Pat Heller, Craig Whitford, and Ann Bobrofsky volunteered to help break down the distribution of the themes after all the designs were received on the due date of February 15, 2002.  Commission members received a preliminary analysis of the design ideas that were being submitted, based on a sample of 197 submissions that were received by January.  Over half included a state outline or the Mackinac Bridge, with over a third incorporating an automobile.  The meeting adjourned at approximately 3:00PM. with a follow-up meeting scheduled for two months later, March 15th, 2002 where the actual entries would be judged and ultimately, the State quarter themes would be selected.

            The March meeting began at 8:30AM and started with a review of several groupings of design concepts.  Pat Heller provided the group with some criteria to consider for the design of the 2004 Michigan quarter.  He named three overall factors to keep in mind:

    The size of the design space limits the complexity of the design. At about ½ inch high by ¾ inches long, for all practical purposes it would be difficult to include more than three or four design elements.

    The design should be distinctive for Michigan.

    Ideally, the quarter should incorporate all of Michigan over its entire history noting that Michigan isn’t only Detroit; it is also the Upper Peninsula.

His memo also analyzed the pros and cons of various popular design concepts including:

State Outline: Distinctive, unique, but doesn’t necessarily say anything positive about the state.

Mackinac Bridge: One of America’s famous bridges, unites two peninsulas, but looks similar to other famous bridges.

Automobile: Michigan’s famous worldwide for its cars and the theme is distinctly of the state, but the automobile isn’t as dominant in the state anymore.

Lighthouse: Michigan has more lighthouses and coastline than any other state, but no individual Michigan lighthouses are especially famous.

Also distributed at the meeting was a sheet that summarized the design concepts and mottos included in the first 20 state quarters along with a humorous article that was published in the March 7, 2002 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel titled “Voters Get Quarter for their Thoughts: Narrowing Process for State Coin Holds that Brats, Includes Farming, Badger Themes.”  The 23 members of Wisconsin’s committee sorted through 9,608 entries, prompting the governor to joke that the state had, “…Had so many entrants, I actually thought if we’d charged a quarter for each one it would have helped the budget.”  Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, beer steins and cheese heads didn’t make the cut for Wisconsin’s quarter.              The dominant design concepts that the subcommittee identified were: the state outline, the Mackinac Bridge, a lighthouse, a car, an apple blossom, an ore boat, a canoe, and a feather.  The last three were problematic in that the ore boat concept wasn’t widely represented by the submissions yet it is an important part of Michigan history.  The canoe concept represents both Native Americans and early settlers to the state while the feather brought a common Indian theme that would be acceptable and recognizable to nearly all Native Americans.  The conclusion of the committee was that the simplest designs were the most effective and that the state’s outline, including the lakes, would suffice.  Member Jerry Linenger, an astronaut, added that Michigan’s outline is easily recognizable from space, lending further weight to the selection of the state outline as the primary theme.  If additional elements were to be used, they would be most effective along the outside and not inside of the land as to not detract from the overall design.  The findings of the subcommittee also found that the most successful designs that did not have overlapping elements.

            These seven concepts were displayed on tables, represented by some of the most accomplished designs, with binders that included the rest of the designs featuring these concepts.  We were given an hour to examine the theme tables and write down our comments on each of the concepts and then we discussed the merits and each theme.  After opinions were shared, we got to vote on the concepts that we were going to include in each of the five designs.  We could select from the outline, a car, the Great Lakes, the Mackinac Bridge, a pine tree, a lighthouse, an ore boat, a canoe, or any combination of the above.  In the middle of this discussion, the concept of using tiny symbols around the state to incorporate many ideas into a single design was introduced.  At first the reception was lukewarm, but soon it was embraced by nearly all of the members as, if nothing else, a novel idea.  After several sessions of voting and discussion on what combinations would be most effective, the final five designs concepts were selected.  These were:

    Outline of the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes

    Outline of the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes plus three very small symbols at the left side and three very small symbols at the right side.  The symbols are an early automobile, the Mackinac Bridge, a lighthouse, a pine tree (for the lumber industry in the 1800s), a Great Lakes canoe (for the Native American history), and the North Star (the star followed by fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad)

    Outline of the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes plus the Mackinac Bridge

    Outline of the state of Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge, and an early automobile

    Outline of the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes plus an early automobile

The meeting was left that these designs would be created by a government artist and they would be unveiled at a 1:00 PM press conference, April 3, 2002, at the Michigan Historical Center, in the Woodland Diorama Exhibit display area.  Needless to say, we were all more than a little surprised at the designs that were displayed among the woodland dioramas that afternoon.

Winter, 2003:  The announcement of the five designs and the transition from the themes agreed upon by the committee to the Mint’s designers.

At the April 3, 2002 design unveiling at the Michigan Historical Center, all of the committee members were a bit surprised at the format of the designs that were presented.  The homogenous, computer-generated relief certainly didn’t inspire and excite those present, nor did these designs reflect the generally high quality of the submissions and their creativity.  The response from the committee members and the press was underwhelming at best.  A poll of over 40,000 visitors to Michigan’s website showed that the clear favorite, with 14,333 votes was the design with the icons, the one that was thrown in on a whim.  Coming in at a distant last was the State Outline and the bridge, with only 2,166 votes.  Personally, I find it unfortunate that the designs, even with their grey relief, failed to give any sense of volume, and didn’t give each design it’s own personality.  In these computer-generated designs, the icons do look the best, but in the hands of an artist, the bridge and land motif could have really been something special and beautiful.  As presented, the bridge melted into the state and was nearly unrecognizable.

Later that month, Governor Engler forwarded the five design concepts to the U.S. Mint where the Mint produced its own drawings of the design concepts.  Again, following the prior mandate that states submit written descriptions rather than designs, it seemed early in the process that the actual designs sent would be less important than the descriptions.  The Citizens Coin Advisory Committee, and the U.S. Fine Arts Commission were to review the designs over that summer, but Michigan’s designs were withheld because the sketches were still undergoing some last minute revisions by the Mint’s artists.  The designs were not ready for the congressionally mandated review because revisions still needed approval from officials in Michigan.  The delay was a result of disagreement regarding the state boundaries as they appeared in the computer-generated designs.  Michigan’s new Governor Elect, Jennifer Granholm, wanted to make sure the water boundaries and land masses, including the small islands around the state, were properly represented.

            At the 2002 Spring MSNS convention in Lansing, the State-generated design concepts were on public display and throughout the year they were on public exhibit in the rotunda of the Michigan Historical museum and were to be available for viewing at various art fairs and festivals around Michigan.  On November 27, 2002 the Detroit News published, “Coin Buffs Miffed over State Quarter: Collectors Balk at Bland Design,” which noted that Michigan residents were unhappy that the state outline was featured on all five design concepts and the generic similarities between each of the designs.  It mentioned a movement that started on the internet to start the design process all over again and said that it was primarily confined to, “…The sometimes quarrelsome world of numismatists, coin buffs, who form the backbone of the $1.5 billion coin collection industry.”  Colorado artist Daniel Carr, who is credited for designing several state quarters, wrote an editorial in Coin World calling Michigan’s designs among the worst to come out of the program.  While the State took the view that these designs were merely representations of the word descriptions that the committee produced, the public, and ultimately the Mint, saw these as the actual designs.  Under the Mint’s changing guidelines, whether or not a state was to submit designs was unclear to Michigan, and the result was problematic for both collectors and government officials.

            Michigan isn’t alone in its problems with the design process.  Indiana’s basketball player vanished in the transition from the design provided by the state to the Mint design and the artist who designed Missouri’s quarter has fought a very public struggle against the Mint’s version of his design.  Susan Shafer, spokeswoman for Governor John Engler defended the designs, noting that they came from a pool of 4,300 entries that were evaluated by a 25-member committee.  “This is supposed to be a positive project to get people interested in coins and proud of their state; we had a tremendous response from people all over the state.  That’s what is important, not a few individuals who might not be happy with how it turned out.”  Pat Heller, who played such an instrumental role in the selection of the designs said, “I had hoped there would be more variety in the design, but that’s the problem with working with a committee.”  MSNS Vice President Tom Klunzinger commented that the process, “guaranteed a bland result” because committees are dependent on compromise.  In my opinion, the primary element that removed the individuality out of the designs was not using actual designs created by Michigan residents.  If designs that actual people designed were selected and submitted, there would have been very little of the backlash that was seen.

            Ultimately, the Mint’s designs were based very closely on those presented at the April, 2002 press conference.  The positioning of the bridge and car varied, and the land was textured rather than flat, but the designs looked very similar to one another.  In my opinion, the most effective design simply shows the state and the lakes, with the Great Lakes State motto in the field.  Simplicity is often best, and in absence of a creative design, Michigan may as well have an effective one that successfully represents the state.

[This is the final installment of my four part article on Michigan’s State Quarter.  The first article appeared in the Summer, 2003 MichMatist with subsequent articles in the Fall, 2003 and Winter, 2004 issues.  I was a member of the commission that helped select the design, so the first three installments were based on my personal involvement.  In the fall of 2003 I began law school in Ohio, and sadly, my studies have not allowed me the time to attend the striking ceremonies, so that information is based on secondary sources.  For a good summary of Michigan’s quarter, there is an informative article in the January, 2004 issue of the official publication for the American Numismatic Association, Numismatist.]

In 2004, the time finally came for Michigan’s quarters to be struck!  On January 8th, there was a first strike ceremony at the Denver Mint that was scheduled to start at 10:00 AM.  On its state quarters website,, reports that Carol Winogrocki of Michigan received the state's first reported 2004-P Michigan State quarter at The Capitol, Monday, Jan. 26 and reported it near noon on the same day.  In January, Michigan quarters were reported in California and Connecticut.  As of March 14, 2004, the only states that have not reported receiving Michigan quarters are Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada.  The March 22, 2004 issue of Coin World reports that the Denver Mint produced 225.8 million circulation-quality 2004-D Michigan quarters, making it the lowest mintage among the first 26 Denver State quarters.  Philadelphia did a bit better, producing 233.8 million coins, making it the sixth-lowest Philadelphia issue since the program began.  Combined production totaled 459.6 million, making Michigan’s quarter production the 6th lowest so far.  But, there are more Michigan quarters out there than Maine!  With only 448.8 million quarters produced, Maine has the lowest combined production for any State quarter so far released.  1,594,616,000 Virginia quarters were produced, making that issue the most common.

The “Michigan Quarter Unveiling U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program” took place at 11:00 AM, Monday January 26, 2004 on the grounds of the State Capitol.  Per the published schedule, the ceremony started off with music provided by the Mackinac State Historic Parks costumed interpreters on bagpipes and drums.  Peter, the Mint Eagle was on hand to talk to kids and answer questions.  After a welcome from Dr. William Anderson, director Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries, MSNS Immediate Past President Richard Watts spoke on what the program meant to Michigan’s coin-collecting community.  Then, Mint Director Henrietta Fore made remarks and presented Governor Jennifer Granholm with signed artwork from Donna Weaver and the first struck coins as a gift for the Michigan Historical Museum.  Granholm then said to the approximately 350 people clustered inside the Capitol, “If I must say so, this is the best-looking quarter I have ever seen. This Great Lakes emblem will be all over the globe."  Director Fore invited Granholm to place the new coin on the Mint Map and then, “bagpipe and drum players provided fanfare for coin placement.”  Dr, Anderson announced the opportunity for collectors to meet with Fore, and after the ceremony, dozens lined up outside heated tents on the Capitol lawn to purchase the state quarters in limited quantities.

As reported in a January 26, 2004 article titled “Two Bits' Worth: Michigan Joins Lineup of State Quarters,” in the Detroit Free Press, Fore said in a telephone interview before the ceremony, "The Great Lakes design is a simple yet detailed design that recognizes the importance of the Great Lakes, The Great Lakes are one of the most recognizable features on the Earth's surface."  The article also said federal officials estimate the Denver Mint and Philadelphia Mint will produce 450 million Michigan quarters over a 10-week period.  “The mint estimates that more than 130 million Americans collect the 50 quarters. Although the entire set can be had for $12.50, the coins are not considered collectibles because they are in regular circulation.”

A separate article titled, “Two-Bit Battles: Backs of Commemorative Quarters Turn into Artistic Combat Zones” in the Money Report supplement of the January 12, 2004 Detroit Free Press commented that, “No public squabbles erupted over Michigan’s design, but that’s not true of all the quarters released through the US Mint’s 50-State Quarters Program.”  Ultimately, the process that lead to the conservative design helped Michigan’s quarter avoid the pitfalls that come with acknowledging a specific artist’s role as Missouri did.  Paul Jackson, a Missouri artist won a statewide competition and launched a public campaign against the Mint’s subsequent interpretation of his design.  Also, by not using potentially commercial images such as classic automobiles, Michigan avoided Indiana’s problem with their race car design element.  After Missouri and Indiana’s troubles, Fore introduced an “Artistic Infusion Program” that transferred the designing duties from the half dozen US Mint engravers to 20 professional artists hired by the Mint.  Fore said, “We’re striving for excellence in design.”

            Ultimately, Michigan’s quarter may not be particularly dynamic, but it is a handsome design.  I stated in the aforementioned Numismatist article that I thought it was unfortunate that a classic automobile or the Mackinac Bridge couldn’t have been incorporated in the final design, but that these elements would have interfered with the coin’s simple, spare elegance.  I still contend that the final design feels somewhat perfunctory, without much flash or sparkle, and that it doesn’t adequately represent the many great designs that were submitted by the public, yet the quarter effectively does its job.  As one commission member stated, “The coin is very informative.  Michigan has more coastline than any other state, and the reverse of the quarter illustrates this perfectly.”  Pat Heller reflects the views of many when he admits that he “was hoping for more, but there was no way every element would fit.  Michigan’s location and geography made it possible for a great number of industries to flourish here, so the image of the state surrounded by the Great Lakes really represents everyone.”  I feel tremendously proud to have had a role in its design, albeit a minor one.  My mom saved the first quarters that she received back in early February, and sadly, as of March 14, I have not found one in circulation here in Columbus.  Perhaps it is a conspiracy on the part of Ohio’s government to keep Michigan quarters out of the Buckeye state?   Regardless, I’ll always have fond memories of my involvement with Michigan’s state quarter and I hope that you found these articles both informative and entertaining.