The State Quarters Program
At the beginning of the year 1999, United States coin collecting got a boost. The US mint began issuing five different quarters for each year, to culminate in the year 2008. These quarters depict the 50 states of the US, in the same order in which they were accepted into the Union. Anybody handling US coinage has doubtless noticed the different designs, and this is a tantalizing hook: it's easy to get your hands on the current releases, but quite difficult to latch on to the entire set.
With US Mint polls showing that coin collectors have increased in the population by 50% between 1999 and 2006, this has brought all kinds of new interest to the coin-collecting field, but has also generated a lot of controversy. Each state gets to approve and commission their own design, and the committee that meets to decide this sometimes gets embroiled in debate between special-interest groups who all want to hold sway over how their state is to be represented. When no agreement can be reached, a cop-out that many take is to simply show a map of the state itself, sans additional symbolism. This irritates numismatists, who prefer a skillfully-executed illustration to a plain Thomas-atlas outline. As a rule, coin collectors prefer that there would be less politics mixed with their hobby!
Coin dealers are a mixed bag on state quarters. When people who have never thought to collect coins have suddenly shown interest, the new breed of collectors that this generates ensures that hundreds of mint-quality specimens of every state will be available decades from now. This has happened before; the Susan B Anthony dollar of the 1970's through 90's was not very popular in circulation and too popular with collectors, consequently, mint-state gem-quality Susan B. Anthony dollars from the first year of issue are not worth the trouble to save when they're as plentiful as rocks. There are coin shops who won't touch state quarters.
However, some of the state series have gone on to gain value. Particularly the first year's five quarters, with Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut, have risen in value for pristine specimens, due to their escaping into the wild before the fad caught on. Some of this market value can even be attributed to a "bubble effect" on the coin-collecting market. It is probably better to wait a few years after the series is complete, to see what the real value of complete sets in good condition is really worth.
If the state quarters were to compete in a beauty contest, the winners and losers would be scattered all around. Since each state gets to hire their own designer, some of the quarters have been done by people who have never done an engraving before. Today's modern breed of computer graphics-trained artist have a hard time thinking in terms of what can be done with an embossed die. The original design ideas in many cases have been submitted and rejected and rearranged and thrown out, with much back-and-forth between committee and artist. What we are left with is sometimes bland, and sometimes inspired, but always an interesting commentary on how the individual states see themselves.