NEW YORK - With a big aloha to Hawaii, a new generation of coin collectors will soon shut their books on the U.S. Mint's popular 10-year state quarter program full of fond family memories and a fun dose of history.
While not terribly rare, considering about 34-billion were produced, the commemorative quarters have captured the frenzied fancy of kids and their parents as they've drawn extended family, tip-collecting waiters and friendly bank tellers into the hunt.
Coveted by roughly 147-million collectors in the U.S., the coins have also been lucrative for the Mint, bringing in $3.5-billion in pure profit by the end of last year, excluding special-issue sets.
The Mint knew the program would be successful, said spokesman Michael White, "but it turned out to be even more popular than expected. This is the most popular coin program in history."
Come November, it will end with Hawaii as the last state honored, having fulfilled one of the government's goals - to ignite interest among young people in U.S. history, geography and coin collecting.
Bruce Chapman, 54, of Yorba Linda, Calif., and his 23-year-old daughter, Valerie Cope of Provo, Utah, will miss "the ceremony."
"I've been collecting state quarters with my dad since I was 14," Cope said. "I remember wondering what I'd be doing in 2008 when the state quarters were finally all out. It seemed so far away."
The two get together with each new release after Chapman picks up a fresh $10 roll at his bank. Cope gets to choose which coin to press into their slotted map, but dad provides the muscle to adjust it just right.
"We sing a little song: 'It's the quarter ceremony!' Imagine really bad operatic-style singing," Cope said. Using a napkin to polish, they "sit back and marvel at how many quarters we've collected."
The Mint issued the quarters in the order each state joined the Union, with five releases a year at intervals of about 10 weeks. Colorful collection books, often in the shape of U.S. maps, are full of state trivia and history covering each state.
Teachers have also hopped aboard, downloading thousands of free lesson plans on the quarters from the Mint's Web site.
"I like learning about the state nicknames, what year the state joined the U.S., what year the quarter was made and what the flags look like for each state," said Grey Miller, 10, of the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst.
Added his 7-year-old brother, Ted: "I like it because you can see what's on each state's quarter and talk about why flower or animals or whatever are on them."
Their mom, Karen Lien Miller, said Grey is "vigilant about keeping a mental tab of the quarters that Ted needs and looking for them. My husband and I have been able to extend that goodwill between brothers in a few sticky situations as well."
Cope recalls her dad going for teachable moments using the quarters. "My dad and I would discuss the design of each quarter, who is John Muir and why is he on California's quarter? Huh, South Carolina is known as the Palmetto State? It certainly helped cement in my head just exactly where each state is located."
In her younger years, Cope wasn't convinced old-fashioned coin collecting was a hobby she could get behind.
"It honestly started out as something I thought was dorky and embarrassing," she said. "Coin collecting. That's for nerds, but I have grown to really love it. It's been a wonderful way my dad and I could stay connected throughout the years as I graduated from high school, went away to college, got married and moved away permanently."
Chapman, a coin collector since childhood, joked: "I was hesitant to have 'the ceremony' in front of her then-fiance, Mike. I thought that after our little display of nerdiness he might run for the hills."
Cheryl Heiks in Wilmington, Del., said the state quarter program that began with the one for her state is a three-generation endeavor in her family.
"My daughters, now 12 and 22, and my 86-year-old mother have all joined us to build our collection," Heiks said. "My youngest daughter was and still is studying American history, and we look at them and talk about the themes and features of each state, their history and geography. It makes getting change fun."
Established collectors have also embraced state quarters, said William T. Gibbs, news editor of the weekly Coin World, which describes itself as the hobby's No. 1 publication.
"Collectors, quite frankly, were tired of seeing the same old designs decade after decade after decade," he said.
On the horizon
Collectors looking for a fresh fix should keep eyes peeled next year. That's when quarters will be issued for the left-out District of Columbia, commonwealths of Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
On the Net
U.S. Mint state quarter page: http://tinyurl.com/4ctvdg
U.S. Mint state quarter lesson plans:www.usmint.gov/kids/teachers
Coin World state quarter news:www.statequarters.com