Inside the Capitol

Saturday, August 26, 2006

8-30 New Mexico Quarter

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- It's finally our turn. The New Mexico quarter may be in the last group released by the U.S. Mint but our state is first in the amount of history, geography and diversity from which to choose a design.
Those are the three aims of the U.S. Mint in its Commemorative Coin Program Act. It wants to educate youth about each state's history, geography and diversity. States get to choose a design for the reverse side of the quarter.
New Mexico's design proposals are due at the U.S. Mint by September 1. A commission has been working since spring to reduce proposals from New Mexicans throughout the state down to three. Engravers at the Mint then create designs based on the proposals and the state gets to pick the one it wants.
Last April, I voted for space travel, envisioned by Robert Goddard and his rocketry experiments near Roswell. The realization of that dream will come with the nation's first licensed commercial spaceport in New Mexico.
It's a combination of New Mexico's history with its future and it would add to the economic development efforts that have attracted Virgin Galactic, the X Prize Cup and several other space ventures.
Gov. Bill Richardson's choice is something similar to New Mexico's Rose Parade float. That takes care of the diversity, for sure. It had a mountain, trees, a pueblo and Smokey Bear, along with participants representing four cultures.
The float was an attempt to include everything possible about New Mexico. Although it didn't win an award, it received good reviews and seemed to fit in with the Rube Goldberg contraptions that characterized most of the floats.
But that may not be the best idea for something the size of a quarter. The numismatists haven't announced any competition for best quarter design, but last year the North American Vexillology Association named New Mexico's flag the best in the nation.
NAVA said simplicity is of overriding importance when designing something that has to be seen atop a flag pole. That also may be true for something that has to be reduced to the size of a quarter.
Not that I'm suggesting we put the Zia sun symbol on our quarter. We don't want to escalate that battle. But something simple might be a good idea. You've likely seen some of the quarters that try to squeeze in the state flower, animal, insect, fish, fossil, bird and butterfly.
And we may not want to include any of our numerous geologic formations. Those have had bad luck. Nebraska's Chimney Rock is continuing to erode and could soon meet the fate of New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain, which completely collapsed three years ago.
I also suggested last spring that since New Mexico was spending money on developing a brand, that it be seriously considered for our coin. But, alas, that effort has been discontinued. Could it be that the animal cruelty folks thought it would look like something on the rear of a cow?
There's no report yet on how many New Mexico quarters will be coined. It's likely that not as many are made for small states since we don't have as many coin collectors and that's a moneymaker for the U.S. government.
But the best way to generate demand for a coin is to have a misprint. Wisconsin had that honor when some of its coins showed up with what appeared to be an extra leaf on a cornstalk. They are selling for upwards of $1,000 apiece.
The mistake might have resulted from a last-minute change when the Wisconsin governor overruled his advisory commission on the design. There won't be any such confusion in New Mexico. Gov. Richardson's Web site says he will choose among the three designs from the Mint.
And since the governor makes the decision, expect to a design with many ethnicities represented. After all, they're all voters.
WED, 8-30-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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