Story by Alan McNarie
Photo by Jack Wolford
For a long time the quarter led a rather staid existence: George Washington on heads, the eagle on tails, and the only thing that ever switched was the date. Then, a decade ago, big change swept through loose change: Suddenly there were dozens of new designs on quarters — there was John Muir, Crater Lake, Mount Rushmore, a jumping salmon, Washington crossing the Delaware and our very own King Kamehameha I. Each state and American territory was given its own quarter, and getting a handful of coins became a lot more interesting: Did you get an astronaut? A racecar? A tree?
Now quarters have gotten even more engaging: The US Mint is in the midst of releasing its latest series, America the Beautiful, which will highlight fifty-six locales, including Alaska’s Denali National Park and Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest. America the Beautiful will issue new quarters all the way through to 2021, and this August number fourteen in the series was released with an image of none other than Hawai‘i Island’s Kilauea volcano.
The volcano quarter was designed by the Mint’s Charles Vickers, who’s been creating coins and medallions for thirty years, including ten with the US Mint. His volcano design, one of the most intricate that the mint has ever issued, features an image of an erupting spatter cone on Kilauea’s East Rift. Even Vickers himself isn’t sure how many individual blobs of lava are frozen midair in the design, but the number is likely well over a thousand. Many coins today are designed wholly by computer, but for the volcano quarter the veteran designer went old-school, sculpting and carving with clay and making a number of castings, etching details into the details to capture the dynamics and energy of Kilauea.
The quarter was officially released in a soggy ceremony at the Kilauea caldera on August 27, so expect to find one in the palm of your hand soon.