I want to talk about something I think we’ve lost, but I don’t want to sound like I’ve come down with a case of being old and cranky so I’m going to start off with what I like about the change. And it’s about change, like how there’s varying patterns now in pennies and nickels and the whole State Quarters series. Although at this point it isn’t really State Quarters anymore. They’ve moved on to pictures of National Parks Plus Other Park-y Things because they couldn’t think of national parks that are in some of the states out there. And then there were State Quarters for places that aren’t states, like the District of Columbia, Guam, New York City, Munchkinland, and Paris. But I don’t know how to group all this into a single name so I’m going to call them State Quarters and if someone wants to tell me that Arches National Park isn’t a State, they can come up where I can credibly threaten to poke them in the eye.
Anyway the State Quarters and other stuff project has been fun because it’s encouraged my tendencies towards coin-collecting. I don’t have any good reason to collect coins, except that they are shiny things that can be put into piles of things, and when you look at it that way it’s a wonder anyone does anything besides coin-collecting. The habit offers the obvious benefit that whenever I get change in any transaction, for fifteen years now, I’ve had to examine every single coin, adding a quick touch of suspicion and wondering whether I’ve got enough Commodore Perry Victory Memorial coins. (This is a surprisingly tricky question: I’ve been to Lake Erie, and there’s Commodore Perry Victory Memorials every 46 feet of shoreline, at least on the United States side of things. I haven’t been to the Canada side of the lake but imagine they’ve got a couple Throat-Clearing Followed By Explanations Starting, “You Have To Understand” Monuments along the Ontario shore.)
And eventually all this coin-collecting will really pay off when someday, presumably, I will die. Then whatever poor soul is tasked with the job of cleaning out my junk will get to bring stacks of coins into the coin shop, bringing a moment of sadness to anyone in the strip mall who catches sight of them, and learn that all these carefully collected State Quarters can be turned into a whole $22.50 in cash. It should be $25.00 — Philadelphia and Detroit mints, of course — but the coin shop charges a premium for counting out 100 quarters, after all, and they’re pretty sure it’s supposed to be ‘Denver’ mint anyway.
Now, I don’t want to get too cranky about the way things used to be, but I don’t see how kids growing up can appreciate how weird it is that they keep changing quarters five times a year. I grew up when coins were done the correct way, in that they were almost all the same except now and then you got a Bicentennial Quarter. It was stable. Oh, there was a bit of excitement when they changed the penny from being copper to being a copper-painted lump of high-fructose corn syrup in 1982, but the only kind of exciting penny was the one that was stuck as if glued to the tile right beside the toilet and was turning horribly green and who knew what kind of horrible things might befall the person who touched it but it was a whole penny and if you had that and 124 more of those you might buy a paperback collection of Hagar the Horrible strips next bookmobile day.
Today even the penny isn’t perfectly stable, and you can’t do the trick of offering to flip a penny and pick ‘the side showing Lincoln’s face’ because you can’t count on the tails side being the Lincoln Memorial and having a teeny tiny little Lincoln face inside there. You never could, but if you were the kind of kid who dreamed of someday being in an Encyclopedia Brown story you were sure you could pull that fast one on somebody, eventually, someday, and even that promise is lost. Encouraging these piles of coins to last after you die is great, but think of what we’re giving up.