As noted in last week’s column: It was 20 years ago this month, in October 2001, that Kentucky’s official State quarter galloped onto the national scene. Its motif was a view of “My Old Kentucky Home” and a thoroughbred racehorse.
Interestingly, the Bluegrass State’s quarter dollar almost ended up with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln or a scene of Daniel Boone with a long rifle and a dog.
Today the United States Mint has well-defined processes whereby new coin and medal designs are solicited, reviewed, and decided upon. At the beginning of the State Quarters Program, those processes varied somewhat from state to state, and some were developed on the fly. This was a brand-new coinage program for the United States, innovative in its scope and unprecedented (although our neighbor to the north, Canada, had initiated a similar program for its provinces in 1992).
In Kentucky, Governor Paul E. Patton appointed his wife, Judi (a successful businesswoman and a longtime political activist for women, children, and families), to lead the Kentucky Quarter Project Committee. A call was put out, and would-be coin designers—ranging from schoolchildren to professional artists—submitted some 1,800 ideas. The Committee narrowed these motifs down to 12 semifinalists, including “horse behind plank fence in field, house in background”; “Birthplace of Lincoln”; “Thoroughbred running with jockey aboard”; and “Daniel Boone with long rifle, dog under tree.” The narrowed-down designs were displayed in the front lobby of the State Capitol building in June 1999. They were also published on the Internet.
Citizens were given three days to support their favorites, which they did with gusto, and more than 58,000 votes were tallied. The selections were further narrowed, with Abraham Lincoln in the running with a racehorse. The former president was disqualified, with a state spokesman noting, “The commission threw it out, saying it was artistically unsophisticated.”
The designs were reviewed by the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee (a precursor to today’s Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee), the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (which has advised the president on coin designs since 1921), Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and Governor Patton. As the governor made public appearances around the state, he asked Kentuckians for their opinions, and he finally selected the “Old Kentucky Home” concept that combined state history, family life, and horse racing.
Who created the winning design? According to the Treasury Department, the U.S. Mint itself was the designer of the coin, a position affirmed (in an October 2001 Cincinnati Enquirer article) by Kay Harrod, who coordinated Kentucky’s competition. Bob Farmer, the Commonwealth’s liaison to the Mint for design selection, had cautioned artists that the final design wouldn’t be credited to any single person. The Kentucky Quarter Project Committee said, in an August 22, 1999, memo, that the final design was “influenced” by many entries with shared features in common. In fact, when the Committee took Kentucky’s selected designs to Mint headquarters in a June 1999 meeting, they were told the Mint wouldn’t look at or accept any physical drawings, but would instead discuss only concepts and “the look we wanted.”
Mint sculptor-engraver T. James Ferrell was credited with modeling the coin concept (creating the plaster sculpture ultimately used in creating the coinage dies), and his initials, TJF, appear on the quarter under the plank fence. Ferrell was the sculptor of five coins in the State quarter series. Before Kentucky, he had engraved the designs for Georgia and Connecticut (both released in 1999). His work was featured on the quarters of Vermont and Kentucky in 2001, and he sculpted the design for Florida, released in 2004.
A total of 723,564,000 Kentucky quarters were struck for circulation (more than 177 coins for every man, woman, and child in the state, or 2.5 coins for every person in the country in 2001). Add to those more than 3,000,000 coins struck specifically for collectors in brilliant Proof format, and nearly another million minted in silver, and you have a beautiful and historic coin that’s also easy to find for your Kentucky collection.
Dennis Tucker, Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, is the publisher of Whitman Publishing, a leading producer of storage and display supplies, reference books, and other resources for collectors and hobbyists. He was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel in March 2021 for his career in book publishing and his promotion of the Bluegrass State’s status as an important subject in numismatics. His column “From the Colonel’s Desk” explores the Commonwealth’s rich connections to American coins, tokens, medals, paper money, private currency, and related artifacts.