The Alaska State Quarter is the 49th coin in the 50 State Quarters Program. The coin depicts a grizzly bear holding a freshly-caught salmon in its powerful jaws, as it emerges from a rushing stream. The inscription, "The Great Land" appears to the right, below the North Star. Alaska was admitted to the Union on Jan. 3, 1959; the year Alaska became a state appears below the inscription "Alaska" at the top of the coin. The other side of the Alaska Quarter bears the same portrait of George Washington that has appeared on the other State Quarters.
Alaska State Quarter Design
The main design element of the grizzly bear catching a salmon is intended to symbolize the natural beauty of Alaska and the abundance of its wildlife. The grizzly represents strength, and the salmon stands for the nutrition that makes such strength possible. These are lovely concepts, except for the fact that the grizzly bear is an omnivore. However, the grizzly is eminently appropriate for the Alaska Quarter design, as more than 98% of the grizzly population in the United States is found in Alaska.
The depiction of the North Star on the Alaska Quarter is a little disappointing. The North Star is a grand symbol, the most famous star in the sky to humanity spanning at least three millennia, but most people will probably overlook the depiction of the Star on the Alaska Quarter. It looks just like any number of other mundane stars that have appeared on U.S. coinage, and I doubt many will realize its significance. It would have been nice if they had given it some rays, or made it larger and less generic-looking. At least it's there in some modest form!
Alaska State Trivia
Alaska is a remarkable state for its many extremes. Few people truly appreciate the sheer size of Alaska - it is larger than the three largest contiguous U.S. states combined! One of the photos to the right shows Alaska superimposed over the continental U.S. Here are some other fascinating facts about Alaska:
- The U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, about 2 cents per acre.
- Alaska has nearly 3,000,000 lakes, some of which appear only seasonally.
- Of the 20 highest mountain peaks in the United States, 17 of them are in Alaska, including the tallest (Mt. McKinley, called Denali by Alaskans.)
- Less than 1% of Alaska's land is privately owned.
- The word "Alaska" comes from the Aleutian word "Alyeska," which means "The Great Land."
- Alaska boasts an impressive 29 volcanoes!
- The total population of Alaska is well below 3/4 of a million people. A 2006 estimate puts the number at 670,053 residents.
- Alaska was not explored by Europeans until 1741 and Russia established a colony in Alaska to protect its lucrative fur-trading interests.
- Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million, or two cents per acre, when it could no longer afford to maintain the colony.
One of the most surprising facts about Alaska is that it has the westernmost, northernmost, and easternmost points in the United States! The Aleutian Islands extend farther west than Hawaii. In fact, they extend so far west that they cross the 180th meridian, placing them in the east, which is how Alaska claims the easternmost point in the U.S., too. As for the northernmost reaches, about a third of Alaska falls north of the Arctic Circle.
Collecting the 50 State Quarters
The 50 State Quarters Program from The United States Mint ended in 2008. These modern circulating commemorative coins are readily available in uncirculated and Proof strikes from your local coin dealer or on the Internet. There are no rare or scarce issues, so putting together a beautiful looking collection of 50 State Quarters will be relatively inexpensive.
Alaska State Quarter Specifications
- Release Date: August 25, 2008
- Reverse (tails) Side: The Great Land
- Engraver: Charles Vickers
- Standard Weight: 5.670g
- Standard Diameter: 24.26mm (0.955 in)
- Thickness: 1.75 mm
- Edge Type: Reeded
- Business Strike And Proof Clad Composition: Cupro-Nickel Clad (8.33% Nickel, 91.67% Copper)
- Proof Strike Silver Composition: Silver Alloy (90% Silver, 10% Copper)
- Philadelphia Mintage: 251,800,000
- Denver Mintage: 254,000,000
- San Francisco Mintage (Proof Clad): 2,078,112
- San Francisco Mintage (Proof Silver): 1,192,908