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Say "Aloha" To The State Quarter

The U.S. Mint says "aloha" as it holds a ceremonial launch of the last of the 50 state quarters in the 50th state, Hawaii, today.

The Hawaii quarter is the last of the 50 state quarters to be released during the decade-old program. Hawaii became the final state of the Union in 1959.

As with all quarters, the face features a profile of George Washington. The rear shows Hawaii's King Kamehameha the First, along with the eight Hawaiian Islands.

It also includes the state motto in Hawaiian, "Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono," which in English means, "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."

A total of about 34 billion of the quarters representing all 50 states will have been minted when the program ends next month. It's estimated that about half of them will be stashed away by collectors.

U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy says the program has turned out to be a lesson in geography and state history for a generation of American children. (Some 3 million lesson plans have been downloaded from the Mint's Web site.)

"All our research has shown that this has really educated a generation of American children" on those subjects, said Moy, who was in Honolulu for Monday's ceremonial launch.

Congress authorized the 50-state quarter program in 1999. Each state developed its own plan to identify a design for the back of its quarters.

In Hawaii, a 36-member commission of community leaders and students reviewed 400 ideas and whittled them down to five finalists. The Mint then provided professional drawings.

An online poll was conducted in Hawaii, and in April 2007, Gov. Linda Lingle announced her selection of the design entitled, "Hawaii, the Island State." That was the winner of the poll as well.

Another winner has been the Mint, as the state quarter program has been a gold mine of profits.

While banks that order the quarters pay face value for them, the Mint has spent between 7 to 15 cents to make each one. Last year, for example, the Mint returned $825 million in profit to the Treasury, and $6 billion over the program's life, Moy said.

The Hawaii quarters entered circulation last Monday but it will take days or weeks before they become widely distributed around the state.

The Mint and several companies offer collecting kits of varying costs.

Congress found the 50-state program to be so popular and profitable, it authorized a new round of quarters for the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories - Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Those will be released next year.

Some collectors have been lucky enough to find quarters that included flaws.

"Some of the Wisconsin state quarters made in 2004 have an extra leaf on the cornstalk on the tail's side, and those are selling for over $100 each now," David L. Ganz, a New York City attorney and former president of the American Numismatic Association, said in a press release.

He noted that other state quarters that were mistakenly struck on the wrong metal blanks have sold for $1,000 or more. Becky Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Mint, said no flaws have been discovered in the Hawaii quarters.

Still, the program has become an international hit. While he is in Hawaii, Moy is being shadowed by two officials of the Japanese Mint who are studying the U.S. program. The Japanese Mint now offers a special collectable coin for each of its 47 prefectures that commemorates the 60th anniversary of the country's establishment of local government jurisdictions.

The U.S. Mint is holding a public forum on currency and coinage issues Sunday afternoon at Iolani Palace. The Hawaii coins will be available for purchase at the Mint's ceremony the next day in downtown Honolulu.

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