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Hot off the press — State's coins spark delight

DENVER — Rarely has a mere 25 cents made so many people so happy.

Dozens of Utahns were all smiles Monday at the U.S. Mint as the official Utah quarter was available for public viewing for the first time. Lawmakers and state officials handled the still-warm quarters as they poured out of the coining press and each, with a quick push of a button, ceremonially struck his or her own piece of history.

"Can you believe it?" Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, asked happily. "I got to make a quarter."

Unfortunately, mint officials retrieved the coins as quickly as they were made because the quarter won't be officially launched into circulation until Nov. 9.

The Utah quarter depicts the 1869 joining of the rails, completing the nation's first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit in Box Elder County. The back side of the coin features two steam locomotives headed toward a large spike in the coin's center and is inscribed with the words "Crossroads of the West."

Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert said that the driving of the golden spike at Promontory, while significant to Utah, was also of crucial importance to the entire nation.

"It's ingrained certainly in Utah's history, but just as importantly, it's ingrained in America's history," he said.

The winning coin design beat out two other contenders in a popular vote: a female snowboarder to represent the state's winter sports and a beehive, which is the state emblem and part of the state's official seal.

Slightly more than 52 percent of the 132,000 Utahns who voted online selected the golden spike.

The joining of the rails is proof of Utah pioneers' plucky attitude and "can-do" spirit, Herbert said, adding that the state's continued job growth and strong economy show that Utahns today still embody that ideal.

"We are still the crossroads of the West," Herbert said. "We are still that glue that holds East and West together."

Bruce Griggs, president of the Utah Numismatic Society, was also on hand in Denver to take part in the ceremony.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone to witness a first strike of any coin," let alone one that celebrates your own home state, he said.

The U.S. Mint's state quarters program has renewed interest in coins, inspiring a whole new generation of collectors, Griggs said.

"It's a huge boost," he said. "Children are really interested in it, particularly."

The U.S. Mint has produced coins for each of the 50 states in the order they were granted statehood. Utah's quarter is the 45th state coin to be released since the program began in 1999. Five more will be released in 2008 before the mint returns to production of the standard eagle quarter.

The quarters are made in mints in Denver and Philadelphia before being shipped to the Federal Reserve for distribution. The Denver facility makes 5 million to 8 million quarters a day.

Production levels are based on demand, so it's unclear how many of the Utah quarters will ultimately make their way into the Beehive State.

The demand for Utah quarters is definitely there, said state Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, who drove from Vernal to attend the Monday event. Van Tassell, who is manager of the Vernal Zions Bank office, said he's received inquiries about the state coin for some time.

"I've never seen people so excited about something," he said. "I took calls last week, 'Are the Utah quarters in yet?"'

The bank has already requested three boxes of the Utah quarters, though he's not sure it will receive that many. Each box contains $300 worth of quarters.