SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Coin collectors and history buffs lined up to be among the first to get a new quarter commemorating the Golden State's history, featuring the likeness of John Muir, his beloved Yosemite and a California condor.
The coin, part of the U.S. Mint's 50 State Quarters Program, entered circulation Monday with an introduction by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and first lady Maria Shriver at the California State History Museum.
"Muir lit the torch of conservation in our state," said Schwarzenegger, who chose the final design. "He has inspired generations of Californians to preserve our natural beauty, and this is what makes him so special. Yosemite wouldn't be the cathedral that it is today."
Muir, who emigrated from Scotland as a boy, explored and wrote about much of the western United States in his lifetime. His advocacy helped launch the national parks system. Two of Muir's grandsons, John and Ross Hanna, attended Monday's ceremony.
"In his day, people weren't concerned with conserving the environment and he's the one that made people do that," 82-year-old Ross Hanna said.
The coin was designed by Los Angeles graphic artist Garrett Burke. The final design was one of more than 100 submitted to a committee that narrowed the selection to 20 entries. Schwarzenegger picked the winner last year.
Other images considered were the Golden Gate Bridge, a gold miner, the sun and waves, and a redwood tree.
The new California quarter will be sent to the Federal Reserve Board for distribution to banks, but coins will take a few weeks to get into general circulation, Mint officials said.
That didn't stop more than 1,000 people lined up Monday to exchange their old coins for new ones, buying commemorative box sets and $10 rolls of the new quarters.
"Coins are the most interdisciplinary artifact of a civilization's history," said Donald Kagin, a committee member and numismatic expert. "A culture's history, religion, fashion, politics, metallurgy - it's all contained in its coins."
Since 1999, the U.S. Mint has issued new quarters marking the order in which states ratified the U.S. Constitution and joined the union. California became a state on Sept. 9, 1850.
This year, the Mint also plans to release quarters representing Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas and West Virginia.
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