50 State Quarters

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U.S. quarters have turned a once-sleepy federal agency into the headquarters of the latest collectible.

The 50 State Quarters program, the brainchild of Philip N. Diehl, who became director of the U.S. Mint in 1994, is scheduled to honor the states with designs rolling out each year over 10 years.

The first quarters, featuring five of the 13 original colonies, started rolling into consumer pockets in January 1999.

The program, which includes a catalog filled with everything from the coins to the Delaware quarter golf divot tool for $14.95, is expected to generate $6 billion to $8 billion in profits for the U.S. Mint, says Mr. Diehl, 49.

All profits from the program are rolled back into the U.S. Treasury Department's general fund.

As a self-confessed "funky new Democrat who believed there's a role for market mechanisms in the public sector," Mr. Diehl says he saw the opportunity to build bridges to consumers groups, including coin collectors.

"By making changes in the coins, we realized that we'd be tapping into something much deeper than just the interests of collectors."

Grey Advertising, New York, produced a humorous $10 million print, radio and TV campaign featuring Kermit the Frog as the official spokesfrog. The effort aimed to reach the preteen market and their parents. When the first state quarter rolled out, Mr. Diehl made appearances on major news outlets such as the "Today" show.

Now that his presidential appointment is about to end, Mr. Diehl has accepted the post as president of Zale Corp.'s Web site.

"To listen to customers and fashion that into a business insight, that's the nature of creativity in marketing," he says.

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