Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Art of Money (Multilingual Quarters)

Commemorative quarters for Hawaii, DC, and other US territories, photo taken mid-2009.

Early in 2009 some media outlets were reporting on the release of new quarters commemorating Puerto Rico; these coins contained the words "Isla del Encanto" (Island of Enchantment) in Spanish on one side. As a follow up to the 50 State Quarters Program, the US Mint launched the DC and US Territories Quarters Program in 2009, with Puerto Rico receiving its own quarter. To see a diagram of the Puero Rico quarter (not in the above photo), see this website.

Many reports were treating the use of Spanish on US coins as novelty, but the presence of non-English inscriptions on US coins isn't a really a "new" thing. First of all, every US quarter bears the unofficial Latin motto E pluribus unum ("out of many, one"). Second, the state of Hawaii had already used Hawaiian in addition to the standard Latin motto on its quarter in 2008 (read more about the Hawaii quarter here). UA MAU KE EA O KA 'AINA I KA PONO = "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."

As you can see above (click to enlarge), DC and the US Virgin Islands have mottos in English (DC = "Justice for All" and Virgin Islands = "United in Pride and Hope"). The Northern Mariana Islands have no additional motto aside from the standard Latin. American Samoa has a motto in Samoan: SAMOA MUAMUA LE ATUA ("Samoa, God is First"). Guam has a motto in Chamorro: "Guahan I Tanó ManChamorro" ("Guam: Land of the Chamorro").

(For the US quarter that includes a Braille inscription, see the previous posting.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Art of Money (Braille on Quarter)

The US Mint began its State Quarters Program in 1999, issuing commemorative coins in the order in which each state entered the Union. The state quarter of Alabama (released March 2003) depicts Helen Keller, and above her name is the equivalent "translation" in Braille dots. I wonder if a blind person is able to read this inscription at this size?

I think it's interesting that Helen Keller is depicted in the act of reading itself. She runs fingers over a book in her lap, presumably one with Braille dots or raised letters.

By the way, this quarter -- like all quarters -- contains some Latin: the unofficial motto of the United States, E pluribus unum ("out of many, one.")

(For more on the use of the motto E pluribus unum, see here and here. For more on Helen Keller, see my earlier posting about her statue in the Capitol Visitor Center; see also here and here.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Helen Keller (Capitol Visitor Center)

I've already posted about the National Statuary Hall Collection, but I thought I should follow up with one more statue. Helen Keller, whose statue is now in the Capitol Visitor Center, is one of two statues representing Alabama. Keller was deaf and blind at an early age, and this statue depicts a linguistic epiphany at a water spout: "Her expression of astonishment shows the moment when she and [her childhood teacher and lifelong companion] Annie Sullivan first communicated, by touch, the word 'water.'" (This episode has been made famous by the play The Miracle Worker.)

The base contains a relief sculpture of Keller's Alabama home with English and Braille inscriptions - and an inspiring quotation from Helen Keller herself: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart."

For more on Helen Keller, see this plaque (here) and the tomb of Keller and Sullivan (here).