Artifact: When Coinages Clash


Credit: Silver surfer U.S. quarter, courtesy Business Wire

In May, 20th Century Fox contracted with the Franklin Mint to add an image of a Marvel Comics superhero, the Silver Surfer, to the backs of 40,000 existing U.S. quarters and send them into the U.S. cash stream. They were meant as promotional devices for a summer movie, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

It has become customary for Hollywood to extend the totemic power of film characters to various objects, from soft drink cups to kids' backpacks, giving those goods a patinaof added value. But Fox and the Franklin Mint aroused the wrath of a mighty wizard even more experienced in creating perceived value by placing its stamp on an object: the U.S. Mint.

Federal officials warned the Franklin Mint that it was "breaking the law" which bars citizens from impressing upon "any coin of the United States, any business or professional card, notice, or advertisement." This isn't the first time the Franklin Mint has enhanced actual currency, and a spokesman tells me that after consultation with the government they don't anticipate prosecution, despite a warning from the U.S. Mint.

The Franklin Mint and Marvel's Surfer already have proven themselves more powerful than the U.S. government in one respect: While Washington's seal made a coin worth only a quarter, the image of the Surfer made it worth, at press time, $72 on eBay.