Now and then, I receive quarters painted either red or blue. I wondered why people paint them until a friend told me a painted coin is a jukebox quarter. While I am well aware of what a jukebox is, I am not sure why jukebox owners had to paint the coin they feed on the machine.
If you also wonder what these painted coins mean, stick to this article, as I will discuss their significance back then. My guide will also help you determine whether they are still valuable today.
Barmen used to insert coins into jukeboxes to keep the bar’s atmosphere alive. They paint the coins, so collectors know which coins they inserted. Vendors will subtract the jukebox quarters from the total earnings and return them to the barkeep.
Before digital music platforms, people used to patronize jukeboxes heavily. Back in the 90s, jukeboxes were the life of the party, making them a popular attraction in bars. A jukebox was like a vending machine, only that it dispensed music instead of beverages when you inserted a quarter into it.
Moreover, jukebox owners use painted quarters to activate the machine. But what are these painted coins, and what is their purpose for tracking jukebox quarters?
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A jukebox uses coins to play the songs that people pick. However, people don’t constantly sit at the jukebox, feeding it coins and desires. At times like this, the bar’s atmosphere that houses the jukebox becomes dull.
Barmen insert coins into the jukebox and play songs to bring back the lively ambiance. These coins, known as jukebox quarters or in-house coins, are painted red as an indication that the bartenders are the ones who inserted them.
Once the jukebox vendor opens the machine to collect the coins, they return the painted coins to the barkeep and collect the remaining regular coins. Painting the quarters is a way for bartenders and vendors to track them. They will know how much the jukebox earned for the night by monitoring the quarters. (source)
Most of the painted quarters you will see today are still in circulation. For this reason, most numismatists or coin collectors do not consider these painted coins a collector’s item.
But while in-house quarters are pretty standard today, you may still add them to your collection if you get a hold of one. These painted coins became a massive part of the jukebox’s history. So, a jukebox quarter is an excellent addition to your collection if you collect coins for their history. (source)
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Jukebox or in-house quarters’ only value is that people still use them as legal tender. You may receive them as change when you pay for something at a store, as many of these painted coins are out in general circulation.
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You may wonder, “if jukebox vendors reimburse painted coins to barmen, why are they in general circulation?” The answer is that not everyone was honest during the popularity of this system. For this reason, many painted coins reached circulation outside bars and places where jukeboxes were present.
However, unlike collectible and rare coins with high value, jukebox quarters do not have numismatic value. Meaning their only value is that they are still money in circulation. Generally, any painted coin that is reproducible does not have numismatic value. (source)
While painted quarters do not have numismatic value, some coins are more than just pocket change.
- Coins with errors – coins with manufacturing errors, such as doubling, missing sections, and cracks, are famous among collectors. The greater the coin’s mistake is, the more valuable they become.
- Coins with mint marks – mint marks indicate where the coin was struck; sometimes, the strike is not in the center. These marks are often on the head side of the coins, but some also have errors on the reverse side. The location of the mint mark significantly affects the coin’s value. (source)
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Jukeboxes were in their prime from the 1940s to the 1960s. The 1950s was the global height of these machines’ fame, with almost every bar and diner in the US having one. One of the main reasons for this immense popularity is that jukeboxes made a good profit, easy to maintain, and were inexpensive to operate.
So, to ensure that people will keep using jukeboxes, barkeeps keep the music playing by inserting painted quarters. They believe that keeping the music on encourages people to play songs on the jukebox, allowing its owner to earn money.
However, the continuous advancement of technology caused the jukebox’s popularity to decline. Portable audio cassettes allowed people to enjoy their music at home, so they stopped inserting coins into jukeboxes. (source)
No one knows when jukebox owners stopped using jukebox quarters. However, the machine’s decline in popularity ultimately contributed to the halt of painted quarter usage. It could be that jukebox owners stopped such efforts when the number of people who used these machines decreased significantly.
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Not all painted coins are jukebox quarters. While using quarters painted with red nail polish was a popular system that jukebox owners used, many other machines operated by inserting coins utilized this method. For instance, pool tables, arcades, and vending machines provide customers with painted coins when the machines “eat” their quarter.
Back in the 90s, people who repaired coin-operated machines like jukeboxes, payphones, and vending machines tested the devices they fixed using painted coins. This way, machine owners will not suspect them of stealing once they retrieve the coin they used for testing.
One of the benefits for many people who live in apartments back then is free laundry. But since laundry machines use coins to run, apartment owners provide managers with painted coins. The apartment residents can ask the managers for these coins when they need to do their laundry. Once it is time for coin collection, managers can get the painted coins back and circulate them among residents again. (source)
Wishing trees or money trees are a tradition that dates back centuries. The idea is similar to wishing wells, only that believers deposited coins in tree trunks. While most people deposited regular coins, others painted their coins differently from the rest.
Purple and red were the most common colors for coins pressed into trees. These royal colors represent strength, but people mainly used them to distinguish themselves. (source)
When the bar’s atmosphere wanes, Barmen once used painted quarters to play songs on jukeboxes. The psychology is that patrons are more likely to use the jukebox when it is already playing than coming to the bar and finding the machine silent. This way, the jukebox’s owner can increase their profit from the machine.
However, it is essential to note that painted quarters are reproducible. Therefore, they do not have any numismatic value. They are also still in general circulation, making them common as pocket change.
Moreover, not all painted coins are jukebox coins. For instance, arcade owners also used painted coins for their coin-operated machines when players claimed they lost their coins while playing. Maintenance specialists also used such coins for testing the equipment they were fixing so they could retrieve them once they finished the job.
- Louie_Two_Bits. “Jukebox Quarter.” Cointalk.com. February 17, 2010. https://www.cointalk.com/threads/jukebox-quarter.93407/. Accessed September 22, 2022.
- Boston Mike. “Quarters Painted Red.” Cointalk.com. November 9, 2007. https://www.cointalk.com/threads/quarters-painted-red.30180/. Accessed September 22, 2022.
- Richard Giedroyc. The Everything Coin Collecting Book: All You Need to Start Your Collection And Trade for Profit. USA: Simon and Schuster, 2006. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=sUPrDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=signs+that+a+coin+have+numismatic+value&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiGq57w7qn6AhWM4DgGHSi7C6kQ6AF6BAgJEAI#v=onepage&q=signs%20that%20a%20coin%20have%20numismatic%20value&f=false. Accessed September 22, 2022.
- Kerry Segrave. Jukeboxes: An American Social History. USA: McFarland, 2002. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=bxfCCgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=history+of+jukebox&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj5nOSd76n6AhWNdd4KHZf_Di4Q6AF6BAgKEAI#v=onepage&q=history%20of%20jukebox&f=false. Accessed September 22, 2022.
- Scoundrel. “My First Jukebox Quarter.” Metaldetectingforum.com. June 2010. https://metaldetectingforum.com/showthread.php?t=260288. Accessed September 22, 2022.
- Ceri Houlbrook. The Magic of Coin-Trees from Religion to Recreation: The Roots of a Ritual. Springer, 2018. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=WYlXDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA130&dq=painted+coins+as+a+sign+of+defiance&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj544K1zan6AhXIZ94KHayGCGQQ6AF6BAgLEAI#v=onepage&q=painted%20coins%20as%20a%20sign%20of%20defiance&f=false. Accessed September 22, 2022.