Ever find a red quarter? You know, a twenty-five cent piece that looks like someone dabbed red nail polish on it? I remember when I was a kid getting my first red quarter when I got change back. I thought, ‘no big deal, someone just was playin’ around and painted their quarter’. But as the years went on, and I kept getting other occasional red quarters, I began to wonder: what was up?

Researching this whole ‘red quarter’ phenomenon, I discovered that when I was a kid, red quarters were used in free laundromats (whatever that was) and some jukeboxes. But why painted red?

From what I could surmise, they were used as “house coins”, used by the establishment from whence they came; for example, if someone put a quarter in a cigarette machine (yes, believe it or not, packs of cigarettes used to cost twenty-five cents) and nothing came out, the manager would take a red quarter and use it to purchase another pack. When it came time to empty the coin box, the manager would take any red quarters that were used and put them back with the other house coins.

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Also known as ‘shills’, red quarters were also used by the management at local pinball and video arcades for the same reason.

Most of these red quarters were used before 1992 – so if you find one in your change, it’s extremely plausible that it was once a house coin at a bar, arcade, or laundromat.

Okay, one last question: but why the color red???
Red was used because it stands out much better when sitting amongst a pile of other coins...easy to find. The first red quarters were painted red because the only coloring that was handy at the time was a bottle of red nail polish.

Ever Find a Red Quarter?


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