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Find A Red Painted Quarter? Here’s How Much It’s Worth

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By Joshua

I recently found a red quarter in my pocket change.

This isn’t the first painted coin I’ve come across, either!

So, what’s up with these red painted quarters?

In this article, I’m going to answer these questions:

  • Why is my quarter red?
  • What does a red painted quarter mean?
  • How much is a quarter that’s been painted red worth?

The Arcade Connection To Red Painted Quarters

Some of you might remember (as I fondly do) going to video game arcades in the 1980s and ’90s, spending goodness knows how many quarters playing games.

I was usually dropping quarters to play Pac-Man, Pole Position, and (later on) Super Mario Brothers 3. I was soooooooo excited when that third installment of the Super Mario Brothers series hit the streets.

But you know what I wasn’t too excited about? Do you recall dropping a quarter into a video game machine and it didn’t work. That was the pits…

So, then you’d find the nearest attendant and they’d either try to fix the machine on the spot or they would give you a quarter for a free game.

Turns out, they didn’t give you just any quarter.

The quarter they gave you would usually be marked in paint (or more likely nail polish) in whatever color was handy to them. With red being a popular color for nail polish, that was the typical go-to choice.

And that explains the likely origin of the red quarter I found — and any painted red quarters that you are likely to come across, as well.

…But Why Paint The Quarter?

For accounting purposes!

The quarters were marked so when coins from the games were counted at the end of the day, the week, or whenever, the red quarters (which were easy to spot in a pile of silver-colored change) could be pulled aside and not counted as revenue.

The arcade would keep those red quarters on hand for another day to give other players a free game when their machines failed.

Marking the quarters also helped arcades track which machines received complaints — so that proper maintenance or repair service could be performed on them.

Other Reasons Quarters Are Painted Red

Apparently, it’s not just arcades that paint their quarters red.

Places with snack or drink vending machines often do the same thing. They keep red painted quarters on hand as a courtesy for patrons encountering situations with malfunctioning machines or for offering free refreshments to workers.

Restaurants or bars with pinball machines and pool tables might pass out red quarters for free games, too.

Some soda shops and diners with jukeboxes use red painted quarters to keep the music playing, often with the hope of encouraging others to choose songs they wanted to hear — and use their own quarters in the process!

It’s also a common practice for laundromats to paint quarters for the purpose of providing free loads to patrons. Tenants and superintendents in apartment buildings with laundromats might also be given red quarters by their landlords for free washes and dryer loads.

Red painted quarters could also be used by repair personnel for testing arcade games, jukeboxes, payphones and other coin-operated machines while avoiding accusations of stealing money.

Then there are some of the more interesting, non-accounting reasons why quarters were painted red:

  • In the 1970s, many protested the toll increase from 15 cents to 25 cents on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway by painting their quarters red and using them to pay the tolls.
  • Some Alcoholics Anonymous groups gave red quarters to members, telling them to call their sponsor with it if they felt tempted to get a drink somewhere.
  • And many, many children painted their coins as an experiment to see if they’d ever get the coins back in change someday. Did you ever do this, too? I did… But I’ve yet to find any of the coins I painted.

How Much Are Red Painted Quarters Worth?

While a red quarter might have been worth a free game at the arcade back in the day, they’re generally worth just their face value today.

You see, painted quarters are considered altered by coin collectors. So unless your red quarter happens to be silver or has an error or variety, you can count on it being worth only 25 cents.

What should you do if you find a red quarter?

You could just spend it. Or, maybe you’d be inclined to keep it as a memento — especially if you, too, enjoyed wiling away your days with Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Mario at your favorite arcade.

Those were the days

Did you find a strange-looking U.S. coin? Post a picture of your coin in the comments below and I’ll try to help you find the backstory about it and how much it’s worth!