Background image courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid.
Part 1 of 6: The Lowell National Historical Park Quarter
This past Tuesday, September 19, 2017, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with fellow Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) members Thomas Uram and Erik Jansen on H Street in downtown Washington, D.C. We were in the nation’s capital for a meeting of the CCAC. The committee’s main agenda item: to review design proposals for five upcoming America the Beautiful quarter dollars and one Congressional Gold Medal.
A new addition to CCAC member Tom Uram’s collection: A 1935 silver medal.
Breakfast was relaxed because we’d started the morning early, well before our 8:30 administrative meeting, giving us time to visit and catch up over eggs, bacon, and steel-cut oats. Tom, a financial adviser by trade, showed us photos of a large silver 1935 Met Life medal that he’s going to research. It was awarded to a life-insurance agent who sold a remarkable $100,000 worth of policies six years into the Great Depression.
A worn Sacagawea dollar that circulated as pocket change in Ecuador. (Courtesy of CCAC member Erik Jansen).
Erik had shown us some “condition rarities” from Ecuador—U.S. Presidential and Sacagawea dollars in very worn circulated grades. These coins are rarely spent as cash in the United States, so here we typically see them in nothing less than lustrous Mint State or About Uncirculated condition. In Ecuador and El Salvador they’re actually used as day-to-day currency, so they get worn down like any other pocket change. I shared with my breakfast companions the story of a small collection of Franco-Prussian War satirical tokens I recently bought. They lampoon the defeated French emperor Napoleon III, showing him wearing a German spiked helmet, or chained with a collar marked SEDAN (the scene of his military defeat and capture). Some of the tokens depict him with a cigarette in his mouth—the emperor was a notorious chain-smoker, said to have been seen nervously puffing tobacco as his armies were routed by the Germans.
After coffee we walked a couple blocks down to United States Mint headquarters on Ninth Street. The entire committee (except for member Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had a schedule conflict) assembled with Mint acting deputy director David Motl, Mint counsel, program managers, and others in the eighth-floor board room, for our 8:30 to 9:30 admin meeting. At 10:00 we moved to the second-floor conference room where we were joined by members of the press and public, with Mint medallic sculptors Phebe Hemphill and Joseph Menna on the phone line from Philadelphia, and several National Park Service and other liaisons present as well.
After some introductory business, we jumped right into our review of the America the Beautiful coin design proposals for 2019. The sketches were made by Mint artists (and Artistic Infusion Program artists) based on earlier guidance from the CCAC, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and liaisons from the national parks and other sites involved.
The first portfolio we reviewed was for Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts.
This site was established as a national park in 1978 to protect local history and interpret Lowell’s important role in U.S. industry. In the 1820s and 1830s the recently incorporated mill town grew into the cradle of the American Industrial Revolution. Its waterways and canal systems provided the power to run textile mills—innovative “integrated” factories that housed their entire operations under one roof, instead of spread out in several buildings or locations. New machinery was developed. Cloth manufacturing was revolutionized at Lowell, moving away from its cottage-industry origins into a new world of mass production. Providing the manpower—or womanpower—to run the machines were the so-called Mill Girls, most of them from the nearby farms of New England, recruited to Lowell to work in the factories. They stayed in company-owned boarding houses, with supervised educational and cultural opportunities and organized living. The Mill Girls became a social force in America, encouraging labor reform and education for workers.
Interpretive Park Ranger David Byers, who joined us in person at the meeting, discussed three important components for the coin design: It should include the human element, telling the story of the Mill Girls; it should capture the idea of technological innovation; and it should feature the “built environment” of the mills. The National Historical Park’s preferred design was MA-04.
MA-04 (hover to zoom)
In my own review of the Lowell portfolio, which included 18 sketches, I discounted those designs that don’t feature the Mill Girls, because their specialized labor was such an important transition from the artisanal hand-work of the past to the full automation of today. That took MA-02, 03, 05, and 06 off the table. They each have their strengths and weaknesses; these are the notes I made as I studied them:
- In MA-02, I like the bold legend of AMERICAN INDUSTRY, and the use of the factory buildings to represent the new age of industrialization moving away from the cottage industries of the past. But the absence of the human element is a detraction for this design.
- In MA-03, as with MA-02, the bold legend AMERICAN INDUSTRY and the architecture tell the viewer what they’re looking at. These aren’t warehouses or office buildings, but industrial factories. However, the absence of the Mill Girls leaves an important part of the story untold, or at most just hinted at.
MA-02 and MA-03.
- MA-05 tells the story of textiles from cotton farm to factory, but I discount it because it lacks the human element of a worker in action.
- MA-06: Yes, the raw cotton is important, and the shuttles and bobbins are important. But take the worker out of the equation and you end up with threads—you don’t get whole cloth.
MA-05 and MA-06.
Among those designs that do feature the Mill Girls, I preferred those that give an expansive view of their work in the mills, showing more of the textile machinery (rather than focusing on individual elements such as shuttles and bobbins).
MA-01 and 01A feature a Mill Girl, and also textile machinery, but to my eye her stance is too posed and static. She appears to be displaying the loom, rather than working at it. The design looks like an old-fashioned museum diorama and not a living, breathing activity. There has been a lot of CCAC discussion recently about avoiding “pictures on coins” and moving toward more symbolism in American coinage art.
MA-01 and MA-01A.
Design MA-04 has a storytelling combination of machinery and humanity. It’s also one of only two designs that include a text reference to spindles, which adds another layer of understanding for 21st-century viewers looking at 19th-century technology. My only concern was that the spinning machine might be too finely detailed for a quarter-sized coin. On the silver three-inch coin the design would enjoy greater depth and more visible detail, but the circulating quarter offers less than a one-inch canvas.
MA-07 and MA-08 use the same Mill Girl figure—07 as the coin’s main motif, and 08 as part of a bigger scene. The figure of the woman handling a bobbin and shuttle is well drafted, but without a legend to accompany it (as with AMERICAN INDUSTRY in some of the other designs), it would be ambiguous and mysterious to a 21st-century viewer. Modern Americans won’t recognize the threaded bobbin or the shuttle, especially reduced in size to fit on the quarter dollar. On a one-inch canvas, it would look like the Mill Girl is shucking an ear of corn. Design MA-08, however, is an improvement with its combination of the human and machine aspects of Lowell’s textile industries. The loom gives context. Also, the Mill Girl isn’t just pressing levers, but she’s interacting with the machinery in a very intimate, literally “hands on” way. This is a good depiction of the transition from artisanal cottage-industry work to mass production. The machinery might be finely detailed, but we’ve seen fine detail work in some recent America the Beautiful quarters, for example, the 2017 Frederick Douglass and Ellis Island coins. It would be up to the Mint’s engraver to make MA-08 work, but I think it could be done. MA-08 was my #1 preference from the Lowell portfolio of designs.
MA-07 and MA-08.
CCAC member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, from Pennsylvania, a leader in the field of medallic sculpture with work exhibited throughout the United States and in the collections of museums here and in Europe, as well as in numerous private collections.
Committee member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman (representative of the general public, and herself an accomplished sculptor) noted the importance of showing Lowell’s architecture, and called out designs MA-16 and 17A. Member Dr. Herman Viola (specially qualified in American history) supported our liaison’s preferences and brought attention to the quote in MA-14: “Art is the handmaid of human good.”
MA-14, MA-16, and MA-17A.
Conversation quickly centered around MA-10, 11, and 12. These designs (three variations of the same motif) show a Mill Girl with thread stylized as if it were being spun from water, symbolic of the importance of Lowell’s canal system in powering its textile mills. These eye-catching designs ultimately were the ones that won the committee’s recommendation. Personally, I appreciate the artistry of the water being turned into thread, and I like the intervening force of the Mill Girl in that transformation (she’s literally the central figure in the designs), but to me this is too stylized of a depiction of the textile production process. It captures the importance of the waterworks, but reduces the loom machinery to a single element (the bobbin and shuttle). I feel that reduction goes too far. Committee member Robert Hoge, our member specially qualified as a numismatic curator, agreed, saying that “the water and thread doesn’t work” and critiquing the halo or nimbus effect of the water-wheel in MA-12.
Other committee members, however, were quite taken with the artful nature and symbolism of MA-10, 11, and 12. Mike Moran, a numismatic researcher and published author, said he was drawn to them as a civil engineer who appreciates that “water power drove these mills.” He did rhetorically ask, though, if they would resonate with the man on the street.
MA-10, MA-11, and MA-12.
Heidi Wastweet, our member specially qualified in sculpture and medallic arts, called this suite of three designs “what we’ve been asking for” in the CCAC’s recent push for more symbolism and less literalism. She called them “beautiful, symbolic, but representational.” In contrast, she addressed design MA-04 as one that is “adequate, informative, very literal, utilitarian,” and asked, “Is that the bar we want to set?”
Member Thomas Uram also spoke about MA-10 and 11 as being among his preferences, noting that they would “really let you see more than just a machine.”
Member Erik Jansen noted that “the face imparts emotion on a coin,” and for that reason MA-17 and 17A can be discounted, since the Mill Girls’ faces are turned from the viewer. MA-10, 11, and 12 don’t have that problem.
Member and former committee chair Mary N. Lannin, an expert in ancient coinage, was emphatic: “My heart is with number 11.” She praised the way MA-11 actually shows the water turning the mill wheel, and spoke about the stance of the Mill Girl: “She’s proud. This is her work.”
Acting Chair Donald Scarinci, a specialist in art medals, called MA-11 “clearly the nicest.” “It gives us everything we’ve been asking for” in terms of a movement toward artistic symbolism on American coinage. “The artists are listening to us.” He pointed out that the design has all three elements desired by our liaisons at Lowell National Historical Park. It focuses on the individual Mill Girl, it makes use of negative space, and it has a hint of abstraction in the thread depicted as water. It shows motion rather than photography, Scarinci said.
CCAC member Dennis Tucker, author of American Gold and Silver and publisher at Whitman Publishing.
Our Vote for Lowell, and Our Recommendation to the Treasury
The mission of the CCAC is to study and review coinage design proposals and make our recommendations to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, who ultimately decides what designs will be used. In our first round of voting for the Lowell sketches, each candidate could earn up to 30 points—10 members of the committee were present, and each member could assign 1, 2, or 3 points to each design. Our voting was thus:
- MA-10, 11, and 12, grouped for the purpose of voting, got 18 points.
- MA-15 and 16, grouped, got 12 points.
- MA-04, our liaison’s first preferred choice, got 11 points.
- MA-07, 08, 13, and 14 each got 4 points or fewer.
- MA-01, 1A, 02, 03, 05, and 06 each got 0 points.
Since our most points were voted in a block, to MA-10, 11, and 12 as a general motif, we voted in a second round among the three. In the second vote:
- MA-10 earned 0 votes.
- MA-11 earned 6 votes.
- MA-12 earned 1 vote.
The CCAC’s recommended design: MA-11.
This voting is not a final act itself, but a springboard for further conversation as we circle in on “final.” A bit more discussion led to a closer study of the wheel buckets shown in MA-11’s machinery, at the left of the design. Our recommendation to the Secretary of the Treasury: adoption of MA-11, with the wheel buckets modified, as the reverse of the 2019 Lowell National Historical Park quarter.
Mr. Byers from Lowell agreed with our recommendation, appreciatively noting that MA-11 interprets the textile story from left to right, starting with the force of moving water, then the Mill Girl holding machine parts, and finally to woven thread.
Background image courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid.
Part 2 of 6: The American Memorial Park Quarter (Northern Mariana Islands)
My late-morning flight from Atlanta to the September 19, 2017, Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee meeting in Washington was quick and easy—no delays, no bad weather or turbulence. It’s an hour-and-a-half trip from The Big Peach to our nation’s capital. Convenient travel is one of the advantages of living in Atlanta, home to the busiest airport in the United States. I’m well aware that other CCAC members sometimes have to fly in at the crack of dawn, or take trains that might or might not be delayed.
At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport I received in change two bright, freshly minted 2017 America the Beautiful quarters—one Ellis Island, and one Frederick Douglass. Their designs illustrate the amount of fine detail that can fit on the small canvas of a quarter dollar. There’s a difference between busyness in a composition and detail in its execution.
The second portfolio of designs we reviewed in our meeting was for American Memorial Park on Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands.
This park honors the American and Marianas people who gave their lives during the Marianas Campaign of World War II. There are 5,204 names inscribed on a memorial that was dedicated during the 50th anniversary of the Invasion of Saipan.
Acting Superintendent Paul Scolari of American Memorial Park (right) joined us by phone for our CCAC meeting—even though it was 1:00 in the morning on Guam! (Photo by U.S. Navy First Assistant Engineer Mike Long.)
We were joined by Paul Scolari, acting superintendent of the park, who was calling in from Guam (where it was 1:00 in the morning). Mr. Scolari described American Memorial Park: It’s an urban setting of about 130 acres, a commemorative park and a memorial landscape that was established coincident with the creation of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. People use it as a living park, for recreation, Scolari said, and it’s an important part of the community in that sense. But its main focal point is the Memorial Court of Honor and Flag Circle, and its intent is to honor the war dead.
As I reviewed the design portfolio, I kept in mind the definition of a memorial: a monument or structure established to remind people of a person or event; especially to remember someone who has died; from the Latin word for memory. Although the physical beauty of American Memorial Park is an appealing attraction, I remember the words of Superintendent Jim Richardson in our March 2017 CCAC meeting: “World War II is the critical reason for the park’s being.”
To me, the hands-down winning design in this portfolio is MP-01. It shows a boy on the shoulder of a serviceman, saluting the Court of Honor and Flag Circle. The boy is specifically Chamorro—one of the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands. (The soldier could be Chamorro, or he could be continental American.) To me, it’s important to show the Chamorro culture and ethnicity—not only for the significance of local participation in the Marianas Campaign, but for the sake of young Asian Americans, so they can see themselves on a circulating U.S. coin. (There are about 20 million Asian Americans living in the United States and its territories.) The “brand promise” of the United States Mint is “Connecting America Through Coins,” and this design offers a unique opportunity to do just that without weakening its connection to the memorial park.
Another strong aspect of MP-01 is the boy’s salute. This physical act is a universal symbol of respect. A salute is immediately recognizable whether you’re a civilian or military. It transcends language. To me, this quietly but eloquently tells the story and the purpose of American Memorial Park.
I was pleased that Acting Superintendent Scolari agreed with my analysis of the coin design, and he indicated that MP-01 was also the preferred design of the National Park Service.
Other CCAC members spoke to the appeal of other designs. Acting Chairman Donald Scarinci found MP-06 and 06A to be “the most aesthetically pleasing.”
Former chair Mary Lannin referred to the delicacy of the flowers on MP-03, calling it a “beautiful design that should strike well.” She also was attracted to MP-06 and 06A, especially with the curvature of the wavy typography on 06. Ronald Harrigal, the Mint’s acting quality manager, who was present at the meeting, confirmed that the wavy effect is technically achievable, with the Mint’s artists able to craft the lettering to give the illusion of it being on a flag, even though they’re constrained by the small surface area of a quarter dollar.
Member Tom Uram (who was recently elected to the Board of Governors of the American Numismatic Association) called attention to the designs that feature the words THE COURT OF HONOR AND FLAG CIRCLE, including MP-07 and 08.
Member Heidi Wastweet, a sculptural artist based in California, called MP-01 “a lovely drawing” and noted its appeal, but she opined that it wouldn’t work well on a quarter-sized coin. The design would be too shallow, she said, and the layering would be a challenge for whomever is assigned its sculpt. MP-03 she felt would read well as a quarter dollar, with emotion conveyed in its combination of simplicity and detail. She found MP-06 and 06A to be too crowded, without enough negative space; and in MP-07 she found the perspective of the flags interesting (as did I and several other committee members). MP-08 she described as attractive, with symmetry, “though perhaps unimaginative.”
Member Erik Jansen, a scientist and businessman from Washington State and a lifelong coin collector, called the designs all utilitarian. He also gave a reminder to the artists who submit potential coin designs: “Grayscale is different from coin engraving.” He offered MP-06 as an example, noting that the toning in the drawing would not translate into sculpted metal.
Member Mike Moran, a natural-resources industrialist by trade and also an award-winning numismatic author, said he was “troubled” by MP-03, noting that it doesn’t capture the memorial park’s Court of Honor. I agree this is a detraction for the design, even though I find the artist’s work beautiful and I think it would make an attractive coin or medal. To me the flowers are too generic of a memorial symbol; they could represent any grieving commemoration, public or private, and don’t speak specifically to American Memorial Park. MP-06 and 06A, Moran said, wouldn’t coin well, and he said 07 and 08 are “okay”—not very creative, “but how many ways can you show a circle of flags?”
CCAC member Dr. Herman Viola (left) with Maj. General (ret.) Tony Taguba, director of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. Viola has written books on the American West and American Indians.
Member Dr. Herman Viola, a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution, called this coin “a tough design,” but gave his support to MP-08.
Member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, a Pennsylvania-based sculptor and president of the American Medallic Sculpture Association, commented on the difficulty of this portfolio. The flags in MP-07 and 08, scaled down to coin size, would be too small, she said. MP-06 was her preference; she praised its quality, but also wondered aloud if it would strike well.
CCAC member Robert Hoge (right) with retired U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver Don Everhart. Hoge has appeared as a numismatic expert on the PBS Television programs “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer” and “The History Detectives.”
Member Robert Hoge, retired curator of North American Coins and Currency for the American Numismatic Society, and former curator of the American Numismatic Association, acknowledged the difficulty of the subject. MP-01, he said, is an attractive design but with details too small for a quarter dollar—a critique he also leveled at MP-07 and 08.
He brought attention to MP-04: “It does show the park, though in a very stylized manner.” His favorite among the designs was MP-03, and he noted the significance of the date, June 15th, 1944, observing that the coin’s year of issue, 2019, makes it a 75-year commemorative of the arrival of American troops on Saipan.
Ron Harrigal discussed some of the technical challenges of depicting long, straight lines, such as flag poles, on coins, especially in Proof format. He said the Mint’s artists and technicians would have to make multiple versions of the tooling to get it right. We also discussed with Ron and with April Stafford, director of the Mint’s Office of Design Management, the feasibility of changing the peripheral legend of NOR. MARIANA ISL. to N. MARIANA ISLANDS. They assured us that the possibilities had already been discussed with the National Park Service, and the wording and lettering had been experimented with, and the current legend was what worked.
Our Vote for American Memorial Park, and Our Recommendation to the Treasury
The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee was established by Congress to advise the Secretary of the Treasury on theme and design proposals relating to circulating coinage, bullion coinage, Congressional Gold Medals, and national and other medals.
The CCAC doesn’t “decide what goes on coins.” We give our studied, reasoned advice to the Treasury secretary, and he makes the final decisions.
Part of our process in coming to a recommendation for any given coin is to take a vote after we discuss and analyze each design proposal. In our voting for the American Memorial Park coin, each design candidate could earn up to 30 points. (10 members were present, and each could assign 1, 2, or 3 points to each design.) This is how our voting went:
- MP-01 earned 14 points and was our favored design.
- MP-03 and MP-06/06A each earned 10 points.
- MP-08 earned 8 points.
- MP-07 earned 7 points.
- MP-04 earned 6 points.
- MP-05/05A earned 3 points.
- MP-02 earned 0 points.
The CCAC’s recommended design: MP-01
With several committee members noting that MP-01 would benefit from slight modifications to fit a small coin diameter, we further advised the Mint’s artist to enlarge the figures, push the flags more to the background, and/or otherwise provide variations of the design for our review and approval. We will then make our final endorsement to the Secretary of the Treasury.
Next: The War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam) quarter.
Background image courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid.
Part 3 of 6: War in the Pacific National Historical Park Quarter (Guam)
Every time I go to Washington for a meeting of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, I visit the gift shop on the ground floor of United States Mint headquarters at 801 Ninth Street. Most of the facility is closed to the public, but the lobby gift shop (they call it a “sales counter”) is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. during the week and anyone can stop by and browse the latest Mint products, as well as older pieces.
The U.S. Mint’s 2017 Enhanced Uncirculated coin set.
After our September 19, 2017, CCAC meeting I stopped by and bought a 2017 Enhanced Uncirculated coin set. This is a special set made for the Mint’s celebration of the 225th anniversary of American coinage. It contains 10 coins with “Enhanced Uncirculated” finishes, each bearing the S mintmark of the San Francisco Mint. It’s an attractive collection of the Mint’s current coinage, including the year’s five America the Beautiful quarters.
Designs for the 2019 America the Beautiful quarters were among those the CCAC convened to study in our September 19 meeting. The first two portfolios of quarter dollar designs were for Lowell National Historical Park (in Massachusetts) and American Memorial Park (in the Northern Mariana Islands). The third was for War in the Pacific National Historical Park in the U.S. territory of Guam.
Guam’s only official national park was created to remember the bravery and sacrifice of everyone who participated in the campaigns of the Pacific Theater of World War II—including, interestingly, the Japanese.
The National Park Service’s acting superintendent for Guam, Mr. Paul Scolari, was on the phone line for our meeting, despite it being well past 1:00 in the morning in his time zone. He described War in the Pacific as being a historical park (including two important landing-beach battlefields) more than a living park, although it does include natural and scenic areas.
Hover to zoom.
The 1944 liberation of the island is very important, he said, and the Park Service’s preferred design, GU-02, commemorates it in a very active way. Scolari noted that Memorial Day is a significant celebration on the island, with traditional displays of U.S. and Guam flags, as seen in the right-hand portion of the design.
Another military-action design, GU-03, was developed with a lot of input from park staff based on photographs from World War II.
Scolari called GU-03 “compelling and raw,” and “a very realistic portrayal of the assault on Guam.”
To me, GU-02 is the design that most dynamically illustrates the military action of the war along with the scenery of its locale. It would translate well to the three-inch diameter of the five-ounce silver bullion version. My only concern is the angle and position of the Marine’s right foot: it appears to be to the foreground of his left foot and simultaneously twisted to the right, which would throw him off balance. This is the type of thing the Mint’s artists can review and either decide to keep (for dramatic tension) or modify. To me, GU-03 lack the energy and sense of urgency of GU-02, although it meets what I consider a crucial requirement of this coin: it shows World War II military action.
Background photo by AgnosticPreachersKid.
Part 4 of 6: San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Quarter (Texas)
Image of 2017 Ellis Island five-ounce silver, Uncirculated.
Another souvenir I bought during my September visit to United States Mint headquarters in Washington was an Uncirculated five-ounce version of the Ellis Island America the Beautiful quarter. The Philadelphia Mint strikes these large (three-inch–diameter) coins in 99.9% pure silver. Regular bullion versions are sold through the Mint’s network of Authorized Purchasers, while numismatic versions are sold directly by the Mint to collectors. The latter are specially made with an Uncirculated (also called Burnished) finish, encapsulated, and packaged in a sleeved box with a certificate of authenticity. The Ellis Island coin “depicts an immigrant family approaching Ellis Island with a mixture of hope and uncertainty. The hospital building can be seen in the background.” This is a design with important significance to many American families whose ancestors traveled to a new life through Ellis Island. It was composed by Artistic Infusion Program designer Barbara Fox and sculpted by U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill.
The reason I was in Washington in September was to attend the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee’s review of upcoming coin and medal proposals, including those of the America the Beautiful quarter program. The designs we review in 2017 will be the coins we spend and collect in 2019 and beyond—assuming the secretary of the Treasury accepts our recommendations. He has the final say on all coin designs.
The fourth in our slate of 2019 design reviews was a portfolio of sketches for San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas. This park is a network of four Catholic missions (not including the famous Alamo). It was established to educate people about Spain’s successful effort to extend its territories north from Mexico in the 1600s and 1700s. This was before the “United States” existed as a nation when North America was made up of British and other colonies, unclaimed wilderness, and contested lands.
We were joined by phone in our discussion by Lauren Gurniewicz, the missions’ chief of interpretation. She told us the National Park Service’s choice from the selection of 15 designs was TX-03A, calling it “fantastic” and saying “it represents what we’re about.”
CCAC members don’t arrive in Washington with a blank slate for these America the Beautiful coin-design reviews. Several months before our meeting we discuss the national parks and other sites that will be under consideration. We talk with National Park Service liaisons who have already worked with U.S. Mint staff to flesh out their thoughts and ideas and identify important potential themes. These liaisons typically are high-level NPS managers and historians; for example, chiefs of interpretation, such as Ms. Gurniewicz. (The chief of interpretation, as defined by the Service, is “a senior leader in the NPS and has a major impact on the organizational effectiveness of the park in meeting mission goals for stewardship, relevance, education, and workforce. The Chief serves on the park management team, works collaboratively with park partners, and is the critical organizational link between tactical action in the field and strategic park planning.”) CCAC members give our guidance to the Mint’s artists on what we recommend, design-wise, for each coin. Then, several months later, the Mint mails each CCAC member a package of design portfolios—usually 10 to 20 proposals, by several artists, for each coin. We get these packages a few weeks before our scheduled design-review meeting, which allows us time to study and critique each proposal, weighing its artistry, its appropriateness for the subject, its coinability, and other factors. Then we convene to discuss the designs in the committee’s public forum.
To my eye, the portfolio for San Antonio Missions National Historical Park started off strong with TX-01. This design incorporates architecture from the missions, symbolizing their civilizing aspect (in the Western European mode), along with flowing water. The quatrefoil subtly represents the Christian cross, and it also has ancient Mexican significance, having been incorporated in water rituals, symbolizing rain and fertility.
Meanwhile, the architectural designs, TX-04 through 11A, are all beautifully drafted.
From left to right: TX-03, TX-03A, and TX-03B
The true standouts in this portfolio, though, are the trio of TX-03, 03A, and 03B. These are the symbolically strongest and most numismatically significant designs of the Texas group. They hark back to the Spanish-American coinage of reales dating from the founding era of the San Antonio missions. The quadrants illustrate symbols of wheat (farming and cultivation of the mission lands); arches and a bell tower (fortress, community, and home); a heraldic lion (Spain); and water (the San Antonio River and its life-sustaining resources). I was drawn to these designs because of their artistic connection to Spain’s colonial coins. TX-03A and 03B, in particular, stood out for me, since they show the church tower and the lion in the top quadrants. These represent the most significant and pervasive elements of life in the missions. The native Americans who sought shelter there (from Apache raiders, from disease, and from drought) were compelled to embrace, in the words of the National Park Service, “a new god and a new king.” They had to convert to Christianity and swear loyalty to the Spanish monarch.
CCAC member Tom Uram praised the artists who worked on this portfolio, commending them for well-thought-out designs. He mentioned that he’s a member of the 1715 Fleet Society (a group that promotes public awareness and scholarly study of all facets of the hurricane destruction of Spain’s 1715 treasure fleet off Florida’s coast). As such, he couldn’t help but be attracted to the coin-inspired designs, and he called out TX-03B, with the cross free-floating, as his favorite.
Member Heidi Wastweet, too, gave thanks to the Mint’s artists, calling this portfolio “a fantastic packet.” The well-known sculptor said TX-01 is “very good,” and she appreciated the addition of wildlife in TX-02.
TX-08 and TX-10
“The stylization of the trees is remarkable” in TX-08, she noted, and TX-10 would be good for a medal. Her preferred design from the portfolio of 15 was TX-03B.
Member Erik Jansen, a longtime numismatist, concurred, noting TX-03 and 03B as his favorites.
CCAC member Donald Scarinci (right) discussing U.S. coinage with Mint sculptor-engraver Don Everhart (September 16, 2016). Scarinci is a noted art-medal collector, a fellow of the American Numismatic Society, and a coordinator of the J. Sanford Saltus Award and Krause Publications’ “Coin of the Year” awards.
Member Mike Moran, author of Striking Change and 1849, two books that study the history of gold in United States coinage, observed that “Before 1857, Mexican and Spanish coins were what everyday Americans used in change.” They were legal tender in the United States until shortly before the Civil War. Moran identified TX-03B as his preferred design.
Member Herman Viola, an expert in Native American history, called TX-01 “a great work of art,” while giving his approval “wholeheartedly” to TX-03B.
Member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman—like Heidi Wastweet, an artist and medallic sculptor—called TX-01 “powerful” and said it would make a great coin. Her strongest support went to TX-03B, which she described as “wonderful.”
CCAC members Erik Jansen and Robert Hoge, September 2016. Jansen is CEO of a medical-device firm he co-founded in Washington State. He brings his knowledge of engineering to technical questions of U.S. coinage. Like Hoge and many other members of the committee, he is a longtime coin collector.
Member Robert Hoge also was enthusiastic about the portfolio: “We can’t go wrong with this group.” He pointed out that the quatrefoil, an element of design TX-01, also appears in gold Spanish-American coins. He gave his preference to TX-03B while noting that the symbology is not fully Spanish—”the lion is León, but nothing represents Castile.” Hoge’s understanding of Spanish and Spanish-American coins comes from long study and experience. He is the former curator of North American coins and currency for the American Numismatic Society, and his wife is art historian and University of Barcelona professor Immaculada Socias i Batet.
At the time of our September meeting, Mary Lannin’s nomination for continuing in the CCAC’s chairmanship was under consideration by the Treasury Department, so member Donald Scarinci, the committee’s senior member in years of service, acted as chair for this meeting. As did other members, he praised the Texas portfolio. “The artists listened and they heard us,” he said, noting that the only reason TX-01 doesn’t win is because the 03 grouping is so strong. Otherwise, he said, 01 is “what we’re looking for.”
04, he said, “uses the coin in a really nice way to show the architectural importance” of the missions.
From left to right: TX-05, TX-06, and TX-07
He also expressed admiration for 05, 06, 07, and 08, saying that, although he’s not usually a fan of buildings on coins, “these are buildings on coins that actually work.”
TX-11 and TX-11A
He gave encouragement to the artist who created TX-11 and 11A, calling them good designs. Ultimately his strongest support went to 03B, which he praised for its sense of history combined with symbolism important to Spanish Mexico.
Mary Lannin was the final committee member to remark on the San Antonio designs. She, too, voted for 03B in particular, noting the importance of showing the cross in its entirety, rather than extended to the interior perimeter. Lannin, a retired television producer and winery owner who now edits and volunteers for numismatic groups, said, “It’s wonderful to have the luxury of choosing from such a great group” of designs.
Our Vote for San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and Our Recommendation to the Treasury
The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee was set up by Congress as a public body qualified to advise the secretary of the Treasury on themes and designs for circulating coins, bullion, and medals. Each of our 11 members is either specially qualified in a particular field, recommended by a member of Congress, or chosen to represent the general public.
Part of our process of making recommendations is to take a vote after we discuss and analyze each coin’s design proposals. The vote results lead to final discussion, which generates our recommendation to the Secretary of the Treasury. In our voting for the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park coin, each design candidate could earn up to 30 points. (10 members were present, and each could assign 1, 2, or 3 points to each design.) This is how our voting went:
- TX-03B received 29 points, making it the standout design.
- TX-01 received 14 points.
- TX-03A and 03 received 11 and 7 points, respectively.
- The rest of the designs received 1 to 4 points each, except for TX-12, which received 0.
The CCAC’s recommended design: TX-03B
With TX-03B coming in just one point shy of a perfect ranking, it will be our formal recommendation to the Secretary of the Treasury for the design of the San Antonio Missions quarter in 2019.
Next: the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness (Idaho) quarter.