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CCAC explains coin design process

By Dennis Tucker

On Aug. 16, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee gave a special two-hour presentation and panel discussion at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia. The title of the “Money Talks” presentation was, “Why Did They Do That? – An In-Depth Discussion of the Interaction Between the CCAC, Congress and the United States Mint.”

Mint Director David J. Ryder welcomed the audience and introduced the six (out of 10) members of the committee who were present: Chair Mary N. Lannin, Robert W. Hoge, Michael Moran, Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, Thomas Uram and me.

Members of the CCAC at the Denver Mint in 2016. Left to right: Dennis Tucker – Numismatic specialist. Steve Roach (replaced by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, position now vacant) – General public representative. Donald Scarinci – Recommended by Congress (Senate minority leader). Herman Viola – American historian. Jeanne Stevens-Sollman – General public representative. Robert W. Hoge – Numismatic curator. Erik Jansen – General public representative. Heidi Wastweet – Medallic arts specialist. Michael Moran – Recommended by Congress (Senate majority leader). Thomas Uram – Recommended by Congress (Speaker of the House). Chair Mary N. Lannin – Recommended by Congress (House minority leader).

Members of the CCAC at the Denver Mint in 2016. Left to right: Dennis Tucker – Numismatic specialist. Steve Roach (replaced by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, position now vacant) – General public representative. Donald Scarinci – Recommended by Congress (Senate minority leader). Herman Viola – American historian. Jeanne Stevens-Sollman – General public representative. Robert W. Hoge – Numismatic curator. Erik Jansen – General public representative. Heidi Wastweet – Medallic arts specialist. Michael Moran – Recommended by Congress (Senate majority leader). Thomas Uram – Recommended by Congress (Speaker of the House). Chair Mary N. Lannin – Recommended by Congress (House minority leader).

Besides Director Ryder, Mint officials at the presentation included senior legal counsel Greg Weinman and acting director of legislative and intergovernmental affairs Betty Birdsong.

Chair Lannin gave welcoming remarks, and then I, as the committee’s numismatic specialist, gave an overview of the mission of the CCAC.

The group, which numbers 11 members when all of its positions are filled (one is currently vacant), advises the secretary of the Treasury on the themes and designs of all United States coins and medals. It serves as an informed, experienced and impartial resource for the Treasury Department, and represents the interests of coin collectors and the American public.

The Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) is a Mint-sponsored gathering of talented, professional American artists who represent diverse backgrounds and a variety of interests, and who work with Mint staff to create and submit new coin and medal designs. Their designs are finalized by the Mint’s staff of sculptors in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of the United States Mint.)

The Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) is a Mint-sponsored gathering of talented, professional American artists who represent diverse backgrounds and a variety of interests, and who work with Mint staff to create and submit new coin and medal designs. Their designs are finalized by the Mint’s staff of sculptors in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of the United States Mint.)

I outlined the committee’s place in the coin design process. First, a new coin or medal program is authorized through congressional legislation. Then, stakeholders (such as the superintendents of a national park, or the directors of a museum or centennial commission), subject-matter experts (including historians) and the CCAC have input into the program’s design brief.

Next, the Mint’s full-time Philadelphia-based sculptor-engravers, as well as Artistic Infusion Program artists, create sketches based on the design brief and their own research and creativity. The Mint’s program managers present these designs to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the CCAC for consultation and review. Ultimately, the Secretary of the Treasury makes the final design selection.

“Sometimes the CCAC and the CFA agree on their design recommendations,” Tucker noted. “Sometimes they vary. Sometimes the Secretary of the Treasury agrees with one or the other, or neither. Final design decisions rest with the Secretary.”

Following these summaries of the CCAC, the committee presented three case studies of recent design reviews.

The 2018 World War I Centennial Silver Dollar

Member Michael Moran, an award-winning numismatic author, discussed the World War I Centennial commemorative silver dollar. He noted that the legislation authorizing this coin differed from most: it made an open call to artists; and it required plasters (not just drawings) in the final stage of judging. Furthermore, the design review was done not by full committees, but by a jury composed of three members of the CCAC (Moran, Lannin, and senior member Donald Scarinci) and three members of the CFA. The six-person jury was chaired by Beverly Babers, Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget.

“For the first phase of the competition,” Moran recalled, “each artist seeking to participate in the competition was required to submit a portfolio of three to five samples of work by April 28, 2016. Each of these was in turn submitted to the combined jury.” To qualify, an artist had to be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States and at least 18 years of age. No Mint or Treasury employee was eligible.

The Mint provided the jury with grading parameters to help in the selection process:

  • Symbolism – How well does the entry demonstrate the ability to convey complex concepts with symbolism?
  • Ingenuity – How well does the entry demonstrate the application of ingenuity in interpreting the subject matter and conveying its theme?
  • Flexibility – How well does the entry demonstrate adaptability to different subject matters and themes?
  • Perspective – How well does the entry demonstrate the ability to render figures, portraits, animals, and landscapes?

Individual jury members then assigned to each portfolio a numerical grade for each of these four criteria.

The Commission of Fine Arts is an independent agency of the federal government, established in 1910 to review the design and aesthetics of all construction within Washington, D.C. Since an executive order signed in 1921, it has similarly reviewed U.S. coins and medals. (CFA seal at right in terra cotta, by sculptor Lee Lawrie, 1950; courtesy of the Commission.)

The Commission of Fine Arts is an independent agency of the federal government, established in 1910 to review the design and aesthetics of all construction within Washington, D.C. Since an executive order signed in 1921, it has similarly reviewed U.S. coins and medals. (CFA seal at right in terra cotta, by sculptor Lee Lawrie, 1950; courtesy of the Commission.)

There were 78 portfolios submitted, and, as Moran put it, “The quality of the works ran the full gamut from amateur to professional. At the top end of the spectrum were the professional sculptors and graphics designers. The body of work went from crude sketches to polished images using graphics-editing software and full life-sized sculptures.”

He observed that it was apparent to the jurists that some of the designs came from the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program artists. However, the process was anonymous – the identities of the artists were not provided to the jury.

The jury met by telephone on May 25, 2016. The Mint had tabulated the individual scores from phase I of the judging, and the jurors could take up to 20 submissions for phase II (which would require plasters). “There was no clear gap between the top scores and the remainder of the field,” Moran recalled. “Our discussion quickly centered on how exclusive to make the second phase. We decided that including all 20 would offer the best chance for a successful design.”

The artists chosen for phase II were notified on May 31, 2016. They were given the coin diameter of 38.1 mm, and these requirements:

  • The design must be emblematic of the centennial of America’s involvement in World War I.
  • The design must include the required inscriptions of “Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” and “2018” on the obverse.
  • For the reverse: “United States of America,” “E Pluribus Unum,” and “One Dollar” or “$1.”

The evaluation process that would be applied to the designs were:

  • Overall quality and creativity in interpreting the subject matter of the coin
  • Appropriate use of symbolism
  • Clarity of idea and communication
  • Appropriate level of detail for the scale and material of the coin
  • Good design sense, composition, and balance of space
  • Effective incorporation of required text

“In addition,” Moran said, “major elements of the design with substantial detail and volume should not be placed near the coin’s edge, as this would create metal-flow problems in the minting process. Shading would not be necessary on the sketches, given that models would accompany. To aid the artist in size and dimension for the model, the Mint supplied each artist with one set of base plasters. The chosen artists had to complete and submit a sketch and plaster model of their design by Aug. 16, 2016.”

A recent Mint press release stated that “The designs on United States coins and medals are more than simple illustrations on small metal discs: they are expressions of the values, aspirations, and shared heritage of our Nation. They serve as illustrations to the world of the essence and story of America.”

A recent Mint press release stated that “The designs on United States coins and medals are more than simple illustrations on small metal discs: they are expressions of the values, aspirations, and shared heritage of our Nation. They serve as illustrations to the world of the essence and story of America.”

The next meeting of the combined jury was on Sept. 14, 2016, at Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C. “We had been given images in advance of the sketches and models as submitted by the 14 artists who had successfully met the phase II requirements,” Moran recalled. “Now we could actually see the models. It only confirmed what I had judged from the advance images: There was a clear choice. Nevertheless, we gave due deliberation to each model.”

Moran set several criteria for his own judging. “They were simple,” he said. “I wanted something different; I did not want a takeoff from the Striding Liberty of Saint-Gaudens, nor did I want something that resembled James Earle Fraser’s official World War I Victory medal. I also wanted a design where the central theme was enhanced by good use of negative space and not obscured by secondary details.”

When the jury’s review was complete, the vote was unanimous.

“We saw the obverse as moving,” Moran said. “Eyes closed, the soldier appears to be entering combat. We believed it important the motto ‘In God We Trust’ be positioned as the artist intended, in front of the soldier’s face. Likewise the reverse of poppies entwined by barbed wire inspired us. This was our winner.”

“Even at this point, we did not know the identity of the designer,” Moran said. “Only when it was revealed in the Mint’s press release would we learn that the winning designer was Leroy Transfield. He was number 11 on our list of the top 20 artists – so you see, if we had chosen to limit ourselves to the top 10 portfolios in phase II, we would have disqualified him.”

“Transfield is a professional sculptor living in Orem, Utah,” Moran said. “He was born in New Zealand of Maori and European extraction. This was his first attempt at coin design.”

The committee immediately recognized that this design’s reverse would be a challenge for the Mint engraving staff. “We encouraged the Mint to put their best engraver on the assignment,” Moran said at the conclusion of his remarks. “For the CCAC, that was committee-speak for ‘give it to Don Everhart.’”

Donald Everhart at the time of the World War I commemoration was lead sculptor-engraver of the Mint. He has since retired. He attended the August 2018 CCAC presentation as a special guest speaker. Introduced by Moran, he took the podium and shared his thoughts and memories of the coin’s sculpting.

To Everhart, the closed eyes of the soldier were important. They could be interpreted many ways by different viewers. He sought to capture the physical roughness of Transfield’s design, not smoothly finishing every surface but allowing the carved texture to project a raw vision of war. He did note, however, that the lettering had to be made “clean” in order to translate well to the smaller inch-and-a-half diameter of the silver dollar. This juxtaposition, he observed, actually had the effect of emphasizing the hand-worked look of the coin.

The 2017 Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coins

CCAC member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, a sculptor and artist from Pennsylvania, next spoke on the 2017 commemorative coin program for the 100th anniversary of Boys Town.

Sketches from the Boys Town design competition, displayed at the CCAC’s August 2018 presentation in Philadelphia.

Sketches from the Boys Town design competition, displayed at the CCAC’s August 2018 presentation in Philadelphia.

She recounted how the Mint’s artists were given an opportunity to pair their designs  – so that the obverses and reverses were complementary, rather than being mixed-and-matched.

“This program marking 100 years of the history of Boys Town was a bit of a challenge,” Stevens-Sollman recalled. “Our stakeholder, Dr. Jerry Davis, the vice president of national advocacy and public policy for Boys Town, requested that Father Flanagan be represented on each of the three coins, gold, silver and clad. It was my opinion that Boys Town had a long and impressive history that should be told using all six sides of the coin program to tell this story. To have Father Flanagan on the gold coin would be appropriate, leaving five sides to illustrate the accomplishments of Boys Town.”

With this approach in mind, the CCAC rearranged some of the pairs presented so the storytelling would be pleasing and accurate. The committee reviewed 18 designs for the $5 gold coin, 46 designs for the silver dollar and 24 designs for the copper-nickel half dollar, each having Father Flanagan represented. “Now we had to sift through all these images and convince Dr. Davis that we had an opportunity like no other to tell 100 years of history,” Stevens-Sollman said. “He was accepting of this idea, and we chose designs that represented different and progressive aspects of Boys Town then and now.”

The design of a girl under an oak tree, combined with the reverse of a family running and playing under the tree, formed the statement, “When you help a child . . . you write the history of tomorrow.” This was originally presented as a design combination for the half dollar. The CCAC recognized its visual impact, and recommended it for the larger-sized silver dollar.

The Secretary of the Treasury chose for the half dollar a design showing two brothers from 1917 walking toward Father Flanagan’s Boys Home and a pylon built at the facility in the 1940s, symbolizing what the home would grow into. On the reverse: a present-day Boys Town neighborhood of homes overlooked by the profiles of Boys Town graduates.

For the gold coin, Father Flanagan’s portrait on the obverse is balanced by an outstretched hand holding a sprouting acorn on the reverse. This symbolizes Flanagan’s boarding house, built with $90 he’d borrowed, growing since its founding in 1917 to serve at-risk children and families.

“In the end,” Stevens-Sollman said, “a pleasing coin program was well received.”

2019 Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Congressional Gold Medal

For the third case study, Chair Mary Lannin spoke about the 2019 Office of Strategic Services Congressional Gold Medal. She told how the committee, as a group, met with the stakeholders early in the process, led by Mr. Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society. “We had an opportunity to talk to a real American hero, Ambassador Hugh Montgomery,” recalled Lannin. Montgomery served during World War II; he parachuted into Normandy on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne. He went behind enemy lines four times with the OSS and served more than 60 years with the CIA.

“Sadly,” Lannin noted, “Ambassador Montgomery died  before the Congressional Gold Medal was presented.”

In an early CCAC meeting, Mr. Pinck was accompanied by Patrick O’Donnell, an award-winning historian and author who’s written four books about the OSS and interviewed some 600 OSS veterans. “As we walked the stakeholders through our thoughts on the designs,” Lannin said, “we tried to urge them not to include too much of the intriguing background of the OSS, as it made for a confusing medal. This guidance resulted in a second group of designs.”

“Ultimately,” Lannin said, “an almost ‘Hollywood’ movie-poster–style cutout of the OSS letters, with shadowy silhouetted figures in the background, seemed to fit the obverse. The new art for the reverse brought us not only the required spear-point logo, but it was against a background of the code names of many OSS missions. I guarantee you that this is the only Congressional Gold Medal with the word ‘sauerkraut’ on it!”

“I think working together we came up with a great design through perseverance, and were able to keep the mystery of the OSS alive for future generations.”

In March 2018, the Mint released a description of the medal after its ceremonial presentation in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol: https://www.usmint.gov/news/press-releases/office-of-strategic-services-receives-congressional-gold-medal

After these three case studies, the floor was opened up for questions from the audience. The panel members emphasized that the CCAC’s function is advisory, rather than executive – with the Secretary of the Treasury having the final say on coin and medal designs. However, the committee does have a conversational connection with the Mint and the Treasury Department. Collectors and members of the public can contact the CCAC at info@ccac.gov to ask questions, share ideas and give opinions.

Among the CCAC’s tasks is to recommend commemorative coin themes in its annual report to the Secretary of the Treasury. The committee has already made several proposals for the next five years, including a commemorative for the centennial of the 19th amendment (in 2020) and a Peace dollar commemorative for 2021. Ideas from the hobby community and general public are welcome.

The CCAC presentation was well attended, with public participation showing that coin collectors are actively interested in modern Mint products. The interaction between collectors, the CCAC, the Mint, and Congress is complex and robust. All have an ongoing commitment to excellence in American design and minting. It will be exciting to watch the future unfold for the nation’s coins and medals.

 


This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today

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