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CCAC in search of design excellence

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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The U.S. Mint has some great artists, so why aren’t we getting great coin designs? The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee wants to know.

Three years ago Mint Director Ed Moy called for a “neo-Renaissance for coin design” and “a new level of design excellence.”

But that hasn’t happened, said CCAC Chairman Gary Marks when the group met June 28 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Something must be done to ignite the renaissance,” Marks said.

To that end, he appointed a Subcommittee on Coin Design Excellence tasked with developing recommendations addressing design quality regarding all future theme and design proposals.

Marks said the goal is not to lay blame or point fingers. The goal is for the U.S. to attain a “level of excellence in coinage design that is simply unmatched in the world.”

The quality of the Mint artist/engravers is not in question, Marks said.

“To a person, we believe we have some wonderful artists and don’t doubt their talent at all, “ said Marks. “We want to find out how to liberate them so that they can create the best designs in the world.
That’s the bottom line for this effort.

“Clearly, when we’re talking excellence in design, they’re the ones who make it happen.”

The committee is comprised of:

• Mitch Sanders, “due to his years of leadership as chairman of the CCAC and his established relationships with many of the Mint’s key personnel.
•Donald Scarinci, “due to his experience and knowledge as an authority in numismatics and art medals.
• Roger Burdette, “due to his authoritative knowledge of the history of the U.S. Mint and of the coin design renaissance of the early 1900s.”
• Heidi Wastweet, “due to her accomplishments and in-depth knowledge in medallic art.”
• Marks, who in addition to being CCAC chairman serves as the CCAC member appointed as a representative of the public.

Marks also asked Wastweet to create a “visual definition of design excellence.”

After receiving recommendations from committee members on what they considered excellent examples of historic and modern U.S. coins and world coins, she prepared a PowerPoint presentation for the committee to view.

“It’s easy to say let’s have a renaissance and let’s have the best coins in the world,” Marks said. “It’s another thing for everyone to understand what we’re talking about. It’s art, so it’s subjective to some degree.”

Among the coins the committee agreed were examples of excellence were the Saint-Gaudens double eagle, Walking Liberty half dollar and Buffalo nickel. The committee did not embrace the four 2009 Bicentennial Lincoln cents as examples of excellence.

It reached consensus and now has a visual definition of excellence in coin design to share with the public, Mint officials, designers “or anyone else,” Marks said.

“Even more important than the formation of the subcommittee, the opinion of the CCAC that the designs we are reviewing are unacceptable was unanimous,” Scarinci said.

The CCAC isn’t necessarily looking for a neo-Renaissance, Scarinci said.

“The CCAC wants better, more 21st century designs to come from the Mint, whatever it might be called,” he said.

Scarinci said the CCAC expressed its solidarity with the Commission of Fine Arts and called for a joint meeting with the CFA in November to discuss excellence in coin and medal design.

The CCAC subcommittee will speak with Moy, his administrative staff and marketing staff and will make a special trip to Philadelphia to speak with the artists, Marks said. It’s final report will be presented to the full CCAC committee for approval and will then be sent on to the Secretary of the Treasury.

In other action, Marks said a public forum held during the meeting elicited a suggestion for a commemorative coin to remember World War I. He said it would be appropriate to recognize the 100th anniversary of the war in 2018 or 2019.

“The idea really resonated with the committee,” Marks said.


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