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Latest Presidential portrait works for me

Call it strange, but I have found the design of the new Martin Van Buren Presidential dollar compelling. I think it is the best full-facing coin portrait the Mint has yet done.

I offer my congratulations to Joel Iskowitz for his design and Phebe Hemphill for sculpting it. Van Buren seems alive and there is a sense of depth to the effigy that seems to run counter to the ever shallower relief of Mint art in recent years.

I am no art critic and I have no special skill in making that judgment. I simply know what I like. That I should find pizzazz in this, the eighth Presidential coin is odd, I suppose. By the time we have reached design No. 8, almost two years have passed for the series and most collectors are perhaps feeling the first pangs of apprehension about a run of Presidents whom American history tends to slide over lightly until we reach Abraham Lincoln.

I imagine most collectors couldn’t name the ninth to the 15th President in order either, and as a group, collectors are usually pretty good at history.

Van Buren had the misfortune to take office as the nation was about to slide into hard times. Today’s events have nothing on the bank failures the country endured during his time in office. He paid the price as he served just one term and a later attempt at a Presidential comeback also failed.

That the story of Van Buren parallels current financial history so closely has nothing to do with my taste in design, but it is a coincidence that I do find interesting.

My recollection of historical slogans recalls something like, “Van, Van is a used up man.” This dollar coin portrait makes him appear anything but used up and the history books show that he lived another 21 years after the conclusion of his term in 1841, himself living into the early years of Lincoln’s tenure in office.

Unlike some of the earlier and later great and near great President’s, I have not ever read a biography of Van Buren. If there is any reader out there who has, I hope he will write and share with us his insights about the eighth President.

Because there was no First Lady, the upcoming companion First Spouse gold $10 issue will feature a Seated Liberty design originally done by Christian Gobrecht for the dollar. That design carried on in use on the dime, quarter and half dollar from Van Buren’s term until the Barber design replaced it in 1892.

Hobbyists tend not to recall the Presidencies in which coin designs were introduced. Instead we tend to focus on Mint directors, Mint chief engravers and the minting facility at which they were produced. Perhaps Van Buren will become a little better known by collectors simply because of his administration’s association with a very popular coin design.

I am surprised at my reaction to the Van Buren design. Which of the first eight Presidential portraits do you like? Share your opinions with the rest of the readership by e-mailing them to me at david.harper@fwmedia.com. I will publish them in future issue. (And no, you don’t have to like Van Buren.)

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