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This Week’s Letters (05/28/13)

Wife gets three Morgan dollars in change

I have two things. The first is that our great U.S. Mint has done it again. When I received my three proof sets from the mint I noticed that on the side cover it had 2012 proof set printed. It did have the correct 2013 on the face of the box. Does the Mint have any kind of quality control?

The second was that my wife went to the local burger joint a few weeks ago and when she gave the girl at the counter a $20 dollar bill, the girl told my wife that she was very sorry but she only had these dollars to give her for change. To my surprise they were three Morgan dollar coins. A 1881, 1883 and a 1884-CC; all were extra fine. I could not get to my car fast enough to go back to see if she had anymore. When I got there she told me that she just gave five more in change to someone else. I could have died on the spot.

I always hear about the luck of others and never to me. I am now a believer that the coin gods are still looking down on us. Keep hunting, there are still finds to be made.

Paul Zukowski
Baltimore, Md.

 

Computerized designs for coins lack artistry

I found both David Marten’s letter about the Girl Scout coin and it’s lack of artistic merit, and Alan Anderson’s observation about computer aided design of coins to be spot-on.

To be sure, there are many contributing factors to poor design of United States coinage. Perhaps the biggest factor in overall poor design surrounds the multiple requirements for legends on coins. And this has held true since before the advent of computer aided design.

If you look back at the early issues from the United States Mint, there are very few legends on the coins. No mention of “In God We Trust” or any of the other mandatory legends now required on our coins. The original silver dollar had the word “Liberty,” “United States of America” and the date. That’s all there was. No trace of E. Pluribus Unum, no In God We Trust, no Allah Akbar or any other reference to a deity. In fact, the coin didn’t even have a denomination. It was assumed if the bearer were too ignorant to know what the coin was, there was little to be gained by trying to educate him.

My point being that the absence of all these legends provided a much less cluttered artistic medium for the artist to work with back then. Looking at the coinage of other foreign nations also provides a stark contrast. It is hard not to admire the coinage designs from Albania, Brazil, Egypt, Italy and Poland struck back in the 1920s and 1930s, for instance. None of those sensational designs would have been possible had they included the legend requirements we have in the United States.

If the legend requirement alone were the only handicap faced by the United States Mint, some truly great designs would still make it into production. Unfortunately, that’s not the only headwind great coinage design faces in this country today. The use of computers to design the coins seals the fate of our coinage. Even a 7-year-old can tell the difference between coinage art prepared with plaster models and the insipid design work produced by most computers.

Nothing can illustrate this better than putting a Walking Liberty half dollar side-by-side with an American Eagle silver bullion piece. The obverse design is supposed to be identical. Yet at first glance the coins would seem to have more differences than similarities, with MS-65 examples of the half-dollar consistently looking more attractive than MS-69 or even MS-70 examples of the latter.

Why? Because the modern coin, created with the aid of computers, lacks the subtle nuances of a coin produced by artisans. No where is this more evident than on the luster present in the fields of the coins. On the original, the fields have a modest concave relief that raises up to meet the rim of the coin. The smooth open areas of the fields have almost imperceptible undulations that are completely missing on a computer designed specimen. This minute variation in the fields, originally produced in plaster on the galvano, is subsequently transferred to the hubs and dies used to strike the coins.

The end result is spectacular luster in the fields that pools in some areas, creates hallows around portraits, and otherwise reveals the liquid nature of the metal itself during the minting of the coin. None of this is possible on the computer designed modern issue. The fields on an American Eagle are perfectly flat exhibiting tolerances down to the molecular level. This creates almost zero metal flow during striking aside from what flows into the raised design elements of the coin. What little flow there is in the fields is vertical, with virtually no lateral metal flow. The end result is a coin that looks dead and lifeless.

Using computers to design coins also allows people with no artistic credentials to be intimately involved in the design process. The 50 States Quarter Program made this abundantly clear, with many issues exhibiting a nearly barbaric lack of authentic talent. The Florida quarter is a nearly perfect example, with different scale design elements dragged and dropped into the fields. Many of the other issues are nearly as bad.

While there has been some modest improvement in the America The Beautiful issues, the bottom line is that computer aided design of coinage produces consistently inferior coinage design. Until this truth is accepted and some reconciliation is made in the way the United States Mint pursues its craft, there is little hope of truly outstanding coin designs being struck any time soon in the United States.

Bruce Walker
Kansas City, Mo.

 

Consulting firm needed in ANA director hunt

For the sixth time in 16 years, the American Numismatic Association Board of Governors fired an executive director. Although the press release said that Jeff Shevlin’s contract would not be renewed, a call to the ANA headquarters in Colorado Springs revealed that Jeff had not been in the office for over two weeks at the board’s request. The board can spin it any way they want, but when they ask someone to leave the office and not return, that person is fired.

We may not know why Jeff was fired since the deliberations of the board are confidential because it involves a personnel matter. What should not be confidential is how the board voted on the question whether to renew Jeff’s contract. If the board has nothing to hide, then it should reveal how the board members voted as to whether or not Jeff’s contract should be renewed.

Thinking about the ANA’s record with executive directors, there appears to be a disturbing pattern. Once could be seen as a problem with the person. Twice could be seen as an aberration. But now there have been three executive director firings in a row adding to three in the row that were fired prior to Ed Rochette’s term as executive director. This suggests a pattern of dysfunction within the ANA. There must be policies and procedure developed to ensure this pattern does not continue.

As an ANA member, I am worried that the organization will not be able to hire a qualified executive director who will see this pattern and not want to take the job.

As a candidate for the Board of Governors, I cannot help but feel that the new board installed in August will be saddled with the problems the current board either created or perpetuated.

Rather than begin the search for an executive director, I call on the ANA Board of Governors to hire an executive consulting firm to evaluate the operations of the ANA. The firm should have no connection with anyone in the ANA and should be directed to present their findings to the new board at their first meeting during the World’s Fair of Money in August.

Curiously, after it appears that Jeff was fired a security audit of the ANA computing systems was also cancelled. The only reason provided was a plain statement that was sent to the proposers.

The Information Technology Committee recommended the security audit. Initially, it was to determine the risks to the current systems as part of a future upgrade of the organizations technology capabilities. Then, it became necessary after the reports of stolen credit cards during the 2012 World’s Fair of Money. The ANA needs to know if the computing systems are compromised in order to prevent this from happening again.

As the Tech Committee’s only member whose profession is information security, I helped author the Request for Proposal that was submitted to industry for pricing. I also provided an analysis of the proposal submitted by industry and made a recommendation how to proceed. This work was openly supported the committee, Jeff, and the board.

The timing of the cancellation is suspicious. Is there something that is being hidden from the board or the members that could be discovered in those computing systems? Is there something in those systems that lead to Jeff’s firing? It should be incumbent on the board to allow this audit to proceed in order to have the right information.

I know that writing about this could prompt wrong doers to attempt to hide or even destroy the evidence. I hope those I know to be professionals in Colorado Springs would prevent that and fully support this security audit.

If the ANA Board of Governors wants to show they have the best interest of the ANA at heart, prove their integrity, and would like to leave a more positive legacy than being another board who fired an executive director, they should embrace these suggestions immediately.

Scott Barman
Rockville, Md.

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One Response to This Week’s Letters (05/28/13)

  1. Jembie says:

    Hi Paul Z,
    For your first item regarding the 2013 Proof set, I ordered one too and noticed that “2012″ is printed on the side of the box, but I don’t think it’s a mistake. I’m pretty sure that’s just the copyright date for images and artwork on the box. I believe this has also happened on previous sets, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

    -J

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