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Viewpoint: Presidential series from cereal box?

By David Menchell

I know you’re primarily interested in the Kennedy Presidential dollar, an issue raised in a recent poll question. I have to say that I’m pretty disappointed with the entire Presidential series.

Is the Presidential dollar series plagued by terrible artistic designs?

Is the Presidential dollar series plagued by terrible artistic designs?

In general, I find them to appear in quite low relief with the images of the presidents running the gamut from being so-so to some being downright awful.

Of the latest batch, Truman is round-faced and not a good likeness; Lyndon Johnson is atrocious, looking more like W.C. Fields than LBJ. Eisenhower appears to be the best of the bunch, but presumably the engravers could draw from the series of Eisenhower dollars and the 1990 commemorative to get his portrait right.

The fact that Kennedy is looking down away from the viewer is not as offensive as the poor quality of this and most of the other portraits. These coins look like something that in the past you would have found in a cereal box or gotten as a gas station token.  It is telling that in this age of computers and graphic design, coins of this poor quality are being produced, whereas the images produced by older hand engraved methods were far superior, at least to my eye.

I’m not sure who is responsible for giving the final approval for these images, but I think they are doing a disservice to the American public and the collectors who are the ultimate recipients of these coins.

I’m not surprised that they don’t circulate much since they don’t have any artistic merit that would generate any public awareness or interest. It’s too late to do much for this series, which is drawing to a close, but I think the Congress and the Mint need to think a good deal before creating another series of coins that wallow in mediocrity.  It is interesting that the First Spouses medals and “coins” (since they are really bullion pieces rather than circulating coinage) appear to have much more attractive images in much higher relief. I’m not sure why they seemed to do a better job here, although the images of the various First Ladies, with a few exceptions, are not as well known as their husbands, so most people would not know if a given portrait was a good representation or not.

It is ironic that roughly 100 years ago, our coinage was going through a renaissance, as first envisioned by Theodore Roosevelt, and realized by talented engravers like Saint-Gaudens, Brenner, Fraser, Weinman and MacNeil, and now our best and most popular coins are the resurrected images from that era. One would hope there are contemporary artists that have the skills and imagination to create new images to rival those of the past. At this point, we really haven’t seen anything that even comes close.

This “Viewpoint” was written by David Menchell. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, email David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News at david.harper@fwcommunity.com.

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