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Let's fight over great art

What’s the best way to improve coin designs? That is a logical question to ask in the wake of news that the Commission of Fine Arts and members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee are dissatisfied with what they are seeing.

Both CFA and CCAC take great pains to point out that they have no quarrel with the artists themselves.

They would rather point the finger at Congress, current legal statutes and Mint processes.

That might prove satisfying psychologically, but can it lead to anything productive?
Is Congress likely to stop approving coins for pet causes or mandating detailed instructions for what a coin should look like?

Not likely.

The national legislature is going to determine what is and what is not worthy of commemoration. That is fixed.

Legal statutes mandate that “In God We Trust,” “Liberty” and “E Pluribus Unum” appear on coins as well as the date.

A collector inspired experiment with the placement of these mottoes on the edge of the Presidential dollar to allow artists greater design freedom on obverse and reverse caused a political backlash that Congress won’t soon forget.

It proved when it came to “In God We Trust,” the American public of 2007 is no different than the American public of 1907.

And even had there been no backlash, are the Presidential designs of 2007 and 2008 any better art than state quarters or their Sacagawea dollar predecessor?

What about Mint processes?

Imagine trying to keep everyone happy in Congress, in the Treasury, the CFA, the CCAC, the minting facilities and the collector community?

This is not an easy task, especially since being a public servant means that unreasonable objections to things seem to get as much or even more weight than reasonable objections.

At the end of the day, little will change. The tug-of-war among all of the interested parties will continue.

The miracle will be as it always has been that collectors will look at the designs of the last 10 years from a perspective of 50 years in the future and will declare a few of these modern designs to be great art.

It won’t matter that those of us today can’t agree on any of it.

President Theodore Roosevelt didn’t get many thank-you notes for taking “In God We Trust” off the redesigned gold coins, but it was his intervention that caused posterity to recognize his contribution to the creation of great art by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

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2 Responses to Let's fight over great art

  1. Vachon says:

    The mint might do well simply to start double hubbing the master dies again. Given the costs associated with the cent and nickel, it would be impractical but the seigniorage for the dime, quarter, half, and dollar coins is very high so allowing more depth of field would make the designs appear more impressive. A 1971 half dollar is much more appealing than ones made starting in 1988. Quarters made before 1977 also had a feel to them that is absent today.

    As for the Presidential Dollars, I don’t know why the Presidential information wasn’t placed along the edge instead. If this was meant to be an educational series at any level, having the answer on the edge might have helped some. I also don’t get why they are rolling the coins after striking rather than having the necessary information in the collar like they did with the Saint-Gauden $10 and $20 pieces so that the information would always present itself the same way rather than the random orientations we get now.

  2. Donald Scarinci says:

    Neither the CCAC or the CFA has ever once criticised Congress for the number of coin and medal programs. If Congress passes coinage legislation that is less than perfect, the failure is a failure to communicate to congress. The failure belongs to the United States Mint, and the Director & senior staff of the United States Mint alone.

    If Congress knew that the Mint would need to spend $2 Million on a press and dedicate four employees who needed 6 months of training in Germany to use it in order to mint 3 inch 5 ounze silver $.25 reproduction coins, I doubt Congress would have voted for it.

    If Congress knew how few staff sculptors there were working for John Marcanti and were told what John marcanti really needs to produce good designs for the projects Congress legislates, I doubt Congress would hesitate to provide what they need.

    The sad fact is that the Mint either does not communicate with members of Congress in an effective mannor, or the Mint’s credibility on Capital Hill is so low, that Congress does not believe what they say.

    The buck stops with with man at the top, Dave. Ed Moy has great ideas and a wonderful heart in the right place, but he must lead and stop being led by the enormous beaurocracy that surrounds and consumes him. His inability to conform the actions of his senior staff and effectively direct the financial resourses of his office to achieve the objectives of the speaches he makes is Ed Moy’s failure as a Mint Director.

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