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Artists needed—please report for duty

Recently, U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy said, “We want to spur the highest level of artistic excellence in American coin design.” He made the statement along with the announcement of the Mint’s plans to recreate the 1907 Saint-Gaudens ultra high relief gold $20. It will be quite the chalnews0401yRS.jpglenge and one that promises to produce a popular collectible.

It was the dream of President Theodore Roosevelt, along with the help of noted sculptors such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, James Earle Fraser, Adolph Weinman, Hermon MacNeil and others, to dramatically improve the look of U.S. coins.

Roosevelt went so far as to envision a U.S. coin with the same high relief as found on some ancient coins, thus leading to the experiments with the height of the relief on the Saint-Gaudens gold $20 issued in 1907. It was argued, however, that such a relief, which took some press time to achieve, wasn’t suited to high-speed coinage. So, the plan was shelved, and the gold $20 took a much lower relief.

It was a shame, and, as I said, the new effort should prove a noble one—at least from the technical side. Plus, if I can afford one, I’d like to have one in my collection. I’ve written about Sanews0401zRS.jpgint-Gaudens and his design in the past, and it is one of my favorites.

However, I have one little concern. If we’re really striving for  artistic excellence in U.S. coinage design, why do we need to return to the past (and in this case a century ago) to spur this on? Don’t we have artists who could produce a representation of Liberty that could compete with Saint-Gaudens, Weinman, or MacNeil?

Frankly, it looks to me like we’re running out of designs to bring back. First we recreated the Saint-Gaudens gold $20 obverse in low relief on the gold American Eagle in 1986. That same year we added a silver American Eagle with Weinman’s obverse from the Walking Liberty. In 2001, we brought back Fraser’s design from the Buffalo nickel. It is now also available on a gold $50.

About all we’ve got left to recreate from circulating coins from that period of artistic excellence is MacNeil’s Standing Liberty, Weinman’s Mercury dime, Pratt’s gold $2.50s and $5s, and Saint-Gaudens’ gold $10. Are they next?

Again, where are the artists? I like all of the prior mentioned designs and applaud Moy’s efforts to improve U.S. coin design. I’m just wishing for more originality and wondering where our generation of artists of the same ilk as Saint-Gaudens, MacNeil, Weinman and Fraser are hiding out.

We need you! Please report for duty.

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3 Responses to Artists needed—please report for duty

  1. The problem is not the artists, as can be attested by the US Marine and bald eagle commemoratives, it is the limited vision of congress and the Director of the Mint. It was congress that started the 24-karat gold program specifying the use of Fraser’s Type 1 Buffalo design. Now, Moy is using another classic design as a piedfort to continue the program–essentially, keeping with the spirit of using classic designs.

    If congress and the Mint Director would follow the lead of Theodore Roosevelt and say, ask great artists to design coins "worthy of a great nation." Until then, we have coins designed by congress… and the last time I looked, numismatic art was not their forte.

  2. Mark Fox says:

    I am in complete agreement with Mr. Ryzin’s assessments. Where and how can I start?!

  3. Philip says:

    I would be the first to help with this situation, but know no one will listen. I am an artist, photographer and coin collector. I have wonderfull ideas, but I know the same old stuff will be picked.
    I can help!!!
    Philip

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