This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Members of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts prefer their presidential portraits in profile. In consequence, on July 15 when the CFA reviewed the design proposals for the four 2012 Presidential dollars, they withheld a recommendation on the Benjamin Harrison design.
CFA members also prefer simpler designs to more complicated ones and this affected their judgments of the four 2011 First Spouse gold coin design proposals
Thomas Luebke, CFA secretary, said he would be conveying the members’ views in an official letter that would go to the Treasury Department.
Though the letter’s text was not yet approved, Luebke said Presidential profiles were preferred because they are the most traditional and “time-honored way to depict a person.”
Of the six portraits of Chester Arthur, who was President 1881-1885, the CFA recommended No. 4, a right-facing near profile.
Of the dollar coin obverse for the first Presidential term of Grover Cleveland, the CFA chose the No. 1 depiction out of five possibilities.
Not one of the five Benjamin Harrison portrait possibilities suited the CFA, because a “head-on, frontal pose is not successful,” Luebke said.
For the second term coin for Grover Cleveland, the CFA chose obverse design No. 3, though Luebke noted that “generally, the portraits are not very good.”
Only obverse designs were submitted to the CFA for the Presidential dollar because the reverse of all of them is the Statue of Liberty
Other considerations were weighed by commission members in making their First Spouse design recommendations.
Luebke said obverse design No. 2 was selected for Eliza Johnson, wife of Andrew Johnson, who was President 1865-1869, because “most of the portraits are severe and this is the best of them.”
For the Johnson reverse, commission members hedged by saying possibly No. 1 or No. 2 out of the four designs reviewed.
For Julia Grant, the CFA picked obverse No. 2.
The Grant reverses were problematic. Luebke said the commission members were not satisfied and recommended “redevelopment and resubmission of (No.) 1 or (No.) 2.”
“On the strength of a near profile pose,” Luebke said the members liked obverse design No. 2 for Lucy Hayes.
The CFA then picked reverse design No. 4 showing Hayes at an Easter egg roll, but the members suggested simplifying the background.
Lucretia Garfield’s obverse portrait No. 2 was selected. For the reverse, Luebke said, though No. 5 was selected, members suggested elimination of some of the background elements.
Luebke explained that there are certain challenges that artists face in accurate portrayals of people from this 19th century period.
He cited “excesses of ornamentation and the complexity of the hair, which they (commission members) found distracting.” He said these complexities can overwhelm the design of the coin.
The CFA is one of two government bodies that reviews coin designs and makes recommendations to the Treasury secretary. The other is the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.