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Ask public for quarter design ideas

The process by which the U.S. Mint comes up with the designs for the series of America the Beautiful Quarters does not include any input from the general public.


Does that seem fair to you? It sure doesn’t to me.

Here’s an easy way to promote numismatics to the non-collecting public. In the states where the ATB quarters have not yet been issued or the final designs of forthcoming coins have not been selected, why not conduct an unofficial, non-scientific survey of possible design ideas, or of which candidate designs the public prefers. At the end of the survey, then submit the results to that state’s governor and to the U.S. Mint.

Before I go into more detail on that idea, let me give you more background on how the public could have been more involved in contributing design ideas.

When the 2004 Michigan state quarter was up for design creation and execution, I was heavily involved, and to a lesser degree so were other members of my family and the staff at my company. The governor appointed me to serve on the Michigan Quarter Commission. There I worked to educate the other members on the practical limitations, from the standpoint of the size of the coin and the process of manufacturing them, on selecting a coin design.

As for the public, with help I created a template where the public could submit a possible design, either with artwork, by checking off design elements from a list, or by writing a description. This template was posted in several newspapers across the state. I personally visited dozens of school classrooms to solicit design ideas from children, which teachers loved.

I arranged for members of the Michigan State Numismatic Society committee established to work on the design of this coin to do much of the legwork classifying the approximately 4,000 design ideas submitted for this coin (of which about one-fourth came from children). While I personally examined a fair percentage of these entries, other members of the official commission viewed almost none of them.

When five design themes were selected by the commission, the chair adjourned the meeting. I approached him to point out that the work was not finished. Beyond simply listing design elements, the Mint’s staff would prefer to receive guidance on where the elements would appear on the coin, what size they would be and what orientation would be shown. I offered to write these instructions, with improvements suggested by Steven M. Bieda, the designer of the reverse of the 1992 Olympic half dollar commemorative, and coin dealer/historian (and fellow commission member) Craig Whitford.

Since I was the principal author of the written instructions submitted to the U.S. Mint’s staff (per U.S. Mint instructions, there was no artwork submitted), I have since called myself the “unofficial artist” of the 2004 Michigan quarter. Later, my descriptions were adapted for the background information on the design that was posted on the U.S. Mint’s website.

Once the Mint issued candidate designs, we surveyed the public for their preference among the designs. It was my privilege to be part of the meeting where Michigan’s governor selected the final Michigan quarter design.

Now back to what is happening with the current series of quarters.

The themes for all the issues of America the Beautiful Quarters have already been selected. So, that part of public participation is not possible. However, for the states where the actual coin design process has not been completed, there are some easy ways to get the public involved.

First, if the design process has not yet started, state and local coin organizations or coin dealers could announce a campaign soliciting design ideas. Acceptable versions could be artistic renderings, photographs of the desired design, or written descriptions. Then supply this information to the U.S. Mint Press Office to forward to the appropriate Mint personnel.

Second, if the candidate designs have already been prepared but not yet winnowed down to the final choice, coin clubs and dealers can conduct public surveys of which designs are preferred. Once done, submit these to the state’s governor and to the Mint. My own company is now conducting a survey of the 13 possible designs for the 2018 Michigan quarter that will honor Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Would the public have any interest in either of these activities? They sure do.

Earlier this week I attended a networking event for business people. Near the start of the program, I made a general announcement that my company was conducting this survey because I thought it was right that Michigan citizens should be able to offer input on the design, and that I had sheets available for people to submit their preferences. A significant percentage of the attendees came over to fill out the survey.

My company is also making arrangements to visit classrooms to solicit student preferences. Further, we sent out news releases about this survey to about 50 members of the local media.

When the non-collector public is offered the opportunity to provide input on U.S. coin designs, they definitely show interest. Who knows how many of them might then follow up to become numismatists? Sure, this is a little bit of work to do, but it is also a lot of fun. And, if you are a coin dealer, it helps promote your business in the process. Give it a try.

Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He was also honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the owner emeritus and communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing.

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