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Circulating coins deserve quality designs

At the FIDEM Art Medal World Congress held in Colorado Springs this past September, Mint Director Edmund Moy gave what is clearly one of the most important and visionary speeches ever delivered by a mint director.

At the FIDEM Art Medal World Congress held in Colorado Springs this past September, Mint Director Edmund Moy gave what is clearly one of the most important and visionary speeches ever delivered by a mint director. Moy boldly announced his intent ??to spark a neo-renaissance for coin design and achieve a new level of design excellence??

Recognizing that the nation?s currency ?is part of what defines America,? Moy spoke of how Saint-Gaudens? 1907 Double Eagle had so successfully used allegorical illustration to beautifully capture America?s feelings about itself and its aspirations for the future at the turn of the 20th century.

Moy?s example of Saint-Gaudens? Double Eagle is well placed. It is perhaps the best American example of how allegorical symbolism can be used to produce beautiful and powerful imagery on a coin. On the obverse, Lady Liberty strides confidently forward with a torch ? symbol of intelligence and spirituality ? held high in one hand while holding an olive branch ? symbol of peace ? in the other. On the reverse, we see an eagle flying gracefully across the sky of a rising sun. The eagle, young and strong, illustrates America in its ascendancy with a bright future before it. The coin captures the American spirit of its time. Moy?s point on allegorical expression could also be made about other early 20th century designs. Herman MacNeil?s Standing Liberty quarter, Anthony DeFrancisci?s ?Peace? dollar, and Adolph Weinman?s Winged Liberty (Mercury) dime and Walking Liberty half dollar all contributed to the golden age of American coin design.

Moy expressed his hope that ?the world would reflect back 100 years from now and say that the beginning of the 20th century was great, but the 21st century was even better.? Bravo! As an American patriot, a life-long coin collector and a lover of art, I applaud Moy?s visionary call for renewed greatness in American coinage design.

Moy sees opportunities to ?raise the bar of design excellence in American coinage and medallic art? within a modern rendition of Lady Liberty on his own Mint director?s medal, upcoming designs for the American Eagle platinum proof coin series, the 2008 American Bald Eagle commemorative program and various medals.

Moy can count on me to stand with him in striving for his visionary and worthwhile goals. And, I suspect that coin collectors and medallic art fans throughout the United States share my support of Moy?s efforts.

But as we work to ?raise the bar,? let?s also take the renaissance beyond the confines of the commemorative collector and precious medals investor and out to the American people at large. Let?s introduce inspiring allegorical imagery to the masses through our circulating coinage. Let?s revolutionize our circulating coins with modern depictions of ?Lady Liberty,? ?America? and other creative allegorical images.

Truly, if the world will look back 100 years from now and recognize the beginning of the 21st century as a ?renaissance? in coinage design, it will be largely because the design revolution was taken to the American people. Only when a new image of Lady Liberty shows up in change at the grocery store check-out, rattles into the coin return of the vending machine, or is slid under the teller?s window to a surprised and delighted bank customer will the ?world? take notice and recognize the neo-renaissance of American coinage.

But how can this happen? The era of presidential portraiture is alive and well entrenched on our circulating coinage. Only politically ill-advised dreamers would suggest removing Lincoln from the cent or Jefferson from the nickel. Truly, what politician would be willing to put his name on a legislative initiative to remove the ?father? of our nation ? George Washington ? from the quarter? If I were a politician I wouldn?t. Such efforts are simply futile.

So, with established presidential designs firmly affixed to our loose change, how can we achieve a design renaissance in our circulating coinage?
Actually, there is a practical and exciting solution. I propose a new American Liberty-themed series of circulating coins that would rotate annually between the cent, nickel, dime, quarter and half-dollar. The first year of the American Liberty program ? let?s say it?s 2010 ? would see a new ?Liberty? half dollar released into circulation. But, let?s not even try to take JFK off the half. Let him stay. That?s right ? while the new Liberty half is introduced, the Kennedy half would also be produced. Both coins ? bearing the same date ? would be made available to the public for that year. After 2010 is over, the Liberty half would be retired ? as a one-year issue ? and the Kennedy half would continue into future years unabated.

 Then in 2011, a new ?Liberty? quarter would be introduced alongside the Washington quarter. Again, at the close of the year the Liberty quarter would be retired and the standard Washington quarter would continue into the future. The process would continue each succeeding year as the dime, nickel and cent would all see a one-year Liberty design introduced and subsequently retired. By 2014, each of the five denominations ? half, quarter, dime, nickel and cent ? would have seen a Liberty design. The rotation would begin anew in 2015 with a new one-year Liberty design for the half dollar.

With this approach, new circulating designs could be achieved without threatening existing circulating presidential designs while ? in an assist to the Mint ? limiting the introduction of new designs to simply one-a-year with each new design existing for only one year. Yet, over time, the nation?s circulating coinage would be infused with an array of fresh and exciting new designs that would seek to capture the spirit of modern-day America.
Additional strides toward circulating design excellence could be made with new permanent reverse designs for the regular issue quarter, dime and cent. Imagine a new American eagle image for the reverse of the quarter, an exciting new torch for the dime and a completely new reverse design for the cent.

If we are serious about ?raising the bar? for coinage design that inspires, communicates American values and evokes the American spirit we must do so through the circulating coins that pass through the hands of the American populace every day. A new co-circulating series of one-year American Liberty designs that rotates between the denominations ? augmented with new permanent reverse designs for the regular-issue quarter, dime and cent ? would be a sure strategy to accomplish that goal.
Given the opportunity to impact our nation?s circulating coins, I believe today?s artists would rise to meet the challenge of creating the best coinage designs in American history.

Gary B. Marks is a life-long coin collector and currently serves as a member of the Citizens Coin Advisory Committee with the U.S. Mint. He resides in Whitefish, Mont.

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