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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.