The first ladies of our generation now have their turn to grace the 2015 and 2016 First Spouse gold coins and bronze medals.
The likenesses of Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Lady Bird Johnson will appear on the 2015 coins with Patricia Nixon and Betty Ford closing out the series in 2016.
The reverse images will convey each one’s unique contributions to her husband’s presidencies as a political supporter, staunch campaigner, advocate for the arts, beautifier of highways, champion of accessibility and activist for equal rights.
The Commission of Fine Arts and Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee each met in September to review dozens of designs submitted by the U.S. Mint and offer their recommendations, which often differed.
“I like the art we got here today,” said CCAC member Erik Jansen at the Sept. 23 meeting. “I really appreciate the amount of work and intensity that went into the artwork by both in-house and external contract artists.”
The First Spouse candidates and the preferences of the CFA and CCAC follow.
For Bess Truman, the CFA chose obverse No. 2, calling it the most dignified portrait, while the CCAC chose obverse No. 3. Both show her looking slightly to the right.
The CFA chose reverse No. 3, which features a locomotive engine symbolic of her whistle stop campaigns she made for her husband. The CFA felt the train was a bit too stylized and asked that the banners and bunting be removed.
The CCAC chose reverse No. 2, a close up of a train wheel moving along the tracks, symbolic of her involvement in his cross-country campaign for re-election.
Both groups felt obverse No. 5 represented the best likeness of Mamie Eisenhower. It was a unanimous choice by the CCAC, whose 11 members give weighted votes between 1 and 3 for each image, with No. 5 receiving 33 votes.
The CFA chose reverse No. 3, an image of a hand holding a campaign button that reads “I Like Mamie.” Although CCAC members gave that 18 of a possible 33 points, it recommended reverse No. 4, which garnered 20 points. That image depicts Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower’s clasped hands with an airplane in the background, a globe and five stars.
Obverse No. 8 was the choice for the portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy by both groups.
CCAC member Heidi Wastweet said the image captures her likeness and is beautifully drawn.
“You can’t ask for much more than this,” she said.
The reverse design brought more discussion.
The CFA preferred design No. 5, which featured symbols for comedy and tragedy, musical notes, an artist’s palette and brushes to symbolize her advocacy for the theater, music and visual arts.
But although the CFA recommended the design, it asked that it be reworked.
That design had some support among CCAC members, but many felt it gave a feeling of clip art being used.
It instead recommended reverse No. 1, which depicts a Saucer Magnolia Mrs. Kennedy chose for the White House garden. Its petals stretch across a globe, touching countries where she made diplomatic visits.
“That is a beautiful coin befitting a beautiful first lady,” said CCAC chairman Gary Marks.
Lady Bird Johnson
Her given name was Claudia, but everyone knew her as Lady Bird Johnson. But not everyone agreed on which design best captured her likeness.
The CFA chose obverse No. 3, but preferred it be paired with the hairstyle from obverse No. 5. The CCAC couldn’t garner a majority vote on its first ballot, but a motion to recommend obverse No. 5 passed on a vote of 8 to 3.
Both groups endorsed reverse design No. 1. It features the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial surrounded by flowers and with the inscription “Beautify our cities, parks and highways.” The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 had her heartfelt support.
Known for her efforts to make the White House more accessible to people with disabilities and for promoting volunteerism, her portrait will be on one of two First Spouse coins released in 2016. Both groups chose obverse design No. 5 for the coin.
The CFA preferred reverse design No. 3, which depicts her in front of the White House greeting a person in a wheelchair. It did ask that the design be refined, particularly the rendering of her.
The CCAC chose reverse design No. 5, which features figures standing hand-in-hand around the globe, a symbol of her support for volunteerism in the United States and around the world.
Sometimes it is the style of the hair, tip of the head or look of the smile (teeth or no teeth) that tilts the balance in favor of one portrait over another.
For Betty Ford, the CFA chose obverse No. 2, while the CCAC chose obverse No. 1.
The CFA liked reverse No. 6, an image of a lighthouse and beacon, but with the words “Shedding Light” rather than “A Beacon for Others.”
The CCAC was compelled by design No. 8, which depicts a young woman ascending a spiral staircase symbolizing Mrs. Fords’ inspiration in recovery from addiction.
CCAC member Mike Moran called it a good coin design that speaks to the individual.
“This is one of the strongest reverses I’ve seen in this regard” he said.
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