The United States Mint recently provided design candidates for the upcoming 2011 Medal of Honor Commemorative Coins to the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and Citizens Coinage Advisory (CCAC) for review and comment. The program includes a $5 gold coin with a maximum authorized mintage of 100,000 and a silver dollar with maximum authorized mintage of 500,000.
The Medal of Honor Commemorative coins are issued in recognition and celebration of the establishment of the Medal of Honor in 1861. This is America’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force that can be bestowed to an individual in the Armed Service of the United States. The coin designs are intended to be emblematic of the traditions, legacy, and heritage of the Medal of Honor and the distinguished service of its recipients.
For the obverse of the Medal of Honor $5 Gold Coin, both the CFA and CCAC recommended a design featuring an image of the Medal of Honor as it was originally created. The image is a simple depiction of the medal, free of any other design elements.
For the reverse of the gold coin, the CFA and CCAC recommended different design candidates. The CFA favored a design showing an eagle, a shield, two cannons, munitions, and a flag, but asked that the elements within the design be reduced. The CCAC recommended a design featuring a full figure of Minerva (who is also depicted on the Medal of Honor) holding a shield and flag with cannons and munitions in the background.
The Medal of Honor Silver Dollar obverse depicts the modern Medal of Honor for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The CFA chose a depiction of the Medals separated from the neckbands, and the CCAC chose a version with the neckbands intact.
For the reverse design of the silver dollar, the CFA declined to make a recommendation from the available candidates, rejecting all four of the design provided. The CCAC chose a depiction of a soldier carrying a wounded comrade, citing the emotion present within the scene.
The recent CFA and CCAC meetings have brought increased attention to the two groups complaints about the quality of design candidates that the US Mint has been providing to the groups. The most frequent complaints have been that the designs should use abstraction, rather than presenting a literal interpretation of the theme, and that the designs should be simplified, distilling the art rather than jamming numerous images together. At recent meetings, the groups have sometimes rejected all provided design candidates, although this hasn’t stopped the US Mint from using the rejected designs anyway.
At the CCAC meeting, there were concerns expressed that the US Mint may be filtering the design candidates before they are presented for review, potentially removing some of the best candidates from consideration. Both groups were critical of overall process that produces the coins, rather than the group of artists who create them.
Numismatic News recently ran an article where members of the CFA and CCAC expressed their disappointment on the overall poor quality of designs. You can read the full article here, but I will present a few notable quotes from the article below.
A quote from CFA secretary Tom Luebke, “The quality of designs remains embarrassingly low, both in the often amateurish character of the artwork and in the generally poor compositions.”
CCAC Member Donald Scarinci said, “The fact that the CFA and the CCAC only rarely see great coin and medal designs is not the fault of John Mercanti or the artists who work with him. The fault, unfortunately, is with the Director himself. The standard of excellence that Director Moy set for himself and his staff in 2007 (at the FIDEM convention) is the standard that history will use to judge his directorship. By his own standard, Ed Moy has failed.”
In 2007 and 2008, US Mint Director Edmund Moy made some extremely bold and ambitious statements about sparking a “neo-Renaissance in coin design” that would “surpass the Golden Age of coin design which began at the start of the 20th century.” You can read two of his speeches here.
By 2009, the United States Mint provided some admission that they had failed to live up to these ambitious goals. The 2009 Annual Report summarized some of the issues with US coin designs.
Our designs have tended to focus on literalism, functionality and the limitations of prescribed design elements. Too often, designs lacked a unifying balance or transcendent quality that clearly links them together as part of the body of American coinage. Ultimately, the United States Mint should produce art that serves as the highest aspiration of who we are as a country or what we seek to become.
To address the issue, the US Mint wrote a white paper to establish “the philosophic path for achieving artistic excellence.” The five core principles of American numismatic design expressed in the white paper simply echoed the statements Director Moy made previously. Clearly, the US Mint’s efforts towards improving coin design haven’t produced the desired result. We’ll have to see if the CFA and CCAC’s public criticism will have any impact.