CCAC and CFA Design Recommendations for Mark Twain Commemorative Coins

At separate meetings held earlier this month, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) reviewed design candidates prepared for the 2016 Mark Twain Commemorative Coins. The commemorative coin program includes a $5 gold coin and a silver dollar.

For the $5 gold coin, the United States Mint had prepared 16 different obverse design candidates and 10 different reverse design candidates. For the silver dollar, the Mint had prepared 15 different obverse and 14 different reverse design candidates. Images of all of the design candidates can be found here and here.


The CCAC recommended the designs shown above for the $5 gold coin. The obverse features a three-quarter right facing portrait of the famous author and humorist, and the reverse features a depiction of a steamboat representing Twain’s years as a steamboat pilot.


The CFA recommended the same obverse design for the $5 gold coin, but suggested that Mark Twain’s signature be added beneath the date since his name does not appear elsewhere within the design. The CFA supported the CCAC’s preference for a riverboat theme, but felt that another alternative offered the superior depiction. They noted that the pairing would provide consistent treatment between the obverse and reverse without a circular border line.


For the silver dollar, the CCAC recommended an obverse design featuring  portrait of Mark Twain holding a pipe with the smoke from the pipe creating a silhouetted image of Huck Finn and Jim on a raft. For the reverse they recommended a design originally submitted for the obverse which features an assortment of characters leaping to life from Mark Twain’s works. The characters include the knight and horse from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the frog from “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” and Huck and Jim from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


The CFA recommended a different portrait for the obverse design, which incorporates Mark Twain’s signature. They supported the CCAC’s recommendation for the reverse design depicting the assortment of Twain’s whimsical characters. They suggested modification of the inscriptions as necessary to provide the required text without duplication.

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  1. Tinto says

    I really like the CCAC recommendations, especially the $1 obverse. I hope the CFA did not skip that design because it showed someone smoking, but wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

  2. gary says

    The smoke coming from the pipe and turning into a silhouette logo of Huck & Jim and more smoke above that is a bit hokey and awkward. Might look better with a wisp of smoke from the pipe turning into Mark Twain’s signature. The Huck & Jim characters appear on the reverse design and are more sculptural in form.

  3. thePhelps says

    I actually liked both of the CFA choices… which is not normally the case. I didn’t much care for the RB reverse on the CCAC choice. I also like that the CFA caught there is nothing other than an image on the coins signifying who the image is.

    Looks like they might have created a couple of nice coins when it is all said and done.

  4. D Rittenhouse says

    I like the CCAC’s recommendation for the silver dollar obverse, which depicts Twain holding a pipe. But back in the 19th century when Twain was young, the worldwide center of corncob pipe production was very close to Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain was raised. So, instead of have Twain holding that big calabash pipe, I’d have him holding a smaller corncob pipe.

  5. A Bob says

    I would be shocked if the smoking design is chosen. Not PC and this process is all about political correctness.

  6. Ends in Error says

    Cant get excited about this coin. Now if there was nekked womin swimmin in the Missisippi that might be a big seller. I might even buy some coins like that.

  7. D Rittenhouse says

    There are three opportunities to depict Samuel Clemens’ visage but every selection shows him as a very old man.
    I wish at least one of the obverses had a young Mark Twain in his prime. Below is a URL link to an example, published in 1892 related to an interview that appeared in the Idler, which I think was a British periodical.

    Click here for a young Mark Twain portrait featuring a corncob pipe.

  8. D Rittenhouse says

    You can read the Idler interview with Mark Twain by following the link here. Part III of the interview, beginning on page 83, reveals how deeply Twain was involved with tobacco.

  9. says

    When you all get the chance, you should check out I was surprised to see he was very much against certain wording on a coin like this. There are also thousands of signatures on a petition on against it. Things that make you go hmmm?

  10. D Rittenhouse says

    Twain would be happy with all the mottoes on his coins if only the little phrase “Within certain judicious limitations” were added. 🙂

  11. Louis says

    As designs these are pretty decent, but my concern is that something that looks like a photo may not translate well onto a coin such as the obverses for the $5 or the CFA choice for the $1 obverse. Experienced medallic artists understand that a design can be good as art but not suitable to translate onto a coin, and many of our coin designers seem not to fully understand that.

  12. thePhelps says

    @Louis…that is exactly what I said when Mint News published all the candidates. Most of them seemed to be artist drawings rendered for a circle – with very little thought to the actual process of making a coin. It almost seems like they were given the direction to make the best art you can inside this diameter and we will let the computers make a coin out of them. I seriously doubt the level of detail required to render the River Boats without a massive loss of clarity was never given a thought.

  13. D Rittenhouse says

    Thanks for keeping comments on-topic. Please refer to very scary “Peak Oil” news reports from 20 years ago.

  14. stephen m says

    Samuel, In 20 years there could be a new supply of gold mined on other planets and transported back to earth.

  15. Ends in Error says

    From what I understand the Gold at the center of the Earth wold be several feet deep if it was on the surface. The Gold we can get to, near the surface, was deposited from impacts of meteors and other space junk. So how special is Gold? About as special as we want it to be.

  16. Dave SW FL says

    Must be time to buy, buy , buy coins……I just got back from Barnes & Noble and there were ZERO coin magazines in the racks and no spaces for them. Interest at a low?

    Also interesting to see online Coin World article about collapse of old Commem market ( except coins in unusually great condition )

  17. D Rittenhouse says

    @Dave SW FL,
    I concluded the opposite about Beanie Babies when all their mags disappeared from the racks.

  18. Jerry Diekmann says

    I like the CFA recommendation the best, with Mark Twain’s signature on the obverse in the empty place below the date. The CCAC recommendation for the silver dollar obverse is really well thought out, with the smaoke from Twain’s pipe showing Huck Finn and Jim on a raft as aprt of the haze – very unique design! You can just see the sly but satisfied look on Twain’s face as he remembers his creation of “Life on the Mississippi”. The tie-in with that phrase on the gold $5.00 piece is just wonderful! Two thumbs up on these designs. I don’t always buy gold coins because of their expense, but I am in for one for this design. Great job, U.S. Mint!

  19. Louis says

    @Dave SW FL- Check out American Hard Assets magazine which is sold at B&N. They cover coins in every issue.

  20. Brian says

    I think the comments on this post are great. The ideas about a corn cob pipe are spot on.

    Thanks ‘2cents’ for the heads up about Here is the full link:

    I just signed this and another one about taking God off our money in general! E Pluribus Unum is much more elegant as a motto, but is consistently relegated to the reverse. To me, this motto speaks much more to the legacy of our country, as opposed to “In God We Trust”. In admiring many of our classic coins, the fact that pre mid-1800’s coinage lacks the motto is actually very appealing in making it desirable to collect! Apparently the motto was first used as a battle cry during the Battle of Antietam. Odd to me to invoke the creator in the throws of war. Almost as if the regiment was putting the responsibility of human atrocity onto God, rather than taking responsibility for it ourselves (not that they had a choice). As if they were saying, “we trust this is God’s will”. It probably made it easier to kill. I for one agree with Theodore Roosevelt, who “took issue with using the motto on coinage which he considered to be a sacrilege using God’s name on money.” (

  21. Jerry Diekmann says

    D. Rittenhouse – thanks for the info on Mark Twain. Very deserving to be commemorated as one of our greatest authors and humorists. You just cannot go mwrong with a guy who pegged Congress so well over 100 years ago with his observation, “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” The man was way ahead of his time.

    BTW, why is Mark Twain being honored in 2016? He was born in 1835, when Halley’s comet was passing overhead, and he died in 1910, when Halley’s common was making its next appearance. So much changed in the 75 years Mark Twain was on this earth.

  22. fmtransmitter says

    I recommend signature in smoke from pipe. Hands down much smarter approach to obtain his signature and will look cool in a RP format with the frosting. BTW, the Kennedy proof dollar is NOT like the painting, he’s looking opposite way. A non coin person, mom, said the painting looked nothing like him but the coin does. Hmmm

  23. merryxmasmrscrooge says

    The top 2 with the smiling obverse and steamboat reverse are excellent.
    The smoking depiction is too big, and the bottom depiction, he looks dark.
    If they use the rev. without the steamboat I’m not buying it. Just my opinion.

  24. thePhelps says

    To those commenting about the missing $1 denomination etc… you really should read the article instead of looking at the pictures. The silver coins shown are 2 Obverse sketches – which the committees felt resulted in the best coins.

    “They suggested modification of the inscriptions as necessary to provide the required text without duplication.”

  25. Ends in Error says

    The theme for the $5 Gold seems to be lifted from the American Arts Medallion from the 80’s.

  26. shoebox says

    There was a recent article in Coin World that claims the CFA concurred with the CCAC’s recommendation to feature a “smoking” Mark Twain on the silver obverse. Their story seems to contradict the findings here. Could someone please clarify this discrepancy? The designs all look great and I’m in for both coins.

  27. fmtransmitter says

    So in keeping with my prior years i went ahead with the LESPS. It is same packaging with serran wrap to protect plastic. $50 for packaging, yea, i can be a sucker. I buy what i like and make up the overages elsewhere when possible…

  28. J says

    Off topic: Barnes & Noble does not service their magazine racks. The lack of coin mags is unfortunate. At my local B&N the coin mags are hidden at the top of the rack behind layers upon layers of crafting mags and are almost out of reach unless you are over 6′ tall. I don’t think the lack of coin-related mags at B&N indicates anything about the coin market other than a self-caused lack of coin magazine sales due to poor placement.

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