On Wednesday, February 15, 2017, members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC, www.ccac.gov) convened in a public meeting to review and discuss the themes and designs of upcoming U.S. coins and medals.
Most of the committee’s members telephoned in to the meeting, with the United States Mint’s talented staff efficiently wrangling the tech side from the eighth-floor conference room at Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Three of us (Committee Chair Mary N. Lannin, member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, and I) met in person at Mint HQ, since we served on a subcommittee jury and had an additional meeting lined up: phase II of our review and examination of designs for the 2018 Breast Cancer Awareness commemorative coins. For that review (later in the same day) we met with our jury counterparts from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
Participating in his first CCAC meeting was new member Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has occupied the seat of Steve Roach. Steve stepped down from the committee last year when he took a position with the federal government. (In order to maintain the committee’s focus on representing the public, federal employees and elected officials are not allowed to serve.) Abdul-Jabbar will be officially sworn in as a committee member in March 2017.
The CCAC was established by Congress in 2003 to advise the secretary of the Treasury on the themes and designs of U.S. coins and medals. Our mission and purpose is to be an informed, experienced, and impartial resource for the Treasury secretary and to represent the interests of American citizens and collectors. Our general meetings are open to the public and the media, who are welcome to either call in and listen, or attend in person.
Our congressionally mandated review and advisement covers circulating coins (such as America the Beautiful quarters), bullion coinage (silver, gold, and platinum), commemoratives, Congressional Gold Medals, and national medals.
Quarters and Medals
In our February 15 public meeting we discussed the upcoming (2019) quarters for the Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts), San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Texas), Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness (Idaho), American Memorial Park (Northern Marianas Islands), and War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam). We also met with the president of the OSS Society, several military historians, and a special guest who joined our discussion of the Congressional Gold Medal that will commemorate the World War II–era Office of Strategic Services. I’ll update you on that project in a separate article.
As usual for the America the Beautiful coin program, the United States will have five individual quarters for 2019. My approach as I studied each of the five national sites to be honored was this: Instead of considering each coin strictly as a standalone canvas, I thought of them as a suite of five themes for the year. With this approach we can avoid ending up with, for example, five coins with scenes of wildlife, five mountain views, five architectural motifs, five scenes of recreation, or the like. Fortunately, 2019’s five historical parks and other sites offer a good mix of different kinds of protected areas. I would sum up the year’s coins as focusing on American industry, Catholic civilization, natural wilderness, a war memorial, and a site of military honor.
At this early stage for these coins and medals we weren’t yet reviewing sketches or plasters. Rather, our goal was to advise and guide the Mint’s artists as they begin their design work. Later in the year we’ll examine the designs they come up with for each coin or medal, discuss their merits, vote on each to determine our preferred design, and submit our recommendations to the Treasury secretary, who makes the final decisions.
Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)
This park was established in 1978 to interpret the role of Lowell in the American Industrial Revolution, primarily in the 1820s and 1830s. The canal systems and waterways created to power the area’s textile mills; “integrated” factories (with all operations under one roof); the use of large-scale equipment that created fabric without the spinning wheel and individual artisans of earlier years—these developments revolutionized the way cloth was manufactured in America. The era was also defined in part by the young women known as “Mill Girls,” mostly farm lasses from New England, recruited to work in Lowell and live in supervised, company-owned boarding houses. The Mill Girls became an important voice for American labor, advocating for better working conditions, supporting abolition, and embracing education.
Jack Herlihy, museum specialist at Lowell, joined in our discussion by phone. He opened the conversation by noting the value and importance of everyday work in American culture, and he called out two significant structures in Lowell: the canal system, and the clock tower with a bell that called mill laborers to work, let them know when it was time to eat, and otherwise marked the layout of their days. He described the Mill Girls as the first young people paid wages for this kind of factory work.
Robert Hoge, the CCAC’s member specially qualified as a museum curator, emphasized technology’s importance at Lowell. Erik Jansen, one of several committee members representative of the general public, observed that “Buildings don’t work well on a one-inch canvas,” and mentioned the spindle as a creative symbol.
My own recommendation was to focus on the human element in America’s Industrial Revolution, by featuring the Mill Girls at work—not necessarily literally, with full-figure forms, but perhaps by suggestion (for example, showing a young woman’s hand at a mill machine). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar agreed with the importance of the Mill Girls. Heidi Wastweet, the CCAC’s member specially qualified in sculpture and medallic art, warned against crowding the coin’s scene, for example with too many human forms.
The intent of this kind of discussion isn’t to straitjacket the Mint’s artists with orders on what to include in their designs, but rather to guide them with suggestions, ideas, and insight.
Committee member Michael Moran urged the artists to avoid overly literal designs—“Don’t show a photograph on a coin”—and Thomas Uram suggested a combination of technology and humanity, by showing a clock face with different humanitarian elements in four quadrants.
There was general agreement on the difficulty of using architectural forms, such as trying to depict the canal system, in the design.
Although each America the Beautiful quarter design is slated for later translation into a three-inch-diameter silver bullion coin, the circulating coin’s canvas is a mere 24.3 mm wide—and part of that space is reserved for the date, the legend E PLURIBUS UNUM, the name of the honored site, and its state or territory.
Of several potential inscriptions suggested by the Historical Park (e.g., “Spindle City,” “Mill City,” and “Art is the Handmaid of Human Good”), my favorite is “American Industry.” I think it nicely sums up the historical significance of Lowell and the industrial work accomplished there, and it does so in a short phrase—important given the small size of the Mint designer’s canvas.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Texas)
This network of four Catholic missions in Texas celebrates one of Spain’s most successful attempts to extend its territories north from Mexico in the 1700s, when the “United States” was still just a collection of British and other colonies, unclaimed wilderness, and contested lands.
“These missions were built as walled compounds,” said April Stafford, the Mint’s chief of design management, “containing the church, living quarters for newly converted Christians and a few soldiers and their families, workshops and storerooms, and bastions or fortified towers used for defense.” She described visual evidence of the blending of native and Spanish cultures, in European architecture combined with indigenous nature-inspired designs.
Lauren Gurniewicz, the park’s chief of interpretation, joined us by phone.
Robert Hoge discussed the crucial importance of the local acequias—the network of aqueducts and irrigation canals that delivered water to the missions for self-sustained farming and ranching. He also suggested working architectural elements into the coin’s design.
Erik Jansen asked that the design not have “a picture of a mission,” but rather focus on what a mission is, and how it relates to the creation and protection of life and culture. Ms. Gurniewicz echoed this sentiment, noting that the mission churches were not just buildings, but mechanisms for independence and growth. She also wondered if there might be a way to illustrate water as the lifeblood of the missions, reinforcing Hoge’s comments on the importance of the acequias. In terms of art, she mentioned the frescoes of geometric designs, in particular at Mission Concepción; artistic elements in the church doors at Concepción and San José; and architectural forms such as arches.
Jansen further recommended “some captivating element” that intrigues people who see the coin and inspires them to visit the mission park.
Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, another committee member who represents the general public but also is well known as a medallic sculptor, advised the Mint’s artists to keep their designs simple.
My own observation was that the prime focus of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is the importance of Catholic Christianity and Spanish rule in Texas. The park puts it this way: “After 10,000 years, the people of South Texas found their cultures, their very lives, under attack. In the early 1700s Apache raided from the north, deadly diseases traveled from Mexico, and drought lingered. Survival lay in the missions. By entering a mission, they foreswore their traditional life to become Spanish, accepting a new religion and pledging fealty to a distant and unseen king.” For these reasons I recommended—perhaps at the risk of combining Church and State!—using prominent imagery of a crucifix or cross, and/or a Spanish flag or royal coat of arms, perhaps in combination with indigenous imagery or a portrayal of native South Texans. Herman Viola, our committee member specially qualified in American history, liked the idea of a crucifix combined with native designs, while Heidi Wastweet felt it might be crossing (no pun intended) into political commentary, and suggested pulling design motifs from mission architecture. Greg Weinman, the Mint’s senior legal counsel, noted that if Mint designs feature religious symbols they should be tied to history, rather than religiosity. He opined that it might be a challenge to show a crucifix—although perhaps not, if shown as an architectural element. Ms. Gurniewicz also acknowledged that this would be “a fine line.” She noted that the historical park operates in partnership with the local archdiocese, that the missions are active parishes, and that some of the stone carvings do feature Catholic symbols that could be combined with indigenous art.
CCAC Chair Mary Lannin envisioned a view through an arch, possibly including a mission bell, with agriculture or canals visible beyond.
Tom Uram suggested a design showing an irrigation ditch (joking that a numismatist might call it a “cracked die”), with different design elements featured on either side of it.
A transcript of these discussions is provided to the Mint’s staff of artists, based in Philadelphia, and to Artistic Infusion Program artists who might be involved in the design process for these coins. In addition, sculptor-engraver Don Everhart was present in person at the meeting, as was Ron Harrigal, the Mint’s acting quality manager. The latter two gentlemen answer questions and offer insight on sculpting, engraving, die production, die wear, and other technical aspects of coinage as they relate to specific design proposals. It’s common to hear at least once per CCAC meeting, “Don, can this design actually be coined?”
Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness (Idaho)
This is an interesting national site—a sprawling wilderness, encompassing some 2.3 million acres—that presents special challenges and opportunities for a quarter dollar design.
Idaho’s Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness covers rugged mountains (dominated by the Salmon River Mountains, the Clearwater Mountains, and the Bighorn Crags), deep gorges (the Salmon River Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon), whitewater rivers, and clear-water lakes. It’s so big there are four national forests inside it! Some 800,000 of its acres have an extensive trail system for the enjoyment of hikers and horse packers, but 1.5 million acres in this remarkable wilderness remain trail-free.
In case you’re wondering about the unusual name: the “River of No Return” part comes from when boats could navigate down the main Salmon River but not back upstream because of fast water and rapids. Once you went downstream, the only way back up was by land. And Frank Church was a U.S. senator from Idaho who worked from the 1950s through the 1970s to preserve the wild central region of his state.
Cheri Ford, deputy forest supervisor of the Wilderness, and Dennis Kuhnel, district ranger of the Middle Fork Ranger District, phoned in to the meeting to offer their advice and join the committee discussion. They and other representatives of the Wilderness had already talked to Mint staff and identified potential devices for the design, centering on the natural landscape, wildlife, habitat management, and recreation.
Bob Hoge started the conversation by opining that this would be one of the most difficult concepts to present in coin form. He mentioned some of the wording used to describe the Wilderness (“endless rugged mountains”) and conservation principles like “Leave No Trace.” Hoge also pointed to the Chinook salmon as a potential symbol of the region, given its importance in the Salmon River and the Columbia River Basin, as well as its unique look.
Erik Larsen has visited the Wilderness and he told the committee, “This is not flatlands, folks.” However, he asked that there be “no bighorn sheep in profile or mountain skyline,” saying that such imagery would be a lost opportunity for the coin’s design. He asked Ford and Kuhnel for their advice to the Mint’s artists. They talked about the deep crags and canyon walls; horse packing (perhaps showing a pack string of horses and mules); whitewater rafting and other recreation; and the salmon that migrate all the way from the ocean.
Jeanne Stevens-Sollman echoed the sentiments of Bob Hoge, noting the region’s vastness and the challenge of capturing it on a coin. She specifically mentioned Bighorn Crags (a jagged series of summits) and the recreational aspects of the Wilderness.
Mike Moran offered the salmon or the wolf as potential emblems for the coin design—“not human,” he urged, because of the very remote nature of the Wilderness. My own comments were in line with Moran’s: this quarter needs to illustrate the magnitude and remoteness of Idaho’s protected lands. In my opinion, it should show a scene of natural wilderness with no human activity.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, too, mentioned the wolf as an iconic animal that represents the American West.
Herman Viola pointed to the Bighorn Crags as a fitting symbol of the Wilderness, and also mentioned the wolf as a potential design element.
Heidi Wastweet urged the Mint’s artists to not use an eagle, because they’re not unique to the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. “I spent 30 years in Idaho,” Wastweet remarked, and she recommended horse packing as a theme for the coin: “It’s a big part of the culture there.” She envisioned a scene of a pack string zigzagging through the wilderness.
I look forward to seeing what the Mint’s artists come up with to symbolize such a vast and wild region on a slightly-less-than-one-inch canvas!
American Memorial Park (Northern Marianas Island) and War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam)
The final two 2019 coins under discussion were for the Northern Mariana Islands and for Guam, two island territories some 130 miles apart in the western Pacific Ocean. Their national parks present unique opportunities for the Mint’s coin designers, because many Americans aren’t as familiar with them as they are with mainland parks. At the same time, they present challenges: as committee chair Mary Lannin said, “We don’t want two coins that look identical.”
Jim Richardson, superintendent of the two parks, joined us by phone.
The National Park Service describes the two parks thus:
War in the Pacific National Historical Park was established to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of those participating in the campaigns of the Pacific theater of World War II and to conserve and interpret outstanding natural, scenic, and historic values and objects on the island of Guam for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. American Memorial Park honors the American and Marianas people who gave their lives during the Marianas Campaign of World War II. There are 5,204 names inscribed on a memorial which was dedicated during the 50th anniversary of the Invasion of Saipan. Within the 133-acre boundary are white beaches, sports, picnic sites, playgrounds, walkways, and a 30-acre protected wetland and mangrove forest.
Glancing at park statistics: Guam’s War in the Pacific National Historical Park hosted 489,000 visitors in 2016. This is an impressive number, but small in comparison to the Grand Canyon’s 5,970,000, or Yosemite’s 5,029,000, or Mount Rushmore’s 2,431,000. (The Great Smoky Mountains dwarf them all with 11,313,000 annual visitors. On the other side, there are a couple dozen other national parks that see fewer visitors than Guam.)
I cautioned the Mint’s artists that it would be very tempting to focus on what’s within these two parks—their beautiful beaches, the flora and fauna—rather than on why Congress established them. Specifically, American Memorial Park is a war memorial site that honors those who died in the Marianas Campaign of World War II. For that reason I recommend its coin show the park’s Memorial Court of Honor and Flag Circle, which is about as iconic a scene as you could look for. Guam’s War in the Pacific Historical Park, meanwhile, is a site of military honor. It was established to commemorate the bravery and sacrifices of all those who participated in the Pacific Theater during World War II—including the Japanese. Because of this, I recommend a scene of military action in the Pacific Theater. The Mint’s artists have plenty of documentary imagery to draw from to create such a scene.
Bob Hoge agreed that American Memorial Park’s coin should focus on its memorial aspect, rather than natural scenes. For Guam, he mentioned the island’s biodiversity.
Erik Larsen discussed the nature of war, military strategy, and geography, and the logistics of getting war materiel close enough to Japan to attack. For Guam, he suggested splitting the coin’s design into a before-and-after treatment showing military action contrasted with the natural paradise preserved by that action.
Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, too, recommended that the Northern Marianas coin be used to honor the military and civilians who died in the Marianas Campaign. She mentioned the Memorial Court of Honor as a design motif. For Guam’s War in the Pacific National Historical Park, she liked Larsen’s idea of a before-and-after layout.
Mike Moran suggested the American Memorial Park coin honor indigenous people of the region. The Guam coin, he said, presented a unique opportunity to show an underwater sea bed.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted that sea life such as turtles are iconic. (This prompted Chair Mary Lannin to mention that, historically, as popular as turtle designs might be, they’ve “always been shot down” in the Treasury secretary’s final decision-making.)
Donald Scarinci, our senior committee member in years of service, envisioned a different approach. He said that “Congress commemorates military concepts well” and that “we as a nation portray ourselves through our coins in a military way, with commemoratives and medals.” He urged that the Mint’s artists instead celebrate wildlife and nature’s beauty, which were preserved and protected by the outcome of World War II, rather than war itself. “Stay away from the war stuff,” he said, “and let Congress legislate war things.” On a separate note, he observed that there’s a large body of stamps and coins that the America the Beautiful quarters shouldn’t duplicate, design-wise.
Superintendent Richardson seemed to agree more with my point: “World War II is the critical reason for the parks’ being,” was his response.
Next Step: From Ideas to Design Sketches
As always, the committee’s thoughts and observations will be forwarded to the Mint’s coin designers, and they’ll begin the work of dreaming up designs and sketching them in black and white. Later this year the CCAC will meet again to review multiple proposals for each coin. We’ll discuss each and rank and vote on them, and then Chair Mary Lannin will send our formal recommendations to the secretary of the Treasury, who has final decision-making authority for each coin’s design.
If you’d like to share your thoughts on the 2019 America the Beautiful coins, please feel free to contact me at tucker_CCAC@earthlink.net.
And a Postscript. . . .
Every time I go to Mint headquarters in Washington, I make sure to stop by the gift shop (accessible at street level, 801 9th Street NW) before I return home, and buy a souvenir of my visit. This time around I picked up the presidential medals of Barack Obama (three-inch diameter, bronze). The CCAC reviewed designs for these medals (one for each of President Obama’s terms) at our public meeting in Colorado Springs in June 2016, held at the American Numismatic Association’s annual Summer Seminar. It’s neat to hold these large, heavy medals after watching them go from concept sketches to finished product. The U.S. Mint does a remarkable job with its medals, and if you don’t already collect them you should give them a try. A catalog is online at www.USMint.gov; click on “Medals” under the “Shop” heading.
Dennis Tucker serves the hobby community as publisher at Whitman Publishing, the nation’s largest publisher of numismatic references. He holds the position of numismatic specialist on the CCAC. ❑