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.
On Tuesday, January 17, 2017, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC, www.ccac.gov) met telephonically, with members calling in from both coasts and points in between. U.S. Mint staff and officers coordinated the meeting from the agency’s impressive headquarters on 9th Street in Washington, D.C.
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 serve as an informed, experienced, and impartial resource for the Treasury secretary and to represent the interests of American citizens and collectors. Our meetings are open to the public and the media.
Circulating coins (such as America the Beautiful quarters), bullion coinage (silver, gold, and platinum), commemoratives, Congressional Gold Medals, national medals, and the like all fall under our congressionally mandated review.
The January 17 meeting introduced the general themes for the 2019 and 2020 Native American dollars, part of an ongoing coinage series that started in 2009. Past years’ themes include subjects ranging from the Three Sisters to Mohawk Ironworkers and the famous military Code Talkers.
The themes for 2019 and 2020 were developed by the National Museum of the American Indian, and were vetted and endorsed by the Mint’s legislated liaisons at the National Congress of American Indians, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and the Congressional Native American Caucus of the House of Representatives. The CCAC’s goal was to give input on what the Mint’s artists should consider as they begin designing the 2019 and 2020 coins. We were joined by Dr. James R. Adams, senior historian of the National Museum of the American Indian, whose research interests include tribal sovereignty in U.S. constitutional law, North American tribal horse culture, and diverse other subjects.
The 2019 Dollar and America’s Space Program
The 2019 dollar will honor the involvement of Native Americans in the United States space program. The Mint noted that “American Indians have been on the modern frontier of space flight since the beginning of NASA.”
Several notable American Indians were discussed in connection with the U.S. space program. John Bennett Herrington (Chickasaw) served on the International Space Station in 2002, making three space walks. Jerry Chris Elliott (Cherokee, Osage) started working for NASA’s Mission Control in 1966. Both men are still active in the aerospace field. U.S. coins, of course, rarely depict living people.
Another space scientist, Mary Golda Ross (Cherokee, 1908–2008), considered the first female American Indian engineer, helped develop the spacecraft for the Gemini and Apollo programs. She was the individual we gravitated toward as a potential subject, if a portrait ends up being used in the design. Adding to Ross’s already considerable significance, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon (the Mint will be issuing a separate commemorative coin series on that topic).
Two things I noted in our discussion:
- Ross didn’t just do her job and quietly retire. Yes, she designed rocket missiles and satellites, but she also actively recruited young women and Native Americans into engineering careers. There might be a way to capture that spirit of mentoring and role-modeling—the “people” side of space exploration—in the coin’s design.
- Ross was trained and educated as a mathematician, a field she held dear and often spoke about. Incorporating mathematical elements into the design would symbolize that cornerstone of her engineering career.
I liked CCAC member Herman Viola’s observation that Native Americans are “always looking to the sky,” an idea that might translate well into the coin’s design. Robert Hoge suggested the use of an arrow, symbolic of flight (noting that many of the Native tribes involved in the Code Talkers medal program used such a design element), as well as “something celestial.” Dr. Adams noted that, in addition to arrows, star imagery is important in many Native cultures. Committee Chair Mary Lannin proposed a design element incorporating mathematical symbols shaped into an arrow. Tom Uram wondered if the Mint will tie the 2019 dollar coin to that year’s Apollo 11 commemoratives, to give a publicity boost to both coinage programs. Erik Jansen cautioned against connecting the 2019 coin’s design too closely to NASA rather than to the broader theme of Native Americans and space flight. Michael Moran pointed out the dual significance of Mary Ross’s being not only an American Indian but also a woman, in a field traditionally dominated by men; he also noted that her grandfather was John Ross, the famous principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from the 1820s to the 1860s.
The 2020 Dollar and the Movement Against Discrimination
The 2020 Native American dollar will honor Elizabeth Peratrovich and Alaska’s 1945 anti-discrimination law—the first such law passed in the United States and its territories. The Mint notes that Peratrovich (Tlingit), “through her advocacy for Alaskan Natives with her husband, Roy, and an impassioned speech in the Alaskan Senate in support of the law, is widely credited with getting it passed.” Dr. Adams further observed that Alaska’s anti-discrimination law was later cited in New York State’s first such legislation, an instance of progress in a faraway U.S. territory having a ripple effect and, ultimately, great influence on the continental States.
Something that stands out to me, in Peratrovich’s life and experience, is her activity in the Alaska Native Brotherhood and its sister organization, the Alaska Native Sisterhood. These groups sought to end anti-Native racism in Alaska. I find it significant that they were organized in 1912, the year after Peratrovich was born. Anti-discrimination was a cause that Alaskans were fighting for when she was a child, and the movement continued into her adulthood, involving and affecting many people. I think capturing the spirit of that movement, and the active involvement of many voices and individuals, could bring a sense of energy to the coin’s design.
For the 2020 coin, Robert Hoge suggested a design of clasped hands, illustrating a coming together of different cultures. I noted several numismatic precedents in this motif, including Indian Peace medals that were given to Native chiefs as symbols of the friendship of the American government in the early 1800s, and, more recently, one of the Westward Journey nickel designs of 2004. Several other committee members noted their approval of the clasped-hands concept, while also admitting that it might be “overdone,” having appeared fairly recently in various coins and medals. Jeanne Stevens-Sollman suggested a circle of hands, a design used to good effect in a 1973 British 50-pence coin honoring the European Economic Community. Erik Jansen wondered if the symbolism of clasped hands might be more significant to an Anglo audience than a Native American one, and suggested an eagle, raven, and wolf might speak to the inclusion and interdependence of many tribes. Michael Moran suggested the word “Equality” be used in the design. April Stafford, director of the Mint’s Office of Design Management, pointed out that 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of Elizabeth Peratrovich’s famous Senate testimony. CCAC chair Mary Lannin recommended that the coin’s designers read the text of Peratrovich’s inspiring and influential speech, and look for words or phrases that leap off the page and could be incorporated into the artwork.
Moving Forward Into 2019 and 2020
One challenge with all of the Native American dollar coins, of course, is their small size—they’re minted in the “golden mini dollar” format, smaller than the old-fashioned Morgan silver dollar. The Mint’s artists and sculptors will be working with the end product in mind: a coin just one inch in diameter.
Our thoughts and observations will be passed along to the Mint’s coin designers. I look forward, with the rest of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, to seeing what they develop to honor these important subjects in Native American history. In the coming months we’ll meet again to review and discuss finished sketches, and we’ll then make our final formal recommendations to the secretary of the Treasury. If you’d like to share your thoughts, please feel free to contact me at tucker_CCAC@earthlink.net. ❑