My first CCAC Meeting: A spirited discussion and a rare inside glimpse into the design process

On Wednesday, October 18, 2017 , I had the pleasure of attending my first Citizens  Coinage Advisory Committee meeting (on the phone, since I live in Atlanta and not in Washington). As a relative novice to the world of coin design, I understand the apprehension most collectors feel when first putting themselves into the fray with much more experienced numismatists and artists. While I went in with several assumptions about the paralyzing bureaucracy that gets associated with the formation of committees, I found that my initial assessments were not only incorrect, but also a misconception that formed due to my own inexperience. What I witnessed was a very spirited and illuminating discussion that gives other novices like myself an inside glimpse into the personalities , complexity, and intrigue that go into the design of just a few coins. The following is a documentation of my experience, and I hope that my story encourages fellow collectors and hobbyists (whether expert or novice ) to participate more directly in the design processes that take place in Washington.

At 9:02 a.m. the meeting commenced with a unanimous approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, and the discussion transitioned to the subject of the designs for the upcoming 2019 Apollo 11 50th Anniversary commemorative coins. While the convex reverse of the coin was previously determined by Congress (it must be a derivative of the famous photograph of astronaut Buzz Aldrin while he was on the moon), the concave obverse is to be decided based upon submissions from everyday people who participated in a national public design competition — of which 18 final drawings made it to the CCAC. Member Dr. Herman Viola stated that while he was “quite excited about the Apollo program” when he had watched the 1969 coverage of the mission aboard a Navy ship, he was overall disappointed with the designs that were submitted to the CCAC. Member Donald Scarinci echoed a similar sentiment, stating that “If there were a mechanism to reject all of the designs, I would.”

From left to right: Designs submitted from artists 254, 294, and 343.

However, while Viola liked the designs submitted by artists 254, 294, and 343, Scarinci strongly disliked 254 due to its throwback to a common misconception during the Apollo 11 launch that you could see people on the moon by looking through a pair of binoculars. There were quite a few chuckles in the room when he also mentioned that people at the time did a lot of other silly things like “hiding under desks to protect themselves from a nuclear bomb” and that he would not necessarily like to see those behaviors immortalized on American coinage either.

Member Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was not so affronted by 254’s design with the binoculars, as he stated that “everybody in the West Indies had binoculars and telescopes” when he had watched the event with his family. It was a joyous event, he said, that got people talking with each other in a way rarely seen. CCAC member Dennis  Tucker also praised 254 since it had been the only submission to incorporate a woman into the design. ⤵️  

While I was initially taken aback by the “firing squad” feel of the meeting, it became rapidly apparent that I was just feeling the heat from the passion expressed by the members who held a great deal of reverence for the significance of the Apollo 11 mission, with Donald Scarinci memorably stating that “the greatest achievement in the history of the United States needs great coins.”

The design submitted by artist 265 entitled “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”

Member Mike Moran, author of Striking Change, additionally noted that scaleability was an issue that the submissions generally failed to take into account, citing 265 as an example. He elucidated that while 265 would look good on a $5 gold coin, it would not work on a 3-inch silver coin. Rather than seeing this as a failure of the people who submitted the drawings, Moran felt that it was more a failure of the legislation, which he said didn’t properly inform the artists and therefore “puts us in a box.” Donald Scarinci in a similar vein stressed that the designs did not “take advantage” of the convex/concave nature of the coin. Committee Chair Mary Lannin called the Apollo 11 mission “the most important event in my lifetime for science and exploration” and saw 254 in a different light, calling it clever for its inclusion of binary code with the binoculars in the design. She also stated the significance of the footprint in 265, and that nobody could “mistake what it is and what it meant.”

The untitled design submitted by artist 167.

Member Heidi Wastweet also concurred with the frustration felt by other members when she said, “We are looking at designs for coins, not judging drawings.” She was drawn to design 167 because it showed the contributions of the scientists and the mathematicians that ultimately led to the successful moon landing and did not simply “repeat the story” of the reverse as 265 had done.

The design submitted by artist 328 entitled “The Heroes on Earth of the Apollo 11.”

She shared a similar sentiment for 328, but unlike 167, it “lacked a human element,” in her words. Member Tom Uram mentioned that former CCAC member Mike Olsen did a lot of “heavy lifting” in the legislation. He noted that the jury panel (three members of the CCAC, three members of the Commission of Fine Arts, and a chairing member of the Treasury Department) had narrowed down 200 portfolios to 20. He also stressed the importance of communicating the CCAC’s needs to the public. Uram said that design 265 was a good “starting point.” Member Erik Jansen took time to thank the artists for their submissions and stated that the Mint should let Congress know that in the future, public artists need to think about their designs in a three-dimensional sense. Design 265 was also liked by member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, who stated, “This is the one we have to go with.”

The design submitted by artist 318 entitled “And Return Safely to Earth.”

In the midst of all this serious discussion, a moment of levity occurred when several members referred to 318’s design as “creepy Kennedy” or “ghost Kennedy,” due to the faded gray design and heavy dark circles that appear under the president’s eyes. It was at this moment that I spat my coffee all over my desk and unprofessionally lost my composure, which abruptly shifted to a state of panic when I checked my phone to make sure that it was still on mute. It was, but even had it not been, everyone else in the room was chuckling as well over the remarks.

The CCAC’s top two most likely recommended designs: 167 and 265.

After my pulse returned to normal, the end of the discussion about the 2019 Apollo 11 Commemorative designs was approaching, and it became apparent that the two submissions which were most likely to be recommended to the Secretary of the Treasury were 167 and 265 — the former for its tasteful inclusion of the many contributions that others made to the success of Buzz Aldrin’s landing and the latter for its simplicity and relative coinability compared to the others. After a short break in which the members talked among themselves, the time then came to discuss the foundation for the 2020–2021 America the Beautiful quarters.

The discussion of the upcoming quarters was led by April Stafford, director of the Mint’s Office of Design Management, who read a detailed description of the sites to be honored into the record. The first was the National Park of American Samoa, which is located 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii and provides a unique experience to visitors since much of it is underwater. Next was the Weir Farm National Historic Site, located in Connecticut, a major site for the Impressionist movement at the turn of the 19th century. This was followed by Salt River Bay National Historical Park & Ecological Preserve on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This one particularly drew the attention of the committee members due to the recent hurricanes in the region. The next two national parks followed a theme of environmental conservation and included Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas. The final site discussed for the upcoming America the Beautiful quarters was Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, which garnered some lively discussion as well due to the idea of Black military heroes having to fight two wars—one overseas and the other at home. The CCAC’s members had studied these sites before the meeting, and they gave the Mint’s artists their advice and guidance on ways they might approach the coins’ designs.

At 12:50 p.m. the meeting was adjourned, and I turned off my cell phone to reflect on my thoughts and notes. Around 4:30 p.m. the same day, I called CCAC member Dennis Tucker, who answered my questions about the meeting which had taken place just hours earlier. He was informative and approachable and our discussion very productive. I asked why the members had seemed so frustrated about the Apollo 11 designs, to which he replied that part of it was more frustration “about the legislation than the artists’ designs.” I understood why designing modern United States coinage appears (to me) to be at a standstill at the moment, at least for this particular commemorative program.

After my time listening to the deliberations of the CCAC and discussing the meeting with member Dennis Tucker, I came to the conclusion that perhaps an initial middle-ground solution to the issue of coin designs submitted by the public could be that Congress drafts new legislation that allows for public text submissions for coin designs rather than drawings. By doing this, the public would still be allowed to participate directly in the design process without limiting professional artists to a few drawings which do not always take into account the many factors that go into the sculpting of real coins. Textual descriptions for what the public would like to see in coins would be just enough to give the artists fresh ideas to work with without pigeonholing them into having to sculpt a coin based on a drawing submitted by someone who may not be familiar with ensuring that their design translates well onto an actual coin. Even drawings that are magnificent and breathtaking may end up looking terrible on a finished coin if the proper caution is not exercised on the drawing board first. The final designs created by professional artists which were based on publically submitted text descriptions could then be reviewed by the CCAC, voted upon, and finally be recommended to the Secretary of the Treasury.

What do you think? Does this solution to our current predicament sound reasonable, or are there other ways the public can interact with the CCAC and the Mint to produce some truly spectacular modern coins?

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Comments

  1. earthling says

    We need to stop trying to create great coin designs with commercial illustrators who typically design Cereal Boxes, Print Ads, or maybe good ole boy artwork on Black Velvet.

    I can understand the protests of the committee members.

  2. DBR says

    @ Silky
    “To me # 265 looks like a Trilobite.
    Semper Fi”

    I was thinking the exact same thing. I’m glad it’s a foot print.

    This is an important coin commemorating an amazing national accomplishment that was an event for our entire human race.

    I did not like any of the designs to be perfectly honest.

  3. Qui Transtulit Sustinet says

    The design should be outstanding to mark an achievement of this magnitude.

    None of these are. The best of the mediocre or worse lot is # 167.

    D.C., we have a problem….

  4. Qui Transtulit Sustinet says

    I have to join the chorus singing…”The US Mint can’t sell/market their way out of a wet paper bag.”

    I am an AVID COLLECTOR of US and World bronze and silver MEDALS but I won’t be buying the 225th Anniversary Set (or Single) or the WW I medals from the Mint.

    The former are too expensive individually and collectively and ditto for the latter, which require you to buy a fuggly coin with each medal.

    This is a shame because I like both the obverse and reverse 2017 Liberty designs and some of the WW I designs and would have been totally in for some of both if available individually at a reasonable price.

    US Mint, If I won’t buy your medals, they have a tough road ahead.

    Stop the insanity!

    Design, Strike, Price, and Market your MEDALS for MEDAL COLLECTORS, not for Dealers, TPG’s and Flippers!

    At least I picked up two each of the 2016 Liberty Medals—which were reasonably priced, by the way.

  5. KCSO says

    Xena – you need a traditional razor blade to open those capsules, like what’s sold at Lowe’s or HD. Dull is up slightly on a piece of wood, and then gently insert it between the two halves and work it around, works like a charm. Best I’ve found to use.

    Beast Peeps – http://mennica-gdanska.pl/en/accessories/542-kasetabestiekrlowejag.html
    For what ever reason, the currency won’t convert though looking at $53 + S&H

    JARHEAD – I looked though my challenge coins and capsules, and one was soooo close to fitting the Pd 🦅 So still a big goose egg; I’m not giving up, there’s something out there that will fit it. Appears the ‘raw’ Pd 🦅 are squarely in the money now! Wish I had bought a roll and then sold some off.., who would have thought.

    Qui – I’m hopeful we’ll see a WWI Medal Combo set released as a special late summer set release – otherwise whole heartedly agree, I big swing and swing by the U.S. Mint and a total screw job for their core base of collectors. It’s so evidently clear that they have no clue how to market these offerings without alienating their base, sad.

    #308 – not pictured above, IS AMAZING! It should represent this phenomenal accomplishment being celebrated on the Reverse, though it won’t be selected. It’s not PC enough, it just symbolically represents the accomplishment.

  6. datadave says

    Hopefully not 318! And I guess I can say that since I have the Gold Kennedy Half. I think 167 is the best of the lot. I was 11 when I watched the moon landing. It encouraged me to go into engineering. In terms of engineering, it was one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.

    I would like a design that showed the earth, moon and rocket, 328 is way to busy.

  7. Buzz Killington says

    @Scott —

    This guy has two fakes listed. They are not super high quality. Look at the back of the label. Plus, the coin itself looks terrible.

    Did you msg him to tell him they are fake?

  8. cagcrisp says

    Dollar Up…PMs Down (pre market)

    The Dow was at the Lowest point yesterday Down 104 pts.
    The Dow Closed positive
    The Dow is today Fair Value positive 90 (pre market, moving constantly)
    The Dow moves 200+ round trip in 24 hours
    Why?

    Last night the Senate passed a budget 51-49 with Rand Paul being the only senator to cross party lines.
    The Senate version has to be reconciled with the House version.

    A PASSED budget allows for a tax package to be passed by reconciliation with only a simple majority.

    Stonger Stock market, Stronger Dollar, Weaker PMs

    One step Closer to Adding $1.5 trillion debt to children and grandchildren…

  9. Just Another Dave In Pa says

    I don’t like them. They all suffer from IGWT which is antithetical to science. The one has a rocket ship and IGWT is right next to it.

    At least the ARTS medals don’t suffer from the IGWT inscription.

    None for me, please.

  10. Buzz Killington says

    @cag —

    I think Corker may be an obstacle standing in the way of debt-exploding tax cuts.

    At least I hope so.

  11. Erik H says

    Qui Transtulit Sustinet,

    I definitely had 25 in each stack. Putting the stacks together was an after thought. After testing the Voyager coins I put them back in the tube and noticed a big gap from the top of the tube when compared to the 2014 tube. The I stacked and counted each again. I don’t have a way to measure the thickness. But putting both coins side by side they look about the same thickness (diameters of the two coins are the same). I have some Canadian wildlife coins but not enough to do a similar test.

  12. cagcrisp says

    @Buzz Killington, Coker is the Great White Hope…

    IF you don’t get the debt-exploding tax cuts…Then for Some, ALL of this is for naught…

    The repeal of ACA is just a smoke screen, a tax cut for the Wealthy is ALL this has been about

    A repeal of the ACA would just gave them more money for a tax cut…

  13. ClevelandRocks says

    Looks like a Trilobite to me too! That was my first reaction….Were they on the moon too?

  14. HarryB says

    @achmed: I too was wanting a 1 oz gold coin as part of this commerative program. When Louis and others on this blog called for support to get the enabling legislation passed, I contacted several staffers to see if a 1oz coin could be added, and was told that the bill was too far along to make changes. As a NASA retiree I am hoping for the best, but given the designs are in the hands of the US Mint, I am prepared to be disappointed.

  15. cagcrisp says

    2 year Treasury Note is hitting the Highest since October 2008.

    Currently 1.572%…

    30 years ago Yesterday when we had Black Monday, the 10 year was yielding 9.25% (currently 2.379%).

    That tells you how far Down interest rates have gone and how far stocks have gone Up…

  16. Louis says

    167 is a good design, but only for the 5 oz. and maybe $1. For the 2 smaller coins it will be very busy and hard to see the details like the equations without a magnifying glass.

    Many of these designs look too much like photographs rather than designs that translate well into coins.

    265 is very disappointing to me. Simplicity can be a good thing, but the footprint lacks imagination and simply repeats (once again) what the French did in 2009 on their coin marking the 40th anniversary. The designs need to be bold and inspiring like 308. A giant footprint on the 5 oz. will look absurd.

    Given their choices, the best solution would be to use 265 for the 2 smaller coins, and 167 for the larger ones.

  17. Ryan says

    All but 167 look bad, it’s true that 265 would work better on the smaller coins but they will be incredibly boring

  18. Ryan says

    JFK man in the moon face is god awful, if they made that I would buy it because it’s so ugly and different. BTW we never landed on the moon but that makes these coins even more appealing.

  19. Throckmorton says

    167 is neat but there needs to be a big U S A on the side of the rocket.

    Then again they could simply recycle the the 225th anniversary coin by replacing the stars with moons.

  20. Anthony says

    I tend to really like 265 because it makes a very simple statement. The artist titled the drawing Mission Accomplished! and it mentions the three major space programs of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo with phases of the moon to show the relative progress of the U.S. space program. The 265 footprint looks like an actual moon footprint and the footprint on the 2009 France 50 euro coin looks like a stylized cartoon and looks nothing like an actual Apollo 11 moon footprint. The date 1969 should appear on the coin somewhere.

  21. The Real "Cool" Brad says

    #343 gave me a good laugh. Looks like it came straight from Awkward Family Photos site.

  22. KEITHSTER says

    See the mint took the pic’s of the 5ozer’s off the 2018 schedule ? Did see them yesterday and now there gone. Must have been put up by mistake but they did look real. So they must have made some already? Good Luck To Us:>?

  23. Tom says

    167 I can go with. Maybe the fields can be ” cleaned up” some so it’s not so crowded. 265 is a no. Not enough there and I don’t care for a footprint close to LIBERTY.

  24. Erik H says

    Brandon can you or Dennis expand on the comments about Salt River Bay (Columbus Landing)? Personally I can’t wait to see which direction the artist / and mint go in (Historical or present day). If present day, the coin needs to have at least one representation of a wrecked boat, many of which have been there since hurricanes Hugo & Marilyn (new wrecks added just a few weeks ago). Hopefully it doesn’t look like another Bombay Hook or Everglades with mangroves.

    If anybody ever visits Salt River Bay, make sure to check out one of the world’s top bioluminescent bays before the NPS find a way to destroy it.

  25. Anthony says

    By the way Brandon, this is a great article you have written here.
    Keep up the good work! Great observation and great reporting!

  26. NCM Collector says

    I expected to see designs that show an astronaut on the moon balancing the earth on his finger or pushing the earth away. Space tourist photo ops.

  27. Qui Transtulit Sustinet says

    @KCSO

    The EAGLE Lands!

    Totally agree #308 is a superior design to the ones depicted in the narrative—thanks for bringing attention to it.

    I also like the prose chosen for it, which is more meaningful and appropriate than what is on the other offerings.

  28. cagcrisp says

    First day sales for the 4 Silver Medals = 16,794

    Stick a Fork In It

    Dismal, Dismal, Dismal…

  29. Dustyroads says

    I like 308 also, but the vapor trail behind the eagle is a distraction to me. It seems rather fantastical to see a bird depicted flying 25,000 miles per hour. I would much rather see the eagle depicted only as an icon of freedom and not as if it’s in the story line from a 1970’s comic book.

  30. 1Mark says

    I also think 308 is the best design.

    Eagle was the call sign of the Apollo 11 LEM (lunar excursion module) that landed on the moon.

  31. Karl Meyer says

    I’m sorry to say this, cause I have said it before, the problem with these coins is the legislation behind them gives no leeway in making them beautiful to celebrate this special event. I don’t think any of these designs are going to work in the mandated format of a concave shape and every size is going to be the same design, boring, boring, boring. The legislation should have stated that commemorative coins would be made for the fifty anniversary of the moon landing and let the mint do its job. The yoyo’s in congress can’t do there own jobs what makes them think they can do somebody else’s job. I’m sure the best images on coins for this event will be from other countries.

  32. earthling says

    Gold Bid 1280.00

    Rhodium 1455.00

    That stuff is accelerating toward a lunar orbit. Wild and crazy .

  33. NCM Collector says

    167 is a good match to the reverse already chosen. Could it be that we will get a strong obverse and strong reverse on the came commem?

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