The CCAC advises the Treasury on historic new coins, part 1: Lowell National Historical Park quarter

Background image courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid.

The following is the first of a six-part series currently running on our sister site, Coin Update


The Lowell National Historical Park Quarter

This past Tuesday, September 19, 2017, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with fellow Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) members Thomas Uram and Erik Jansen on H Street in downtown Washington, D.C. We were in the nation’s capital for a meeting of the CCAC. The committee’s main agenda item: to review design proposals for five upcoming America the Beautiful quarter dollars and one Congressional Gold Medal.

A new addition to CCAC member Tom Uram’s collection: A 1935 silver medal.

Breakfast was relaxed because we’d started the morning early, well before our 8:30 administrative meeting, giving us time to visit and catch up over eggs, bacon, and steel-cut oats. Tom, a financial adviser by trade, showed us photos of a large silver 1935 Met Life medal that he’s going to research. It was awarded to a life-insurance agent who sold a remarkable $100,000 worth of policies six years into the Great Depression.

A worn Sacagawea dollar that circulated as pocket change in Ecuador. (Courtesy of CCAC member Erik Jansen).

Erik had shown us some “condition rarities” from Ecuador—U.S. Presidential and Sacagawea dollars in very worn circulated grades. These coins are rarely spent as cash in the United States, so here we typically see them in nothing less than lustrous Mint State or About Uncirculated condition. In Ecuador and El Salvador they’re actually used as day-to-day currency, so they get worn down like any other pocket change. I shared with my breakfast companions the story of a small collection of Franco-Prussian War satirical tokens I recently bought. They lampoon the defeated French emperor Napoleon III, showing him wearing a German spiked helmet, or chained with a collar marked SEDAN (the scene of his military defeat and capture). Some of the tokens depict him with a cigarette in his mouth—the emperor was a notorious chain-smoker, said to have been seen nervously puffing tobacco as his armies were routed by the Germans.

After coffee we walked a couple blocks down to United States Mint headquarters on Ninth Street. The entire committee (except for member Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had a schedule conflict) assembled with Mint acting deputy director David Motl, Mint counsel, program managers, and others in the eighth-floor board room, for our 8:30 to 9:30 admin meeting. At 10:00 we moved to the second-floor conference room where we were joined by members of the press and public, with Mint medallic sculptors Phebe Hemphill and Joseph Menna on the phone line from Philadelphia, and several National Park Service and other liaisons present as well.

After some introductory business, we jumped right into our review of the America the Beautiful coin design proposals for 2019. The sketches were made by Mint artists (and Artistic Infusion Program artists) based on earlier guidance from the CCAC, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and liaisons from the national parks and other sites involved.

The first portfolio we reviewed was for Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts.

This site was established as a national park in 1978 to protect local history and interpret Lowell’s important role in U.S. industry. In the 1820s and 1830s the recently incorporated mill town grew into the cradle of the American Industrial Revolution. Its waterways and canal systems provided the power to run textile mills—innovative “integrated” factories that housed their entire operations under one roof, instead of spread out in several buildings or locations. New machinery was developed. Cloth manufacturing was revolutionized at Lowell, moving away from its cottage-industry origins into a new world of mass production. Providing the manpower—or womanpower—to run the machines were the so-called Mill Girls, most of them from the nearby farms of New England, recruited to Lowell to work in the factories. They stayed in company-owned boarding houses, with supervised educational and cultural opportunities and organized living. The Mill Girls became a social force in America, encouraging labor reform and education for workers.

Interpretive Park Ranger David Byers, who joined us in person at the meeting, discussed three important components for the coin design: It should include the human element, telling the story of the Mill Girls; it should capture the idea of technological innovation; and it should feature the “built environment” of the mills. The National Historical Park’s preferred design was MA-04.

MA-04 (hover to zoom)

In my own review of the Lowell portfolio, which included 18 sketches, I discounted those designs that don’t feature the Mill Girls, because their specialized labor was such an important transition from the artisanal hand-work of the past to the full automation of today. That took MA-02, 03, 05, and 06 off the table. They each have their strengths and weaknesses; these are the notes I made as I studied them:

  • In MA-02, I like the bold legend of AMERICAN INDUSTRY, and the use of the factory buildings to represent the new age of industrialization moving away from the cottage industries of the past. But the absence of the human element is a detraction for this design.
  • In MA-03, as with MA-02, the bold legend AMERICAN INDUSTRY and the architecture tell the viewer what they’re looking at. These aren’t warehouses or office buildings, but industrial factories. However, the absence of the Mill Girls leaves an important part of the story untold, or at most just hinted at.

MA-02 and MA-03.

  • MA-05 tells the story of textiles from cotton farm to factory, but I discount it because it lacks the human element of a worker in action.
  • MA-06: Yes, the raw cotton is important, and the shuttles and bobbins are important. But take the worker out of the equation and you end up with threads—you don’t get whole cloth.

MA-05 and MA-06.

Among those designs that do feature the Mill Girls, I preferred those that give an expansive view of their work in the mills, showing more of the textile machinery (rather than focusing on individual elements such as shuttles and bobbins).

MA-01 and 01A feature a Mill Girl, and also textile machinery, but to my eye her stance is too posed and static. She appears to be displaying the loom, rather than working at it. The design looks like an old-fashioned museum diorama and not a living, breathing activity. There has been a lot of CCAC discussion recently about avoiding “pictures on coins” and moving toward more symbolism in American coinage art.

MA-01 and MA-01A.

Design MA-04 has a storytelling combination of machinery and humanity. It’s also one of only two designs that include a text reference to spindles, which adds another layer of understanding for 21st-century viewers looking at 19th-century technology. My only concern was that the spinning machine might be too finely detailed for a quarter-sized coin. On the silver three-inch coin the design would enjoy greater depth and more visible detail, but the circulating quarter offers less than a one-inch canvas.

MA-07 and MA-08 use the same Mill Girl figure—07 as the coin’s main motif, and 08 as part of a bigger scene. The figure of the woman handling a bobbin and shuttle is well drafted, but without a legend to accompany it (as with AMERICAN INDUSTRY in some of the other designs), it would be ambiguous and mysterious to a 21st-century viewer. Modern Americans won’t recognize the threaded bobbin or the shuttle, especially reduced in size to fit on the quarter dollar. On a one-inch canvas, it would look like the Mill Girl is shucking an ear of corn. Design MA-08, however, is an improvement with its combination of the human and machine aspects of Lowell’s textile industries. The loom gives context. Also, the Mill Girl isn’t just pressing levers, but she’s interacting with the machinery in a very intimate, literally “hands on” way. This is a good depiction of the transition from artisanal cottage-industry work to mass production. The machinery might be finely detailed, but we’ve seen fine detail work in some recent America the Beautiful quarters, for example, the 2017 Frederick Douglass and Ellis Island coins. It would be up to the Mint’s engraver to make MA-08 work, but I think it could be done. MA-08 was my #1 preference from the Lowell portfolio of designs.

MA-07 and MA-08.

CCAC member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, from Pennsylvania, a leader in the field of medallic sculpture with work exhibited throughout the United States and in the collections of museums here and in Europe, as well as in numerous private collections.

Committee member Jeanne Stevens-Sollman (representative of the general public, and herself an accomplished sculptor) noted the importance of showing Lowell’s architecture, and called out designs MA-16 and 17A. Member Dr. Herman Viola (specially qualified in American history) supported our liaison’s preferences and brought attention to the quote in MA-14: “Art is the handmaid of human good.”

MA-14, MA-16, and MA-17A.

Conversation quickly centered around MA-10, 11, and 12. These designs (three variations of the same motif) show a Mill Girl with thread stylized as if it were being spun from water, symbolic of the importance of Lowell’s canal system in powering its textile mills. These eye-catching designs ultimately were the ones that won the committee’s recommendation. Personally, I appreciate the artistry of the water being turned into thread, and I like the intervening force of the Mill Girl in that transformation (she’s literally the central figure in the designs), but to me this is too stylized of a depiction of the textile production process. It captures the importance of the waterworks, but reduces the loom machinery to a single element (the bobbin and shuttle). I feel that reduction goes too far. Committee member Robert Hoge, our member specially qualified as a numismatic curator, agreed, saying that “the water and thread doesn’t work” and critiquing the halo or nimbus effect of the water-wheel in MA-12.

Other committee members, however, were quite taken with the artful nature and symbolism of MA-10, 11, and 12. Mike Moran, a numismatic researcher and published author, said he was drawn to them as a civil engineer who appreciates that “water power drove these mills.” He did rhetorically ask, though, if they would resonate with the man on the street.

MA-10, MA-11, and MA-12.

Heidi Wastweet, our member specially qualified in sculpture and medallic arts, called this suite of three designs “what we’ve been asking for” in the CCAC’s recent push for more symbolism and less literalism. She called them “beautiful, symbolic, but representational.” In contrast, she addressed design MA-04 as one that is “adequate, informative, very literal, utilitarian,” and asked, “Is that the bar we want to set?”

Member Thomas Uram also spoke about MA-10 and 11 as being among his preferences, noting that they would “really let you see more than just a machine.”

Member Erik Jansen noted that “the face imparts emotion on a coin,” and for that reason MA-17 and 17A can be discounted, since the Mill Girls’ faces are turned from the viewer. MA-10, 11, and 12 don’t have that problem.

Member and former committee chair Mary N. Lannin, an expert in ancient coinage, was emphatic: “My heart is with number 11.” She praised the way MA-11 actually shows the water turning the mill wheel, and spoke about the stance of the Mill Girl: “She’s proud. This is her work.”

Acting Chair Donald Scarinci, a specialist in art medals, called MA-11 “clearly the nicest.” “It gives us everything we’ve been asking for” in terms of a movement toward artistic symbolism on American coinage. “The artists are listening to us.” He pointed out that the design has all three elements desired by our liaisons at Lowell National Historical Park. It focuses on the individual Mill Girl, it makes use of negative space, and it has a hint of abstraction in the thread depicted as water. It shows motion rather than photography, Scarinci said.

CCAC member Dennis Tucker, author of American Gold and Silver and publisher at Whitman Publishing.

Our Vote for Lowell, and Our Recommendation to the Treasury

The mission of the CCAC is to study and review coinage design proposals and make our recommendations to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, who ultimately decides what designs will be used. In our first round of voting for the Lowell sketches, each candidate could earn up to 30 points—10 members of the committee were present, and each member could assign 1, 2, or 3 points to each design. Our voting was thus:

  • MA-10, 11, and 12, grouped for the purpose of voting, got 18 points.
  • MA-15 and 16, grouped, got 12 points.
  • MA-04, our liaison’s first preferred choice, got 11 points.
  • MA-07, 08, 13, and 14 each got 4 points or fewer.
  • MA-01, 1A, 02, 03, 05, and 06 each got 0 points.

Since our most points were voted in a block, to MA-10, 11, and 12 as a general motif, we voted in a second round among the three. In the second vote:

  • MA-10 earned 0 votes.
  • MA-11 earned 6 votes.
  • MA-12 earned 1 vote.

The CCAC’s recommended design: MA-11.

This voting is not a final act itself, but a springboard for further conversation as we circle in on “final.” A bit more discussion led to a closer study of the wheel buckets shown in MA-11’s machinery, at the left of the design. Our recommendation to the Secretary of the Treasury: adoption of MA-11, with the wheel buckets modified, as the reverse of the 2019 Lowell National Historical Park quarter.

Mr. Byers from Lowell agreed with our recommendation, appreciatively noting that MA-11 interprets the textile story from left to right, starting with the force of moving water, then the Mill Girl holding machine parts, and finally to woven thread.

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Comments

  1. KEITHSTER says

    Looks ok maybe too busy for the small quarter but should work on the big one. Did get some more Ellis Islands form the bank the other day . Well Good Luck All”>”>”>”>”>”>

  2. gatortreke says

    Dennis, thanks for the continuing articles covering the process the CCAC goes through to choose the coin designs. It is interesting to read about what the committee members think about the process and their views on the individual designs. This certainly adds perspective to how an individual coin design is chosen and I enjoy reading your summaries.

  3. Just Another Dave In Pa says

    Horrid design.

    America the Beautiful, in my mind, should focus on the natural beauty of our NationalPark system. Industry & technology are the exact opposite of America the Beautiful. These textile mills were sweatshops.

    They could at least put a bird on the coin.

    This coin gets my vote for worst design and most thematically indifferent..

  4. data dave says

    @Just Another Dave in Pa – I guess I missed your previous posts about the War Themed ATB coins. I’d like to take a guess about what type of work you perform, but I won’t go there. In my opinion industry and technology have made this country great and have improved the working conditions of millions of people so they don’t have to slave away in “sweatshops”. An even though I do not like war, that is part of our country’s greatness also.

    But maybe I’ve just been trolled. I tried to avoid responding to any post that uses words like “worst” and “horrid”.

  5. Gary says

    This is a great article on the aesthetics being considered for the ATB series. Enjoyable read! As to design, I personally like the overall flow of design in MA-12. The design for MA-11 is a close 2nd. Would prefer the loom wheel appearing behind the mill worker’s shoulder to give greater depth to the setting.

  6. Just Another Dave In Pa says

    @datadave — yes, please guess.

    I don’t like the military designs but National Battlefields are not that bad, They are at least natural.

    I was really disappointed with Perry’s Victory. It’s a big pole.

    “..even though I do not like war, that is part of our country’s greatness also.”

    Orwellian rubbish.

  7. Donnie says

    The Boston Red Sox have a minor league team in Lowell with the nickname of “Spinners”. Just substitute an image of a Lowell Spinners baseball player in the images that portray a human /machine combination and you’ll have a crossover collectible (baseball and coin collecting).
    O.K. , just kidding.

  8. gatortreke says

    Diana,

    FYI, The older comments link has disappeared off the articles page. This applies to articles that have more than 100 comments. I checked the previous article which currently has 101 comments, there is now no way to access the first 100 comments. I checked an earlier article and found the same. I am using Chrome as my browser but also checked in IE and found the situation to be the same in it as well.

  9. gatortreke says

    Received an offer from Provident today for $5 below spot price for a polished or cleaned $20 Liberty US Mint Gold Double Eagle.

    The bullion companies like Provident, APMEX and others must be inundated with people liquidating their gold. What am I missing here? Are people liquidating to put the money into cryptocurrencies or the stock market or is this the leading edge of Boomers estate sales? Something else?

  10. Ryan says

    @gator

    I got that email too and wondered why??? Either the coins are really rough or they were caught betting big on gold going the other way and have too much inventory and need the cash….or both?? I’d rather just buy new bullion bars from apmex on eBay for $1.99 over spot and use my 2% back credit card to essentially buy $23 below spot.

  11. Ryan says

    That makes it where if you have a 2% cash back credit card you’re buying for $2 over spot with free delivery.

  12. gatortreke says

    @ Ryan: Provident was recently acquired, perhaps they are just clearing inventory but I’ve received “good” deal offers from several of the bullion companies all summer. It’s like they are all buying lots of old bullion or have been in the recent past and are flipping it for only slight markups. Richard Giedroyc of Numismatic News has commented in the past couple of months that graded old gold bullion is selling for practically no premium in the current market.

  13. Ryan says

    Wow, I didn’t realize. I know that a couple weeks ago I got some Mexican centarios for melt price form apmex on eBay. I thought that was crazy. I know I read somewhere that the physical market has very low buying right now, maybe people are bored with the range that gold and silver have been on for years?

  14. cagcrisp says

    @ gatortreke, “Are people liquidating to put the money into cryptocurrencies or the stock market or is this the leading edge of Boomers estate sales? Something else?”

    All Three of the things you have mentioned are valid and have been going on for months.

    The difference that has been occurring lately is the steeping of the yield curve.

    Since the beginning of the Great Recession the PMs have gotten a free ride because of near free money.

    On Tuesday the 2 year note hit a 9 year high.

    It doesn’t matter whether the Fed leads or the Fed follows because the yield curve has been steepening RECENTLY.

    The 10 year is close to a 11 week high.

    The only way you make money on precious metals is trading and capital gains and If interest rates continue upward and the USD strengthens then you now have more competition for your investment dollars…

  15. gatortreke says

    I should have remarked that the photos of the well circulated Sacagawea dollar coin are very interesting on several levels. You’d never find one that worn in the U.S. so seeing how the date is well worn is different plus how the difference between the dark, oxidized dollars I have versus the light color of the well circulated Sac.

  16. Ikaika says

    @ Louis

    Thanks. I look forward to the next 10 oz Queens Beast. Great design and low premium. The perfect combination for collectors and investors!!!! Cheers

  17. earthling says

    Louis says

    SEPTEMBER 28, 2017 AT 11:50 AM

    one more test. trying to figure out why comments keep going into moderation.

    – I noticed the post above the one above is a bit different. Is “Louis” vs

    – “Louis Golino” causing a moderation review ?


    Louis Golino says

    SEPTEMBER 28, 2017 AT 11:49 AM

    Well, there was a coin a while back I believe that had a pizza image on it, but I don’t think it had the scent
    of pizza like the chocolate and marijuana coins that have that.

  18. says

    Thanks for the link KSCO…but I would never pay that….of course, if you like it, buy it….but
    don’t expect to make money on it…

  19. Mint News Blog says

    Thanks for the heads-up, @gatortreke. It seems to be true for all articles with more than 100 comments. I’ll take a look.

  20. Louis says

    @earthling- this is only an issue that impacted me after my piece on Trump and the Fed was posted on MNB, all my comments went into moderation no matter what name or e-mail I used, and we were trying to figure out what was going on. this does not impact anyone else.

  21. says

    Totally agree with Ryan – Lowell lady looks like she is smoking a blunt.
    IMHO some indication of CCAC analysis protocols towards earlier selections?

    Semper Fi

  22. Just Another Dave In Pa says

    It is a cigar with smoke trailing it.

    The Sac coin is interesting and I wonder if they consider what the coin will look like when it’s worn? I’m guessing the spindle will either become a cigar or a sex toy.

    Hopefully, Mnuchen will put the kybosh on it.. The other designs for this site are no better, though.

  23. gatortreke says

    @MarkinFlorida: That’s interesting that it is the Europeans who are supposedly dumping their double eagles. Interest rates there are either subzero or at zero when inflation adjusted. You’d think holding on to gold would be a wiser course of action in this scenario. Have you heard why the Europeans are dumping other than because they can? 🙂

  24. Jerry Diekmann says

    Donnie – your mind must be in the gutter. For a coin blog forum, we can live without these kind of sophomoric comments. No – I am not a prude or some saint, I just think comments like these are in poor taste.

  25. Daveinswfl says

    Louis,
    You had Trump in your article, so it must be the Russians hacking😜

    On the ATB, I can’t understand Lowell being a national PARK. A monument, OK, but a park? Reading the Wikipedia definition of National Park ( which would match up pretty well with the common man’s idea) makes me wonder why it isn’t a national museum or monument.

  26. earthling says

    OMG has Palladium become the stuff of dreams ? Is it a Cryptometal now? Look out Rhodium. Pd will be the first PM to reach Mars .

  27. cagcrisp says

    @KCSO, The worldwide Palladium market is ~ $6.67 Billion

    The US Mint bought ~ $13.9 Million

    The Increase in Palladium price in the past year is ~ $1.55 Billion…

  28. says

    Pt / Pd spread – Pd $23 Over!

    Buy! Buy! Buy! She’s going to $1,300!!!

    And then I’ll be able to break even on my Palladium Eagle when I go to sell! LoL

  29. Barry says

    I see APMEX has a set of random year proof AGE’s for over $ 500.00 less than a new 2017 AGE set from the USM. Some are cashing in their coins for whatever reason. Proofs are the last I’d sell if I needed the money. It seems those that did sell may not have gotten so much over spot.

  30. Mike in NY says

    My raw Pd Eagle has not shipped yet. According to the dealer, it should ship next week. Certified ones are not shipping until third or fourth week of October from what I have seen.

  31. So Krates says

    @ gatortreke – Word on the street a few months back was European banks were liquidating larger than usual amounts of $20 old gold due to capital requirement pressures.

  32. So Krates says

    Modified wheel buckets won’t help someone a millennium from now figure out what the hell is going on in this design. Bobbins, wheels and stylized water with an unknown Latina dated 2019? It’s not easy to interpret the references now, let alone hundreds of years out. While I agree with the push away from literalism, this image just doesn’t pull it off. Reminds me of the Twain coin puff of pipe smoke and the disparate images of the frog and raft etc. Go all symbolic or all literal – it is tough to blend the two.

    MA-01 looks like she’s about to lose a finger or two.

    I’m with Dave in PA, and the Eels; I like birds… better than nameless figures (Cumberland?) which dominate the AT Beautiful coins. Don’t they have any unique flora or fuana on Cape Cod or in the Berkshires?

  33. sharks2th says

    It looks like Pd will not be the first precious metal to reach mars (from earth) (I know the comment was being expressed figuratively).

    There is American coinage on Mars. At least someone at NASA or their contractor knew the significance of the coin they sent.

    Metals on the Mars rover:

    Titanium tubing Form Curiosity’s legs

    Titanium springs Add cushioning within Curiosity’s wheels

    Titanium bridle Part of the parachute deployment mechanism used during the rover’s landing sequence

    Aluminum Curiosity’s wheels

    Aluminum mortar Part of the parachute deployment mechanism. Hand forged from an aluminum billet

    Aluminum honeycomb Formed the core of Atlas V, Curiosity’s launch vessel

    Bronze DU® metal-polymer bearings are critical components in the rover’s drill.

    Copper Curiosity collects samples in cells, which are sealed in a pyrolysis oven by pressing the cell’s copper collar into a knife-edge seal with a force of up to 250 pounds. The sample is then heated to 1100°C for analysis.

    Lead, Tellurium, Germanium, Antimony, Silver Curiosity is powered, in part, by a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator that will use PbTe/TAGS thermocouples produced by Teledyne Energy Systems.

    Stainless steel Stainless steel gas generators provided the high-pressure gas used to propel Curiosity’s parachute from the spacecraft.

    Rhenium A RD AMROSS RD-180 booster engine powered the propulsion system used to launch Atlas V. Rhenium is alloyed in the jet turbine.

    Tantalum 630 tantalum multianode capacitors are responsible for powering the ChemCam laser module onboard Curiosity

    Tungsten The back shell of Curiosity’s atmospheric entry vehicle released two sets of detachable tungsten weights in order to alter the spacecraft’s center of mass as it approached Mars. Individual ballasts weighed 165 pounds (75 kilograms) or 55 pounds (25 kilograms).

    Gallium, Indium, Germanium Photovoltaic cells layered with minor and semiconductor metals provide Curiosity with power during the day.

    Silicon Silicon chips etched with more than 1.24 million names are aboard Curiosity.

    Copper, Tin, Zinc A penny minted in 1909 (when they were still mostly copper) is onboard to help scientists calibrate the cameras currently sending images back to Earth.

  34. earthling says

    coming in 2020 – Kansas ATB Quarter – Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

    This will be release #5 in 2020. Can you imagine what this design might be? I see Buffaloes. Always a good option. Buffalo. Buffalo. More Buffalo.

  35. Tom P. - MA says

    @ So Krates I’m not entirely sure what the criteria is for the designs, but I had read that the Gorton’s (Gloucester) Fisherman was the most popular design, but it wasn’t located in a Federal Park.

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