The quarter that might have been: Cumberland Island’s rejected turtle design

(Background photo by Mary Fairchild)

As Mint News Blog readers know, a popular choice for one of the 2018 America the Beautiful quarter designs—a diving sea turtle representing Cumberland Island National Seashore—has been overruled. A prompt from the comments section led us to ponder what made the rejected design special, and to see if we could discover why it was rejected in favor of a more predictable motif. As you will see, we made some headway with the former question, but got nowhere with the latter.

On June 16, 2016, the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) met to discuss the 2018 ATB design candidates and make their recommendations. Their choice for Cumberland Island was design no. 6, a snowy egret perched on a branch with its wings spread in preparation for flight. In a letter to Rhett Jepson, then the principal deputy director of the Mint, “The Commission members recommended alternative #6, a second choice of the Mint’s site liaison. They commented that the snowy egret with outstretched wings provides a dynamic composition, and the scene conveys the character of this seashore.”

On June 27, it was the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee’s turn to meet and discuss the candidates. The CCAC members generally panned the snowy-egret design for looking stiff and unnatural. The design that received the most enthusiasm was no. 3, a diving sea turtle. The following member comments are from the meeting transcript:

I think [the turtle] would be very popular outside of the hobby community, and would have some fans in the mainstream audience. (Dennis Tucker)

I love the layout, I love the bubbles, I love the frolicking kind [of a surf] thing. The turtle is really fun. (Erik Jansen)

This is fantastic. It’s the right amount of bold, the right amount of detail, the right amount of contrast. I’d like to see the bubbles polished. It’s going to be really fun. The kids are going to love it. (Heidi Wastweet)

I do love the turtle. I haven’t seen anything like that before. Collectors, kids, they’d buy it for their kids or grandkids. It’s a neat coin. (Herman Viola)

I think a ton of collectors … really love turtles. I think young people, who will potentially be getting these coins as gifts, also love turtles… It’s fun. It’s going to look great as a Proof. It’s going to look good large, it’s going to look great small. It’s going to be the kind of coin that, when someone [sees] it in pocket change, they’re going to stop and look at it. (Steve Roach)

I think we have something pretty spectacular for young collectors to maybe follow the field a little closer. [The turtle design] gives them something exciting to have as a foundation. (Jeanne Stevens-Sollman)

Not surprisingly, the playful turtle was the “outstanding vote of the night,” getting 30 out of a possible 33 votes from the CCAC members.

When the floor was opened for questions from the audience, a gentleman named Taylor Elwood said, “I think the numismatic hobby is not one that’s particularly popular with young people in this day and age. And having coins with turtles or other animals of the sort could really help bring them into the hobby and really help … keep the hobby alive and well for the future generations.” And in the opinion of audience member Bob Campbell, “People in America are going to love that turtle just like the world loves the panda. That’ll be a collector’s thing for sure.”

When the Treasury’s final decisions were released, the turtle had been rejected in favor of the snowy egret. When a Mint News Blog reader pointed out the curious choice, we emailed the CCAC’s chairperson, Mary Lannin, to see if she could shed some light on the decision. She thoughtfully responded as follows (edited slightly for space):

The process of voting and having our preferred design accepted isn’t as simple as it seems. Our Committee, which, at the time, included the irrepressible Steve Roach, loved the turtle when we saw the art at our meeting of June, 2016. This design received 30 of a possible 33 votes. We also voted on two other America the Beautiful quarter designs, among other business of the Committee.

What then followed was that I wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury, in this case, Jack Lew, and summed up our meeting. This letter included the Committee’s recommendations and the vote total for all the chosen designs. For each chosen design, I also include comments about why the Committee felt that we had ranked this particular design over others. This letter was then mailed to the Secretary…

Ultimately, the Secretary has two letters [one from the CFA, one from the CCAC], and occasionally the recommendations from each Committee are different. It was responsibility of the office of the Secretary of the Treasury which ultimately decided the final design.

This confirms what collectors of modern Mint issues know: that once the CFA and CCAC make their recommendations, the choice is out of their hands.

We don’t know whether the Treasury observed the difference between the strength of the CFA’s and the CCAC’s respective recommendations. Where the CFA noted that their recommendation was “a second choice of the Mint’s site liaison,” the CCAC pointed out that their choice had received “the highest total of 30 of a possible 33 votes.” We also don’t know whether the decision-making process involved a review of the committee members’ individual comments.

We’re unlikely to hear from the Treasury on the design choice, so Mint News Blog readers will have to speculate for themselves. One factor may be that it’s difficult for most people to look at two-dimensional line art and envision it in three dimensions, on shiny metal, with no outlines. Expertise in macroeconomics does nothing to enhance this ability. Even if those considering the design could visualize it on a coin quite well, perhaps the turtle seemed undignified. Perhaps the idea of a bird was more familiar, or the posture of the snowy egret, wings spread, was a subtle reminder of the eagle’s typical pose on American coinage. Perhaps the sea turtle, which is so often the center of environmental conflicts, seemed a little too chancy, politically.

Or maybe someone at the Treasury just doesn’t like turtles.


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  1. earthling says


    What can I say – you just mashed the problem with a sledge hammer ! Too much stuff is piling up and God isn’t even looking to help us out. The Cows are coming home. Thanks to all the evil ones that brought it on US.

  2. Scott says

    FYI, For those of you that got the latest Ebay Bucks offer, and if you still want a 2017 APE. One Modern Coin retailer has them on Ebay @1199 in OGP and they are Ebay Bucks eligible.

  3. John Q. Coinage says

    Interesting but, “God” is not in control of the weather, man does more to effect the weather (some may disagree) than “God” does, if so, proof please……clearly if there was a God we’d have a mint director!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Scott says

    The politicians in D.C. specialize in kicking the can down the road. Eventually there will be no more road.

  5. cagcrisp says

    At $1,740.00 for the American Liberty Gold coin, ties the Highest Gold product offered by the Mint in the past 4 years.

    We will see the appetite for a 1 oz. Gold coin @ $1,740.00…

  6. data dave says

    Just read that they are still selling the bullion puck of Harper’s Ferry (up to 48K now) and that the Ellis Island is sold out at 40K.

  7. Scott says

    $400 over spot for a PC bullion coin, what a bargain. Where does the mint find the fools to buy these?

  8. earthling says

    If the Mint would end that HR Gold 225th Liberty Coin tomorrow it’s still below the 2009 UHR in mintage. Wouldnt it be pushed as some sort of modern rarity?

    When asking prices jumped to the sky I think demand would jump with it? Yes?

    Whatever, I still wouldn’t want one.

  9. earthling says

    A Proof 2007-W American Eagle Quarter-ounce platinum $25 coin confirmed as struck with a reverse inscription frosted instead of mirrored realized $69,300 in an auction.

    It is said that only 21 of each of the 2007 Frosted Freedom Proof coins ($100, $50, $25 and $10) were struck. If you have purchased American Platinum Eagles since 2007 you may be one of the lucky investors to have purchased one of these “Frosted Freedom” coins.

    I got some 2007 Platinum Proof Eagles I need to look at. Not expecting to find any treasure but you never know. I suppose if I did find something I’d be happy…. for a while. Actually for a long while.

  10. Scott says

    IMHO, the 2009 UHR maintains it’s popularity and to some degree it’s elevated price because of what it is, a classic remake of our country’s most beautiful coin. While some may have similar opinion of the 225th Liberty coin, I seriously doubt the 225th coin will be elevated to that level regardless of the final mintage. I’d bet the 225 coin painfully lingers around with lackluster sales like so many of the first spouse coins.

  11. John Q. Coinage says

    Agree with Scott, classics have some leg$ but the 225h HR Au is not destined to be a classic, IMAGINE IF they re-issued Flowing head 1$ as gold what a great seller it would be, or maybe a silver center large cent or reissued 1st year $10 Eagle…nope lets go another way……regardless I don’t care about the 2017 HR nor the
    low mintage” Boys Town $5 …..seems to be plenty of EU sets @ USMINT now, likely will NEVER sell out @ this rate…….

  12. Goat says

    The stories of today.
    A sure thing ? eclipse or gold in Fort Knox Witch one would you take a chance to view ? One choose eclipse. In 1992 I was asked to be at Fort Knox but this time I was over looked so I checked out the eclipse.

    Palladium in late 1990’s – early 2000 hit a high, about the same time the stock market had a big pull back. Is this something to be concerned with ?

    What will gold and silver due this year in the months Oct.-Dec..? Past few years the two pulled back a little, will this year be the break out. I think $1361 for gold and $20.29 for silver is a price to watch.

  13. cagcrisp says

    The Current price of the 2017 American Liberty Gold coin is $1,740.00

    There has been 15 2009 Ultra High Relief Gold coins Sold in OGP on the bay in the last month for Less than $1,740.00.

    The Lowest 2009 Ultra High Relief being on 08/10/17 for $1,558.00 with 8 bids.

    Another 2009 Ultra High Relief went for $1,600.00 Accepted Best Offer on 08/21/17.

    Just Another example of a Nightmare before it’s all over…

  14. johnaz says

    I got a post card from today.for 2017 silver proof,free shipping. But on the card it said Did you miss our last silver proof set.Does this mean no more silver proof set.

  15. Scott says

    The ridiculous premiums for U.S. Mint products are bad news for the future of this hobby. Ultimately most people that sell their purchases will incur a loss, leaving a negative impression. As for me, I’d still rather have the 2009 UHR than the 225 coin at any price.

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