CCAC calls for Mint design process changes

Recommends Coin and Medal Design Division
Published : 01/24/11
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The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee is recommending the creation of a Coin and Medal Design Division within the U.S. Mint to help improve the quality and originality of U.S. coin and medal designs.

Committee members make the recommendations to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in a 62-page report approved by the CCAC and publicly released Jan. 19.

Included in A Blueprint for Advancing Artistic Creativity and Excellence in United States Coins and Medals is the recommendation that the Coin and Medal Design Division be headed by a professional art director who reports directly to the U.S. Mint director.

CCAC Chairman Gary Marks said the Blueprint is the most significant contribution to coin design that the advisory panel has generated.

Marks said coins are the closest contact that most Americans have with their government and American ideals on a daily basis. He said the coin designs should reflect those ideals that Americans cherish.

CCAC member Donald Scarinci, “tweeting” messages on during the CCAC’s Jan. 19 meeting, called for the “liberation of the artists to be artists, create art & not just trace pretty pictures in metal.”

The Blueprint report, developed between June 28 and Oct. 26, 2010, by a CCAC subcommittee, was approved by members during the CCAC’s Jan. 19 meeting.

The full report is expected to be posted soon on the CCAC Web site at

Remove SaM

The report also recommends that “all responsibility for artistic design be removed from the United States Mint Sales and Marketing Department [SaM] and that the Design Working Group be abolished.”

Both the CCAC and the Commission of Fine Arts — the two federal panels that review coin and medal designs — have been critical of not being afforded the opportunity to review all coin and medal designs created, only being provided with those that the Design Working Group has approved.

Instead, Marks said, it is important that both the CCAC and CFA are involved with the design process even before narratives are created from which the Mint’s engraving staff and AIP artists can generate designs.

The report criticizes the Design Working Group.

“The Design Working Group (DWG) was originally created to coordinate manufacturing timetables and to interface with stakeholder groups,” according to the report. “With one exception, none of the members of the DWG has any training or background in art, the notable exception being the chief engraver, who plays a limited role in the DWG.

“Nevertheless, the DWG has assumed the role of directing and coordinating the Artistic Infusion Program artists as well as the in-house United States Mint sculptor-engravers.”

The art director recommended in Blueprint should “be responsible for ensuring that proposed designs not only meet the highest standards of artistic excellence, but also comply with the historical, legal and technical requirements of the coin or medal program for which the proposed designs were produced.”

The art director, or “Division Chief for Coin and Medal Design,” would oversee a team of professionals to coordinate stakeholder relations, design and engraving, dies, tools and digital control, and contract personnel.

The report suggests that the DWG be replaced by a similar group with representatives from the chief counsel, manufacturing and SaM operations, but be chaired by the art director and lacking any responsibility for discussing artistic merits of any proposed designs.

‘Trace and bake’

The current default design process is what the Mint’s engraving staff members have described as “trace and bake” — the practice of using mandated source materials, such as historical photos and artwork, to replicate on current coinage.

“The practice of ‘trace and bake’ must end,” according to the CCAC Blueprint report. “Instead, artists should be encouraged to pursue original interpretive designs. They should use symbolism, allegory and abstraction, rather than rely primarily on realistic or literal depictions of design themes. Artist should always consider the size of the palette and simplify designs whenever possible.”

Another major recommendation in Blueprint is that the status of the Mint’s engraving staff and AIP artists be elevated and creativity encouraged to promote design excellence.

The artists should be featured in promotional literature for Mint programs, according to the report.

The artists should be accorded the opportunity to secure the necessary source materials for inspiration, including travel to specific sites if required, according to the report.

The artistic talents of the Mint’s engraving staff should be showcased in galleries and participation at national and international art competitions, according to the report.

2011 offers significant opportunities for coin and medal opportunities to capitalize on the Mint’s technological advancements, according to the report.

One report suggestion is piggybacking on the success of the 2009 Saint-Gaudens, Ultra High Relief .9999 fine gold $20 double eagle with another 27-millimeter UHR double eagle in 2011 “utilizing a modern 21st century design of the traditional American Liberty theme.”

“Finally, the opportunity for artists to experiment with creative and innovative designs — free from legislative and other limitations — should be created through the implementation of an annual art medal program,” according to the Blueprint report. “The art medal program would allow artists to utilize cutting edge advancements in design techniques and minting technology.”

Contract with historian

The CCAC’s final major recommendation in the report is to change the methodology for design review by both the CCAC and CFA, including hiring an outside historian for assistance with historical accuracy of designs.

The report suggests that the CCAC and CFA be involved in providing input both before and after designs are created, including in the preparation of draft narratives for design themes and preliminary review of designs.

Additional historians should be secured on an as-needed basis, according to the report, to support the art director in initiating and selecting source images and to review all historical designs before submission for CCAC and CFA review. This would be in addition to the Mint’s in-house historian.

Blueprint development

Marks established the CCAC’s Subcommittee on Coin Design Excellence on June 28, 2010, to investigate the design process.

The CCAC subcommittee was composed of Marks ( a collector and an Idaho city administrator), Scarinci (an attorney and medallic art specialist), sculptor Heidi Wastweet, numismatic researcher and author Roger W. Burdette, and Mitch Sanders, a collector and former CCAC chairman.

Naming of the subcommittee was sparked by a May, 28, 2010, letter from the CFA to then U.S. Mint Director Edmund C. Moy.

In the letter, CFA members were critical of the designs submitted for review for the two 2011 commemorative coin programs honoring Medal of Honor recipients and the U.S. Army, stating “the quality of designs remains embarrassingly low, both in the amateurish character of the artwork and in the generally poor compositions. ...”

The CCAC membership has also been increasingly critical of the quality of coin and medal designs submitted for CCAC scrutiny.

On July 27, the CCAC adopted a new scoring system for evaluating designs that requires a minimum 50 percent score before any design may be considered for CCAC recommendation.

Since the implementation of the scoring system, the CCAC reviewed 128 designs, but only 18 received a high enough score to receive recommendation to the Treasury secretary for approval.

To help in developing the Blueprint report, Marks said the subcommittee was provided confidential access to 18 Mint employees, comprising the sculptor-engravers, senior sales and marketing staff, the legislative liaison, the director of the Mint and other personnel as requested by the subcommittee.

2010 Annual Report

As part of the Jan. 19 CCAC meeting, CCAC members also discussed preparation of its 2010 annual report, including the recommendation for a second commemorative silver dollar for 2014 and two silver dollar programs in 2015.

For 2014, the CCAC renewed its recommendation for a silver dollar to commemorate fallen firefighters. Congress has already approved legislation for 2014 authorizing a silver dollar to recognize the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

For 2015, the CCAC recommended silver dollars honoring the Battle of New Orleans, the final battle during the War of 1812, and the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Marks was also directed by the CCAC membership to meet with officials of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee to discuss the possibility of a joint coin and stamp release. ■

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