The debate over designs for the silver medals to mark the 10th
anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was a bit more
protracted when the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee considered
them on March 1 than at a similar review by another panel.
But the recommendations of the CCAC’s Washington session were
strikingly similar to the ones the Commission of Fine Arts reached on
Both panels recommended as the obverse feature a classical figure
of Liberty holding a Lamp of Remembrance and both want a reverse with
a flying eagle set against a shimmering waterfall.
The CCAC and the CFA disagree on what inscription the reverse
should carry, with the committee opting for the variation of the
design with the short inscription honor and hope. The commission had
urged a version of the design with a longer inscription — no day shall
erase you from the memory of time taken from the Roman poet Virgil.
That inscription from Virgil, which will be featured prominently
in the museum planned for the New York City 9/11 site, was also on the
CCAC’s highest rated reverse design during an initial round of voting.
However, after some debate before selecting the design theme they
preferred, CCAC members then agreed to a show-down vote between
backers of a version of the design with the short inscription and a
version of the design with the longer one from Virgil.
The recommendations from the CFA and the CCAC, the two federal
coin review panels, now go to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner,
who has the final say on what designs are selected for what is
officially known as the “National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Commemorative Medal.” It will be issued later this year at the
dedication of the memorial at the site of the World Trade Center.
While the two review panels are often at odds over coin design
issues, their views over the medal seem to meld.
“It’s the first time I’ve agreed with the CFA,” said the Rev. Dr.
Richard J. Meier, a Rockford, Ill., minister and a member of committee
Like others on the committee, Meier said he approached the review
with a sense of importance, saying he expects his vote on this design
to be one of the most important he has cast.
The U.S. Mint presented the panels with 10 obverse and 16 reverse
designs, a project that U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver Don Everhart told
the committee he views as so humbling that he is not willing to create
a medal for any profit-making organization hoping to market medals for
the Sept. 11 anniversary.
The panel spent about two hours debating the merits of the various
designs the Mint offered.
As did the CFA, the committee members expressed delight over the
creativity the Mint’s artists displayed, but some wondered aloud
whether some imagery — leaves, tridents and phoenixes — would be too
difficult for the average American to quickly grasp.
Heidi Wastweet, a Seattle sculptor who has worked with private
mints, strongly pushed for a design showing leaves on a pond for the
medal. She found the design “very meaningful, powerful, emotional,
without being overly so.”
She pushed it anew after it initially lost in the panel’s voting,
but then suddenly acknowledged that the competing design of the eagle
over waterfall had “wider appeal.”
The committee agreed to accept the Mint’s suggestion that the
obverse should have a ring around the lamp’s flame and that the two
white shafts of light should be left in the background as symbols of
the fallen Twin Towers. The Commission of Fine Arts had recommended
both the ring and the light shafts be removed from the obverse.
The CCAC did not call for any changes in either of the endorsed designs.
Because of the number of designs, CCAC Chair Gary Marks instituted
a two-phase voting process for the meeting.
First the committee dropped a number of designs that had no support.
Then the panel voted on the remaining designs under the usual
committee’s voting system that allows each member to give a design up
to three points. That balloting then produces a number that shows the
relative strengths of the various designs.
Following are the results for the obverse designs that made it
past the first screening:
Obverse design 1 received 16 of a possible 24 points; design 5,
three points; design 7, one point; design 8, five points; design 9,
nine points; and design 10, 18 points.
For the reverse, design 2 received one point; design 3, nine
points; design 4, one point; design 5, five points; design 6, four
points; design 8, 13 points; design 13, five points; design 14, two
points; design 15, 16 points; and design 16, 18 points.
Normally the high-point winners would automatically be nominated,
but perhaps because of the significance of the medals Marks suggested
they review the results.
That was when the switch regarding the reverse recommendation
occurred, with the design with more text, design 16, losing to the
honor and hope version, design 15.
Pairing the designs
The Mint did something new with this medal, placing three pairs of
obverse and reverse designs before the panel as recommended by the
artists. That placed the obverse 1 with reverse 6, obverse 5 with
reverse 13 and obverse 10 with reverse 8.
Neither the Commission of Fine Arts nor CCAC accepted any of the pairs.
What was clearly apparent at the two meetings was the acceptance
of the classic figure on the obverse and the excitement over the
possibility that the waterfall on the reverse might have some
Arthur Houghton, former president of the American Numismatic
Society, said the classical figure “really hits me. It’s so fabulous.”
Michael Olson, an Iowa banker, pushed the reverse with the two
words honor and hope. “Honor is very important to have on this coin,”
Although Wastweet had rallied strong support for the leaves
design, both Houghton and Marks found it wanting.
“I’m at a loss to be inspired by leaves,” Houghton said. “I find
it flat — lacking any emotional character,” Houghton said.
Marks was blunt as well. “Folks, I just don’t think that design
can pull it off,” he said.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum will also be
advising Geithner as to which designs it supports. Kaarina Budow, the
Mint’s design manager for sales and marketing in charge of program
development, said the organization has indicated it could support many
of the designs and wanted to hear the two panel’s suggestions.
First Spouse coin narratives
The CCAC also had another issue on its agenda at the March 1 meeting.
A suggestion by the historian on the CCAC that the Mint should do
some more digging on possible designs for presidential First Spouse
coins triggered a spirited exchange at the meeting.
Michael A. Ross, an associate professor of history at the
University of Maryland, initiated the issue after the committee was
presented with proposed narratives for the 2012 First Spouse gold
coins and bronze medals.
The women to be honored are Frances Cleveland, wife of Grover
Cleveland; Caroline Scott Harrison, wife of Benjamin Harrison; and
suffragist Alice Paul, who was selected as a stand-in for Liberty on
the coin for the presidency of Chester A. Arthur, who served as
president without a spouse (the First Spouse gold coins for all other
spouseless presidents are to depict a Liberty portrait found on a coin
in production during the president’s term in office).
What upset Ross was that too many of the presidential spouses have
been depicted as hostesses or getting married or people getting
remarried in the White House.
“The old hostess image is not good enough,” agreed Doreen Bolger,
director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Ross said he wanted the Mint’s researchers to dig deeper, arguing
that many of the presidential spouses were more involved than the gold
coin series has projected.
Ross was especially upset that Lucy Hayes, wife of Rutherford B.
Hayes, will be shown repeating her vows at a 25th anniversary ceremony
in the White House and not as a leading temperance proponent.
Known as “Lemonade Lucy,” she banned alcohol at most White House
functions and was renowned for her zeal in the anti-drinking movement,
Ross also cited the upcoming coin for Frances Cleveland, saying
that her White House marriage had been a cause for scandal because the
president was her former legal guardian and was 26 years older than
she was when they married in 1886.
Frances Cleveland became “the Jennifer Aniston of her age, a
popular figure whose image was used to sell soap and other products,”
She also opened the White House to working women on Saturdays, a
pioneering step to reach out to women, he said.
Michael Brown, a former Mint official, said he found “it’s very,
very challenging” for political wives to have “a separate identity”
once their husbands become a governor or a president. Houghton agreed.
Wastweet said that Alice Paul “should have her own coins” instead
of being placed in the presidential spouse series, which Congress
dictated when it approved the series.
She also urged the Mint to make sure its artists do not take the
narratives literally. Some may believe every suggested image must be
on the coins, she said.
Budow promised the Mint would pursue Ross’s suggestions,
especially his idea about Cleveland’s Saturday sessions with working