CCAC, CFA in near agreement on 9/11 medals

Both panels like same designs, differ on mottoes
Published : 03/07/11
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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 Feb. 17.

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.

General agreement

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 since 2006.

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.

Appreciates creativity

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 shimmering qualities.

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,” he said.

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, he said.

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,” Ross said.

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 women. ■

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