Mint creates design, engraving department

New division takes place of Design Working Group
Published : 02/06/12
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The U.S. Mint has created a new Design and Engraving Department and is fielding applications to fill a career chief engraver’s position to oversee and manage four divisions within the department.

Mint officials discussed the creation of a new department and the seeking of a new chief engraver in late January.

The Design and Engraving Department was created, in part, in response to issues and concerns about the coin and medal design review process raised by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. CCAC members recommended that the Mint do something about improving the design process and the designs that are generated.

The CCAC’s 62-page report, A Blueprint for Advancing Artistic Creativity and Excellence in United States Coins and Medals, was released during the CCAC’s Jan. 19, 2011, meeting.

The CCAC concluded in its report that the Mint’s Sales and Marketing Department had too much control over the design process, and over which and how many designs the CCAC would review for its recommendations to the Treasury secretary for approval. The report recommended that Sales and Marketing be completely removed from the process and an art director added in its stead.

The Sales and Marketing Department was but one segment of the former Design Working Group, which also pulled Mint representatives from other departments, including manufacturing. The Design Working Group has since been abolished; in its place, the Design and Engraving Department was formed, with all of the parties involved in the design process aligned under this new umbrella.

Formation of the new department began soon after the Oct. 1, 2011, start of Fiscal Year 2012, according to Tom Jurkowsky, director of the U.S. Mint’s Office of Public Affairs, in an effort to have management of all design and engraving elements focused together.

Chief engraver’s position

The job solicitation for the chief engraver’s position began Jan. 12, with the deadline for applications of Feb. 13. The position has an advertised salary range of between $123,758 and $155,500.

The position of chief engraver (originally called the engraver) had been a presidentially appointed position from its inception under the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, which established the coinage bureau, until 1996 Mint reform legislation abolished the position of chief engraver and assayers at the Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point Mints.

The 1996 legislation also removed the presidentially appointed superintendent’s posts at the four facilities and recreated the positions as career plant managers.

The last presidentially appointed chief engraver was Elizabeth Jones, who served from Oct. 27, 1981, through Dec. 13, 1990.

The chief engraver title was resurrected Feb. 3, 2009, when U.S. Mint Director Edmund C. Moy bestowed the title upon John Mercanti, the senior member of the Mint’s engraving department and a sculptor-engraver. Mercanti had held the title of supervisory design and master tooling development specialist. Mercanti retired from the U.S. Mint on Dec. 30, 2010.

Although Mercanti was the 12th member of the U.S. Mint’s engraving staff to hold the chief engraver’s title since the U.S. Mint’s establishment on April 2, 1792, he was not officially recognized as the 12th chief engraver of the Mint, according to the U.S. Mint’s Office of Public Affairs.

Although Moy bestowed the title of chief engraver on Mercanti, the Mint director lacked the authority to restore the formerly presidentially appointed position.

Since Mercanti’s retirement, Ron Harrigal, former division chief for new products and development, has been acting chief engraver overseeing coin and medal designs. Harrigal’s previous responsibilities have been reassigned within the Manufacturing Department, according to Jurkowsky.

New department’s structure

Under the Design and Engraving Department alignment, the chief engraver reports directly to Deputy U.S. Mint Director Richard A. Peterson. Before the department’s establishment, the chief engraver was reporting to the associate director of manufacturing, who was Peterson until Peterson was named deputy Mint director in January 2011.

The chief engraver has supervisory responsibilities over four newly created divisions — (1) stakeholder relations, (2) engraving division, (3) digital process and development, and (4) tool and die engraving.

The Stakeholder Relations Division has a manager at its helm, with three additional staff members. One of the division’s primary responsibilities is acting as a liaison between the Mint and the CCAC and Commission of Fine Arts, the two advisory panels legislatively empowered to scrutinize and recommend proposed coin and medal designs they receive, as well as other entities whose input is needed on designs for America the Beautiful quarter dollars, commemorative coins and national gold medals.

The Stakeholder division’s manager slot has been filled by Christy Bidstrup, a veteran Mint employee who was last assigned to activities associated with the dollar coin.

When proposed designs are presented to the CFA and CCAC for their recommendations, either Bidstrup or Harrigal will make those presentations, Jurkowsky said. One of their upcoming assignments will involve the presentation of a replacement series of proposed designs both for the 2013 Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial quarter dollar for Ohio and for the 2013 Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine quarter dollar for Maryland, after the initial series of proposed designs for both states was panned by both the CFA and CCAC.

The Engraving Division will be headed by a lead sculptor, overseeing the work and responsibilities of the engraving staff at the Philadelphia Mint. The current staff comprises four medallic artists and four sculptor-engravers. As of Feb. 1, the lead sculptor position had not yet been posted to invite applicants.

The Digital Process and Development Division will be headed by a manager, with an additional staff of eight. The opening for the manager’s position has been posted.

The division’s eight staff positions would encompass engraving engineers, laser systems engineers, production design specialists and project managers.

The Tool and Die Engraving Division will be overseen by a supervisor who is yet to be named. The division is to have a support staff of 10 personnel, comprising steel and die engravers, transfer engravers and tool makers.

During a Jan. 27 telephone interview with Coin World, Peterson said he has taken a more active interest himself with the design process by attending both the CCAC’s closed-to-the-public administrative sessions and their public meetings.

Peterson said the Mint has also taken the CCAC’s advice by having some of the artists travel to sites to be recognized on coins or medals in order to gain inspiration for designs.

Should issues arise concerning coinability versus artistic integrity, the chief engraver will make the final decision on designs so the approved designs will be coined properly, according to Peterson. ■

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