Ross Johnson is a retired business executive, American Numismatic
Association life member, 50-year collector of classic and modern
U.S. coins, medals, and paper currency, and an avid reader of
to Coin World, I have been reading about and reviewing online
the designs reviewed by the Commission of Fine Arts for the new High Relief
gold coin to be issued in 2015.
must admit that the process used to propose and select designs and
other characteristics for U.S. coins frustrates me a great deal. Why
isn’t the numismatic collector more a part of this process? Clearly as
the ultimate “consumer” of Mint products, we as customers should have
some voice in design considerations.
comes another obvious example with the proposed new coin that we were
initially told would continue in the tradition of the 2009 Ultra High
Relief, a highly successful and certainly most beautiful coin the Mint
has produced in recent years.
presumably without any collector input, authorities have now decided
to increase the size and reduce the relief, which immediately makes
this coin “something else” from what collectors hoped the Mint was
attempting, which was a new entry in a series begun with the popular
2009 coin. Ultra high relief was a huge part of what made the
Saint-Gaudens coin special. Every coin collector and numismatist knows
this. Why doesn’t the Mint?
for reasons unfathomable, this coin is to sport a denomination of $75. If this were to be a successor to the 2009
UHR, should it not retain status as a double eagle and keep the $20
face value? Even at $50, we could call it an American Eagle. Why is it
a good idea to have so many equal weight bullion coins with so many
different denominations? Are we seriously to consider this new coin as
a “septo-and-a-half eagle” (or tri-deci-quarter eagle”)?
I would mention design issues. In fairness to the artists of the
designs, I was certainly impressed with the creativity and execution
of some of the concepts submitted. Yet many of the designs seem
overcharged with symbolism to the point that it detracts from the
esthetics. In extreme cases, it borders on the cartoonish. The current
shield reverse of the Lincoln cent is a conspicuous example of
symbolism overwhelming artistic considerations. I don’t know of
anyone, inside the hobby or out, who considers that design a success
by any artistic measure.
terms of the proposed coin in question, one example in particular
illustrates my point, though alternatives could easily have been
selected from the submitted designs. Here we see Miss Liberty
uncomfortably carrying a torch, an olive branch and a shield. She
glances upward, perhaps thinking about what items she forgot (the
arrows that go with the olive branch?) as she absentmindedly is
apparently about to stride off a cliff! The unidentifiable city and
abstract sun rays in the background merely add symbolic noise to
whatever overall signal this design is meant to convey.
me, the beauty of Saint-Gaudens design was that it was an artistic
composition first, which nonetheless managed to gently incorporate
understated symbolic elements into a coherent image. More subtlety,
more artistry, and a bit less overt symbolism would improve these
modern concepts in my opinion. I imagine many in our hobby would agree.
think it’s reasonable that numismatists as a group have well developed
artistic sensitivities when it comes to coins. Arguably no one looks
at or studies them more than we do. For this reason I wish our
opinions were more valued regarding artistic and other considerations
of what coins are produced. Whatever the Mint’s original intentions
for this new coin, given the choices being made, it is hard to believe
it will be a worthy successor of the 2009 UHR.
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