Monuments Men receive due during medal design process

By , Coin World
Published : 03/16/15
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For a design idea for the congressional gold medal to celebrate soldiers who recovered art during and following World War II, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee turned to a famous World War II image.

The CCAC recommended that the medal feature an obverse design with the positioning of its elements inspired by the famous image of Marines and Navy personnel raising an American flag on Iwo Jima. 

The recommended obverse depicts five of the soldier/art-preservationists recovering artwork that had been stolen and hidden by the Nazis in a salt mine during World War II. The design shows the five men maneuvering artwork, but in a pose that is reminiscent of Joseph Rosenthal’s award-winning photo.

The selection of this obverse harmonizes with the recommendations from Monuments Men Foundation chairman of the board Robert M. Edsel.

The image the CCAC recommended for the reverse, however, was a departure from the foundation’s preferred design. In fact, the CCAC’s choice for the reverse is a design originally offered as an obverse, so slight modification is also recommended to eliminate duplicated wording. 

Want to see all the proposed designs for the Monuments Men medal? Click here and here

In the initial vote, the eventually recommended obverse received the second highest vote, receiving 17 points in a system where each of the 10 members may designate up to three points per design. 

The points leader among the obverse designs shows a portion of a painting, paired with the Golden Ratio, and earned 19 points. However, the panel did not recommend that design for the obverse. 

Instead, the CCAC opted to suggest that points leader for the reverse. Along with the recommendation, removal of the inscription MONUMENTS MEN, to avoid duplication with the obverse inscription, was approved.

The CCAC examined 12 possible obverse designs and nine potential reverse designs during its public meeting March 5. The meeting was held at the Oregon Convention Center in conjunction with the American Numismatic Association’s National Money Show.

The Monuments Men medal was the most contentious debate of the afternoon, with the debate centered on one point.

As member Erik Jansen asked, “Are we honoring the men or the mission?”

The Foundation’s desired design, the one eventually chosen for the obverse, places the soldiers at the center of the medal. As support swelled for designs focused on the artistic heritage recovered, Edsel noted that “the idea that these don’t honor the men and women is a little disturbing. There was no designated unit for the Monuments Men, no unit patches, which is why so few know about what they did.”

It is Edsel’s role as author of two books about the Monuments Men that led to a 2014 movie of the same name.

Edsel pointed to other medals for military units available at the U.S. Mint website and said, “I can’t find one [medal] that honors soldiers that doesn’t have soldiers on it. Why we would depart from what has been done in the past? I don’t know why you would do that.”

CCAC member Donald Scarinci’s answer was, “Because we’ve had bad designs in the past, we should have bad designs now?”

There was little support among the group for the Foundation’s preferred reverse, which placed a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower, then supreme Allied commander, against a background of names of famous artists. 

Gary Marks, CCAC chairman, said that during his time on the committee an extraordinary number of suggested designs have tried to turn the coins into plaques or narratives with lots of text.

However, he said, “If any medal should be about art, it’s this one.”

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