As the numismatic community began to explore ways to attract more
collectors and participants to the rare coin marketplace in the
mid-1980s, a surprising ally and advocate emerged.
Diane Wolf was unknown to the numismatic community before President
Reagan appointed her to the federal Commission of Fine Arts in 1985.
The appointment was a reward for her work on Reagan’s re-election
campaign staff and for her consulting role in a number of successful
Republican congressional elections.
Established in 1912, the CFA’s role was to advise various government
agencies on proposed buildings, landscaping, statues, fountains and
monuments within the District of Columbia, as well as designs for
coins, medals and insignias. At the time, the CFA was the only entity
that reviewed and recommended coin and medal designs.
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Given her lifelong interest in art, Wolf’s presidential appointment
to the uncompensated federal panel seemed to be a good fit.
Almost immediately after joining the CFA she realized that most
members were architects and had little interest in coins and medals. A
quick study, she sought to learn everything she could about coins and
medals and reached out to the numismatic community for help.
She called me and introduced herself. She had begun reading Coin
World and commented on several editorials I had written,
especially one I had written calling for new designs on the nation’s
During our conversation, she asked for my suggestions for reading
and research. Topping my recommendations was Cornelius Vermeule’s
Numismatic Art in America. I also sent her a copy of our
newly published fourth edition of Coin World Almanac, which
contained a chapter titled “First the Book,” that listed and gave
brief descriptions of books pertaining to U.S. coins as well as those
about ancient and foreign coins.
About six weeks after her first phone call, Wolf called with another
question. I was amazed because it was obvious that since our first
conversation she had read — indeed studied — not only Vermeule’s book,
but many of the standard references cited in the almanac.
Armed with knowledge, she began challenging the status quo.
At the time, Mint officials were opposed to any changes to designs
on circulating coins. And some senior Treasury officials, who appeared
sympathetic to the cause, were not about to rock the boat or risk
their careers on an issue like coinage redesign.
So Wolf set her sights on Congress and legislation to force the Mint