It seems that among U.S. coin designs, some are universally praised
and some seem to enjoy consistent disdain from collectors.
From the soaring heights of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ 1907 High
Relief double eagle — considered by many to be the finest U.S. coin
design — to the lowly Anthony dollar, the more than two centuries of
coins produced by the U.S. Mint have seen high points and low points.
What follows is the result of an informal survey I conducted with
more than 50 of my coin collecting friends. I asked a simple
question: What is the least attractive U.S. coin. The results allow
us to have a discussion on aesthetics and ways of seeing and helps
us evaluate what design elements work on a coin (and what ideas
The following is the fifth part of my look at ugly U.S. coins.
III, and Part IV.
Good Designs Going Forward
The U.S. Mint established the Artistic Infusion Program in 2003 to
enrich and invigorate our coin and medal designs by contracting with a
pool of talented, professional American artists representing diverse
backgrounds and a variety of interests. These artists, in concert with
the United States Mint Sculptor-Engravers, create and submit new
designs for U.S. coins and medals.
Q. David Bowers said that the Mint is going in the right direction
with this program. He said, “The Mint needs to use such talent and
allow the artists to create TRADITIONAL designs of beauty.” He
commented on the current trend of revisiting classic U.S. coin
designs, noting, “Curiously, whenever we go back to Saint-Gaudens,
James Earle Fraser, and, coming up, Adolph Weinman and Hermon MacNeil,
we have coins that EVERYONE LOVES. It is sort of like saying that
Model T Fords are better than any cars today!”
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Today’s new coin designs are reviewed — as authorized in legislation
— by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of
Fine Arts. As many collectors pointed out, attractive designs are a
gateway to get people involved in numismatics and coin collecting.
Understanding what makes a design unattractive on a coin is important,
for it helps us better appreciate the U.S. Mint’s successes.
Keep reading our
breakdown of the U.S. Mint's ugliest coins: