When artist Joel Iskowitz prepares designs, the things to which he
pays the most attention might be those that won’t be shown.
An example of that philosophy can be demonstrated with a Proof 2015
.999 fine silver crown in the name of the British Overseas Territory
of Tristan da Cunha.
The coin, which is being issued through Bradford Exchange Mint, is the first coin to
show Britannia and America’s Liberty together, according to Bradford officials.
The coin is meant to show the special friendship between two
countries, the figures extending hands toward each other against a
rising sun, while an American Eagle and British Lion look on.
Iskowitz made a significant change to the figure representing
Britain, to present the pairing of icons in the right light.
“Britannia is usually seen with a trident, from when the British
Empire ruled the seas. But it’s a weapon, [so] I purposely didn’t
include the trident. It’s not like I forgot,” Iskowitz said. Of the
two figures his design depicts, he said, “They’re certainly reaching
out across an ocean expanse, a cultural expanse, in friendship.”
Research is paramount
“There’s a lot that goes into the iconography and the symbols,”
Iskowitz said. That explains the one to two months of research
Iskowitz said he performs before even putting pencil to paper.
“To try to make these designs resonant and meaningful, we do our due
diligence,” Iskowitz said.
“The real work begins with research, especially with subjects so
epic and advanced and deep as this. ... [We have] to become conversant
in the material, to learn the P’s and Q’s and facts of a given
During the discussions about this project, Iskowitz recalled seeing
World War I recruitment posters with Britannia and Liberty together,
and wanted to see them paired in metallic form.
It turns out that the idea was a first for coinage.
“We weren’t even sure if it would be a precedent-[setting] thing ...
this is a first as far as anyone knows,” he said. “You don’t have to
go very far [in history] to see what kind of special relationship
we’ve had, especially during World War I and World War II. Plus our
country is born from Anglican ancestry.”
In the coin community, Iskowitz is probably best known as a designer
of U.S. coins and medals. He has worked with the United States Mint as
a participant in the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program to create dozens of designs.
Iskowitz said though the technology remains the same, whether
working with the U.S.
Mint or a private entity, the design review process is much more
involved when making U.S. coinage designs.
Different editorial review processes are involved — fewer people are
involved in private sector creations, as compared with review by the
Commission of Fine
Arts and Citizens
Coinage Advisory Committee, the legislatively mandated groups
that have a say in coinage design.
“It’s stirring to me — I always get chills when I say this,”
Iskowitz said, “but this goes back to George Washington when he made
sure that our coinage could be reflective of the people.”
“There are a lot of eyes and attention and a much more elaborate
process after the art is handed over.”
Once Iskowitz completes his design, whether for private commission
or for the U.S. Mint, it is up to a sculptor to interpret it as he or
“I’m just a guy with a pencil and a paintbrush who doodles,”
Iskowitz said. “The U.S. Mint has an undersung group of engravers and
sculptors of tremendous talent. And there are a number of them in the
private sector, too.”
A unique Liberty
The image of Liberty that Iskowitz created for the Tristan da Cunha
project is a different version than seen elsewhere, he said.
“It’s neither the lady in New York Harbor or the Liberty on bank
notes. She’s certainly a different version — hopefully she’s mine. But
I have to know what [Adolph] Weinman and [Augustus] Saint-Gaudens and
Hermon MacNeil did before me. You can’t break from tradition if you
don’t know it.”
The reverse design by Iskowitz is paired with an obverse effigy of
Queen Elizabeth II “created by a design team that we work with” and
that was approved by Buckingham Palace, according to a Bradford spokesperson.
The Liberty and Britannia coins will be struck in the West Midlands,
United Kingdom, suggesting they may be struck at the Birmingham Mint.
The 1-ounce coin measures 38.6 millimeters in diameter and has a
mintage limit of 4,999 pieces.
The crown coin comes with a deluxe wooden display box and costs $199
through a special page on Bradford’s website.
His U.S. hobby designs
Iskowitz said the latest project with Bradford is among many already
issued or on their way, including a modern interpretation of the
classic Indian Head 5-cent coin and designs related to President
Abraham Lincoln’s life and legacy.
But most Coin World readers will encounter his designs
regularly, through their pocket change, thanks to his participation as
an Artistic Infusion Program artist.
In that program, Iskowitz competes to have coinage and medal designs
chosen to be struck by the U.S. Mint as it meets its legislative
mandates for various programs.
The most recent U.S. circulating coin design credited to Iskowitz is
the 2014 (Florida) Everglades National Park quarter dollar in the
America the Beautiful program. In late 2015, Iskowitz’s design for the
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge quarter dollar for Delaware is due to enter circulation.
His other recent works include the obverse of the 2015 U.S. Marshals
Service commemorative half dollar; the Proof 2014-W
American Eagle platinum $100 coin, reflective of the fifth principle
in the Preamble, “To Promote the General Welfare”; and the obverse of
the 2014 Fallen Heroes medal for the World Trade Center.
More of Iskowitz’s art can be seen online at his website.
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