American Eagle coin artists comment on redesign
Published: May 17, 2019, 6 AM
The designers of the reverses of the American Eagle gold and silver bullion coins have mixed opinions about the possibility that their designs might be replaced with new ones, as U.S. Mint officials are proposing. The same designs have been on the coins since both series were introduced in the fall of 1986 — a design by Miley Busiek Frost on the gold coin and one by John Mercanti on the silver coin.
Mercanti, who retired in 2010 as the nation’s 12th chief engraver, says changing the American Eagle designs is inevitable. “Nothing lasts forever,” he said matter-of-factly.
Frost, however, has a very different view on the possibility of a new design. The private-sector sculptor who designed the Family of Eagles motif for the reverse of the gold series, questions the U.S. Mint’s logic in replacing the designs of one of the world’s most recognizable and best-selling gold bullion coins.
“I feel like the design carries a purpose — signaling hope for the future generation and how important they are,” Busiek told Coin World in a May 16 telephone interview. “If a design is OK, there’s no need to change. There are plenty of coins to changes the designs on.”
Busiek said if the Mint is concerned that the bullion coins are under attack from counterfeiters, anti-counterfeiting devices can be embedded in the existing series without change to the current designs.
The Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985 authorizing the gold American Eagle series specifies that the obverse design represent Liberty, which resulted in the adaptation of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Striding Liberty from the obverse of the $20 double eagle struck from 1907 to 1933.
The Family of Eagles motif for the gold American Eagle reverse was legislatively mandated in the 1985 act with Busiek’s rendition of that theme chosen for use on all incarnations of the gold series — bullion and Proof beginning in 1986, Uncirculated in 2006, and several other surface finishes since, including Reverse Proof and Enhanced Uncirculated releases.
The Silver Bullion Coin Act of 1985, a subsection of the 1985 Liberty Coin Act that authorized the Statue-of-Liberty-Ellis Island commemorative coin series for 1987, did not mandate specific designs for the obverse or reverse, only that the silver reverse depict an eagle.
The result was an obverse replicating sculptor Adolph A Weinman’s Walking Liberty half dollar design from 1916 and used through 1947. Weinman’s obverse was paired with the Heraldic Eagle reverse by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Mercanti.
The American Eagle silver bullion coin is the world’s best-selling silver bullion coin.
The Mint Act of Sept. 26, 1890, permits the U.S. Mint director to seek the redesign of U.S. coins with the concurrence of the Treasury secretary, “but no change in the design or die of any coin shall be made oftener than once in twenty five years from and including the year of the first adoption of the design, model, die, or hub for the same coin.”
Mint officials have reportedly already pitched the redesign initiative to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and await his approval or denial.
No disclosure has been made by the Mint on behalf of Mint Director David J. Ryder as to why the redesign is being pushed. It also has not been disclosed whether Mnuchin was provided, as part of the redesign proposal, any suggested designs for obverse, reverse or both for the gold and silver issues.
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