Precious Metals

CCAC selects new American Eagle $1 design

An eagle design originally considered for the reverse of the 2015 U.S. Marshals Service gold $5 half eagle is recommended, with modifications, to replace the familiar Heraldic Eagle design of John Mercanti currently on the reverse of all versions of the silver American Eagles.

Design sketch courtesy of U.S. Mint.

In a first step toward a possible design change for the reverse of silver American Eagles, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee on April 8 recommended a design the panel previously considered for the 2015-W United States Marshal Service gold $5 half eagle.

The design the CCAC recommended along with modification suggestions is reminiscent of the eagle U.S. Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht designed for the reverse of 1836 to 1839 Gobrecht dollars.

Meeting by telephone April 8, the CCAC recommended that the U.S. Mint execute several designs based on the selected design but with modifications. The design modifications requested are:

? That the eagle be oriented to fly slightly upward.

? That the beak be modified so as not to be too close to the edge. 

? That renditions be produced for consideration both with and without the olive branch, and both with and without arrows.

? That appropriate inscriptions, to include the denomination and weight and fineness in silver, replace the inscriptions in the suggested design.

First step

The recommendation is a first step in the design change process. The U.S. Mint was directed to have renditions of the recommended design executed with suggested modifications for the CCAC to review. The designs would also have to be submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts for its consideration. Final approval is at the discretion of the Treasury secretary or his designee.

A proposal by CCAC member Erik Jansen to have more than one design recommended for the silver coin failed to receive the panel’s approval. 

Jansen represents the interests of the public.

CCAC member Thomas Uram, who is also president of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists, pushed unsuccessfully to have any recommended silver American Eagle reverse design change restricted solely to the Proof version, leaving former U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver John Mercanti’s Heraldic Eagle design intact on the bullion version.

The Heraldic Eagle design by Mercanti has appeared on the reverse of all versions of American Eagle silver dollars since November 1986. Mercanti retired with the title of chief engraver on Dec. 30, 2010.

Any recommended change would apply to all versions of silver American Eagles, according to CCAC Chairman Gary Marks. Any new reverse design would be paired with sculptor Adolph A. Weinman’s Walking Liberty design, introduced in 1986 on silver American Eagles, but first used on the Walking Liberty half dollars from 1916 to 1947.

Mercanti comments

Mercanti, who was contacted via email by Coin World after the CCAC’s April 8 telephone meeting, said, “I recommend they keep the bullion for the long-term collectors who have been collecting for years and start a parallel program, Eagles of the World.”

Mercanti did not listen in or participate in the CCAC’s telephone meeting.

In addition to 10 CCAC members participating, U.S. Mint production and design support staff were also listening in.

A representative from Coin World and journalists representing four other numismatic entities were also afforded the opportunity to listen to the public proceedings, but were not permitted to ask questions during the session.

The topic of recommending a change for the silver American Eagle has been published in the last three editions of the CCAC’s annual report, Marks noted.

Since Mercanti’s Heraldic Eagle has been on the silver coin for 28 years, the Treasury Department can, on its own initiative, and with the approval of the Treasury secretary, change the design without needing congressional approval under the Coinage Act of Sept. 26, 1890, codified in Title 31 of the U.S. Code § 5112 (d)(2).

Previous designs reviewed

Marks had asked U.S. Mint officials, well before the April 8 meeting, to collate a number of designs featuring eagles that were submitted for consideration for previous U.S. coins or medals but were never approved for use.

In response, the Mint provided each CCAC member with 43 eagle designs, before the April 8 meeting. Marks asked each member to provide him with their top five selections from those designs, from which he would generate a shortened list for discussion and recommendation. A 44th design was added later for consideration. 

During the CCAC’s April 8 meeting, members considered 16 designs, which included the 44th design.

From the individual opening remarks of most of the 10 CCAC members participating, it was clear that the design the entire panel ultimately recommended was a clear frontrunner. Of the 10 CCAC members participating, most had selected the eventual recommended design as their preferred choice.

Before asking each member to contribute individual remarks, Marks clarified a misconception that a proposed design change was intended only for the bullion version. Marks stated the recommendation is to replace Mercanti’s Heraldic Eagle reverse design with a new design to appear on all versions of the silver coins.

In separate emails April 4 to Coin World, Marks said a design change would fuel additional interest in the series.

“My proposal is for a singular change to the reverse design for the $1 American Eagle bullion coin inclusive of bullion and proof varieties,” Marks said in the first email. “Do I think collectors as a whole will rebel if the reverse of the $1 American Eagle is changed? No. 

“In fact, if the new design is beautiful and inspirational I believe that, as a whole, it will increase interest and infuse new excitement among collectors for the coin.”

In a second email, Marks explained how he believes design changes have increased collector interest. He had been asked why he was suggesting a change for the world’s most popular silver bullion coin.

“It would be difficult for me to understand the minds of investors worldwide,” Marks said. “I believe investors are most interested in the reliability of the United States Mint to produce bullion coins that are true in terms of weight and purity, and a beautiful coin too!

“The annual design changes for platinum bullion coins does not seem to have been a problem for investors. And, we know from experience that a design change for a coin can spur increased collector interest in the coin by the established collectors and general public as well.

“The 50-States Quarters Program and the Westward Journey Nickels are good examples of how a design change can expand the hobby.”

The reverse design on the platinum eagle has changed annually on only the collector versions. Mercanti’s Heraldic Eagle reverse introduced in 1997 with his Statue of Liberty obverse for the platinum American Eagle has been used on the bullion version for every year it has been produced.

‘Not a done deal’

Jansen said the design recommendation should demonstrate what the country stands for, noting the recommendation to the Mint was “not a done deal.”

“This is an iconic product of the U.S. Mint,” Jansen said of the silver American Eagle. “Good designs have been passed over because they were not the best design at that time.”

Jansen had hoped the CCAC would recommend multiple designs to the Mint for consideration.

Michael Ross said the CCAC’s actions are “not the end of the process,” but “beginning a period of sacred review.” Ross supported a design using relief and strong details without sacrificing artistic intent for the sake of maximizing die life in production, which he said would be “tragic.”

Ross supported a handful of other designs that did not display what he called the “struggling eagle” design the CCAC recommended.

Ross also did not support the idea of different finish versions of the silver American Eagle bearing different designs.

CCAC member Michael Bugeja said eight of the 16 designs the CCAC considered were symbolic of power and peace.

“I was heartened to see the committee drawn to symbols,” Bugeja said.

CCAC member Michael Olson said he preferred more emphasis on a bold, strong eagle showing the strength and majesty of the U.S. without the need for shields, flags, arrows and other such devices. Olson said he prefers the eagle to take up much of the space in the reverse field and not be a posed eagle.

Olson also brought up the subject of the CCAC considering a design change for the American Eagle gold coins.

CCAC member Michael Moran said he preferred the flying eagle on a rising plane, flying slightly upward, like on the Gobrecht dollar reverse, with the necessary inscriptions stacked. Moran also supported the idea of submitting more than one design recommendation.

Marks said the eventual design recommendation represents the only choice he feels will pair well with the Walking Liberty obverse.

CCAC member Heidi Wastweet, specially qualified in sculpture or medallic arts, supported the concept of adding arrows to the design. Wastweet said she wanted to see variations of the eventual recommended design.

CCAC member Donald Scarinci was against the idea of adding arrows, suggesting the olive branch as designed be removed as well, so the design concentrates solely on the eagle.

Uniquely qualified

The CCAC’s recommended design was the only one to receive enough votes to qualify under the CCAC’s voting system, which depends on the number of members present, and whether the total participating reflects a majority.

The system allows each member participating to give one, two or three points to a design. With 10 CCAC members present, the maximum number of points a design could receive is 30, with a majority of 16 points needed to qualify any individual design for recommendation.

Each member was polled individually, and could assign points to more than one design from the pool of 16 designs.

Receiving 23 points, the CCAC’s recommended selection was the only design among the 16 considered April 8 to meet the voting criteria for recommendation.

Jansen sought approval to include in the CCAC’s recommendation four more designs receiving the next top number of votes. None of the four had received more than eight points. Jansen’s motion to include the four additional designs failed by a 7-to-3 vote.

During the discussion phase and before the individual voting began, U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Donald Everhart II raised the question whether one of the designs should be considered, since it might be used on an upcoming commemorative. It, too, was among the designs submitted for the reverse of the 2015-W U.S. Marshals Service half eagle.

U.S. Mint officials have not yet announced Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s design selections for the 2015 United States Marshals Service gold half eagles, silver dollars and copper-nickel clad half eagles, nor whether Lew has made those selections.

Art medal program

CCAC members also approved a motion directing the U.S. Mint to develop a proposal for a national art medals program.

Greg Weinman, the member of the U.S. Mint’s legal staff that advises the CCAC, said the Mint has the authority to execute an art medal program without requiring design approval from Congress, the Treasury secretary or anyone else.

Marks said an annual program offering one or two medals per year would provide Mint artists the opportunity to design medals according to specific themes, but without individual restrictions.

Everhart said he would “jump at the chance” to have the artistic freedom to design such medals.

Scarinci, a collector and specialist in art medals, said the art medal program is one whose “time has come” and would “encourage artists to be artists.”

Also discussed was taking up, at a future CCAC meeting, the topic of changing Miley Busiek Frost’s “Family of Eagles” design, which has appeared on the reverse of all versions of gold American Eagles since October 1986.

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