US Coins

Elizabeth Jones' gold Lady Liberty design

The 1986-W Statue of Liberty gold $5 half eagle holds a record that still stands. The entire mintage of 500,000 sold out in pre-issue.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

No U.S. commemorative coins would be issued in 1985, but the collector community was teeming with excitement over the prospect of coins to celebrate the approaching centennial of the Statue of Liberty in 1986.

Mint sculptor-engravers secretly began work on Statue of Liberty designs shortly after introduction of the authorizing legislation on Jan. 3, 1985. The legislation sought a gold $5 half eagle, a silver dollar, and a copper-nickel half dollar. 

The House acted quickly, approving its version March 5. But the Senate bill was bogged down in political maneuvering. The bill did not gain approval until late June.

When Treasurer Katherine D. Ortega visited Coin World’s offices in Sidney, Ohio, in April 1985, her press secretary — upon greeting me — noted that we should reserve at least a half hour of the three-hour visit for an off-the-record session, which would be exclusively with me.

With my office door closed, sketches for obverse and reverse designs for the program’s three coins were spread upon my desk. 

I was stunned. 

It had not occurred to me that designs for the Statue of Liberty commemoratives had advanced that far that quickly. They were breathtaking, especially the obverse for the gold $5 coin.

Treasurer Ortega asked: “What do you think?”

“Beautiful!” I said. “Collectors will love them, especially Elizabeth Jones’ head of Liberty on the gold coin.” 

Treasurer Ortega smiled broadly. “How did you know Elizabeth Jones designed the gold coin?” she asked. (There were no initials or identifying marks on the designs.)

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The truth was, I didn’t know. I ventured a guess. The close-up head of Liberty was so innovative and different from anything the U.S. Mint had produced I figured it was mostly likely a creation of the new chief sculptor-engraver.

Treasurer Ortega was curious. Could I identify the other designers? I correctly guessed the silver dollar featuring the full Statue of Liberty to be the work of John Mercanti. I was stumped by the half dollar designs.

At that point, the designs had not been approved. They remained a well-guarded secret until being revealed to the public shortly before the Oct. 18, 1985, striking ceremony at the West Point Mint. 

The gold $5 coin proved to be a winner with collectors. The mintage of 500,000 sold out in pre-issue, a record that still stands.

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