The issue before the Commission of Fine Arts, said New York
landscape architect Diana Balmori, was to determine which coins
designs for the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner would be
“clearly understandable and iconic.”
The designs that the commission recommended July 21 for the gold
and silver coins to be issued in 2012 may not have been Ms. Balmori’s
first choices but they met her criteria.
For the obverse of the gold $5 coin, the panel urged an
allegorical design featuring the figure Lady Liberty holding the
15-starred U.S. flag over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry.
It was Francis Scott Key’s view of the garrison’s huge 42-foot by
30-foot flag flying during a morning attack on Sept. 14, 1814, that
inspired his poem and later, song.
For the reverse, the commission urged a combination of two
designs, with the phrase o say does that star spangled banner yet wave
over a fluttering image of the flag and, taken from another design,
the placement of some of the required lettering, around the edge of
For the obverse of the silver dollar, the commission endorsed the
image of the privateer Chasseur under full sail with the
lettering war of 1812.
For the reverse, it urged an image of the billowing flag that
inspired Key to write what in 1931 became the national anthem of the
The designs will go before the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee
July 26 before being sent to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. He
will have the final say on the design of the two commemorative coins.
Congress last year authorized the U.S. Mint to strike up to
100,000 gold coins and up to 500,000 silver dollars to mark the 200th
anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore.
As he did at the commission’s previous meeting, Edwin Schlossberg
of New York played a key role in which coin designs the panel
Gold coin designs
The commission’s newest member, Schlossberg pushed for the lady
Libertydesign calling it “the most coherent and balanced” of the 10
designs presented by the Mint for the gold obverse.
Three of those designs showed Columbia holding the billowing flag
with the Baltimore fort in the background. One showed a schematic
design of the fort as it was attacked by British ships, and six others
showed images of American troops defending the base.
For the reverse of the gold coin, the Mint had offered eight
designs. Four showed Key as he watched the British bombardment of the
Baltimore fort from a British warship where he was being held. Two of
the designs showed the opening notes of the anthem, one with Key’s
image in the background and two others displaying his handwriting of
the opening phrase o say can you see.
The committee liked the way one of those designs had placed the
inscriptions united states of america, e pluribus unum and Five
Dollars around the periphery of the reverse.
It urged that that “template” be used with another design to avoid
any suggestion that the phrase e pluribus unum was part of the anthem.
Silver dollar designs
Schlossberg, an artist who also teaches at Columbia University,
had an important say in what designs would be recommended for the
He recommended that the word “privateer” be removed from the
proposed obverse design and commission chairman Earl A. Powell III
urged a second ship be plucked from the background.
Don Everhart, the Mint’s chief engraver, urged the panel not to
recommend that the boat be depicted without any water, as one member
of the panel hinted; the boat was a key component in what then was a
U.S. Navy composed of privately owned ships.
“Most agree that a ship should be in water,” chuckled Powell, who
recalled he had served in the Navy.
Everhart agreed to the removing the word “privateer” from the
design and suggested that the ship could be lowered on the coin as a result.
The Mint offered six designs for the obverse of the silver dollar,
all depicting various aspects of the war at sea. Several featured the
Chausseau and one the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides).
For the reverse, the Mint offered nine designs, all of which
offered views of the flag. Some featured the flag as it appeared in
1814 when Key wrote what he called “The Defence of Fort McHenry.”
Others showed that flag accompanied by a modern flag; a flag with a
sextant; notes from the opening of the song placed underneath a
stylized flag; two flowing flags held at the top by an eagle with
shield and banner; and being held by Lady Liberty.
None of those designs provoked much comment during the commission meeting.
Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland 1812 Bicentennial
Commission, which will benefit from surcharges on the coins, said his
group was “very much on the same wave length” as the commission on
which designs it favored.
He also candidly noted that the state commission viewed the coins
as a fundraising tools for its programs.
If all the coins authorized are sold, the commission could receive
$8.5 million in surcharges.
The gold coins could raise $3.5 million, or $35 from each gold
coin. Another $5 million could come from the $10 surcharge on each
silver dollar. ■
An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified the
figure of Lady Liberty on the recommended gold coin's obverse as
Columbia and misspelled the name of the privateer.