Chief Sculptor-Engraver Elizabeth Jones knew her first project would
entail designing President Reagan’s medal for the U.S. Mint’s
Presidential series. She had hoped for some time with the president,
to do sketches from life or possibly photograph him. (Jones was an
accomplished photographer as well as sculptor.)
A presidential sitting could not be arranged in the fall of 1981 due
to Reagan’s schedule, so Jones worked from photographs provided by the
White House and from other sources to sculpture his right-profile
portrait for the obverse.
Jones thought the president should have a say in what would be
depicted on the reverse of his presidential medal, so she asked him.
He said he would like to have Yosemite National Park (his favorite
national park) featured on it. She worked from photographs and focused
on the iconic granite monolith Half Dome, which rises some 5,000 feet
above the Yosemite Valley in California.
Recently, Jones said she decided to do a “slightly impressionist”
right-profile portrait of Reagan because she thought a standard smooth
surface would be “boring.”
When she had completed the plaster models of both the portrait
obverse and the Yosemite reverse, she took them to the White House.
Initially she met with first lady Nancy Reagan. Jones recalls, “She
liked the portrait.” The first lady was enthusiastic and suggested
that the president should see the plaster models. So Jones and the
first lady walked together to the Oval Office with the plasters in hand.
Jones remembers President Reagan quipping: “Good. You chose my best
side!” He was also pleased that Jones had selected a brief quote from
his Jan. 20, 1981, inaugural address.
Jones returned to the White House Feb. 3, 1983, when President
Reagan first saw the medal. She was present in the Oval Office along
with Mint Director Donna Pope when Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan
officially presented to him the gold version of his first-term 3-inch medal.
Bronze versions of the high relief 3-inch and 15/16-inch medals were
struck by the U.S. Mint for sale to the public. Neither version is now
available from the Mint. However, both are available in the secondary market.