designer of a modern coin is seldom an important consideration for collectors.
curious that in modern U.S. numismatics we seldom give mind to the
designers of our coins. In fact, not much is written about the
relative merits of designs outside of the reporting on the selection
process of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. Why?
the subject matter of most coins is determined by Congress when it
authorizes a new commemorative issue or coinage series. The creative
spark isn’t an artist’s inspiration. It’s new coinage legislation.
before a design appears on a coin, the CCAC and the Commission of Fine
Arts debate and dissect various proposed designs. Then they send their
recommendations to the secretary of the Treasury, who has the final
say on coinage designs.
coins are small, rendered in low relief, and a lot of mandatory
elements unrelated to a design must appear on them. The date, the
denomination, the word “Liberty,” and the mottoes “In God We Trust,”
and “E Pluribus Unum” all must find their way into the design.
the era of modern coinage, stars of coinage design existed: Augustus
Saint-Gaudens, Adolph Weinman, and James Earle Fraser. What allowed
these individuals to achieve greatness was not only their talents but
the freedom granted to them. They chose their motifs, played with
surface textures and height of relief; they even removed mottoes.
so many new designs each year, some attractive coins do make an
impact. The successful designs benefit from a simple composition that
considers limitations posed by canvas size.
Goodacre’s Native American dollar obverse is a good example of the
artist’s work and style, showing Sacagawea with a lively expression,
and her face rendered with smooth, rounded texture.
artist is clearly present, and the design has only improved since date
and Mint mark were moved to the edge.
Jones’ obverse for the 1988 Olympics $5 half eagle, at the time of
issue, was lauded for its beauty and is still a favorite of collectors.
unclear if a depiction of Nike, goddess of Victory, would be a
suitable theme for an Olympic coin to today’s selection committee, but
Jones made the most of artistic freedom allowed to her.