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
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
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
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.