US Coins

U.S. Mint pegs talent in hopes to avoid ugly designs

Today’s new coin designs, including those for the America the Beautiful quarter dollars, are reviewed by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts.

Original images courtesy of United States Mint.

It seems that among U.S. coin designs, some are universally praised and some seem to enjoy consistent disdain from collectors.

From the soaring heights of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ 1907 High Relief double eagle — considered by many to be the finest U.S. coin design — to the lowly Anthony dollar, the more than two centuries of coins produced by the U.S. Mint have seen high points and low points.

What follows is the result of an informal survey I conducted with more than 50 of my coin collecting friends. I asked a simple question: What is the least attractive U.S. coin. The results allow us to have a discussion on aesthetics and ways of seeing and helps us evaluate what design elements work on a coin (and what ideas don’t work.)

The following is the fifth part of my look at ugly U.S. coins.

Read Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV.

Good Designs Going Forward

The U.S. Mint established the Artistic Infusion Program in 2003 to enrich and invigorate our coin and medal designs by contracting with a pool of talented, professional American artists representing diverse backgrounds and a variety of interests. These artists, in concert with the United States Mint Sculptor-Engravers, create and submit new designs for U.S. coins and medals.

Q. David Bowers said that the Mint is going in the right direction with this program. He said, “The Mint needs to use such talent and allow the artists to create TRADITIONAL designs of beauty.” He commented on the current trend of revisiting classic U.S. coin designs, noting, “Curiously, whenever we go back to Saint-Gaudens, James Earle Fraser, and, coming up, Adolph Weinman and Hermon MacNeil, we have coins that EVERYONE LOVES. It is sort of like saying that Model T Fords are better than any cars today!” 

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Today’s new coin designs are reviewed — as authorized in legislation — by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts. As many collectors pointed out, attractive designs are a gateway to get people involved in numismatics and coin collecting. Understanding what makes a design unattractive on a coin is important, for it helps us better appreciate the U.S. Mint’s successes.

Keep reading our breakdown of the U.S. Mint's ugliest coins:

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