First published in the “From the Memory Bank” column in the Nov.
21, 2016, issue of Coin World:
The coin collecting community was stunned when both Uncirculated
and Proof versions of the 1986 Statue of Liberty gold $5 commemorative
coin were declared perfect and assigned the grade 70 in July 1986.
While most of the attention centered on the revolution underway in
grading, it was evident that more factors than grading were at play.
Grading professionals and seasoned numismatists pointed to the
balance in obverse and reverse design elements as the primary factor
leading to the perfect coin. That achievement was singly attributable
to the knowledge and expertise of the coin’s designer and sculptor,
Chief Sculptor-Engraver Elizabeth Jones, appointed by President Reagan
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Her first two U.S. coin designs — the 1982 George Washington
commemorative half dollar and the 1983 Olympic dollar — won
international design awards. But her stunning Statue of Liberty gold
$5 coin’s achievement in technical perfection proved her sculpturing
abilities as well as her leadership in introducing new techniques to
the U.S. Mint staff.
Quality of the coin blanks was the third and often overlooked factor
in creating the perfect coin.
When the United States Mint resumed striking commemorative coins in
1982, the Mint had no refineries or ability to manufacture silver and
gold blanks. The Mint had ended production of circulating gold coins
in 1933. Silver coin production ceased in mid-1965 when the Mint
converted to clad coinage in compliance with the Coinage Act of 1965.
Legislation authorizing the modern commemorative coins specified
that the dollar and $5 half eagle be made of precious metals — silver
and gold. With no refineries or precious metals blanking operations
and no lead-time for startup, the U.S. Mint was forced to turn to the
private sector to purchase blanks needed for the various programs. The
ability to seek competitive bids from the private sector and to
require precise specifications provided the U.S. Mint with greater
quality control, in both manufacturing and delivery to its various
The fourth factor was the “white-gloves” treatment in coin
production. Keenly aware that its coins would have to compete in the
marketplace with those produced by other world Mints, the U.S. Mint
instituted individualization in the coining room. Each planchet was
placed by hand individually on the coining press, struck at least two
to three times, removed and individually packaged by hand in the
various presentation boxes.