US Coins

Perseverance pays off with Apollo 11 coin

It took 66-year-old Belfast, Maine, sculptor and collector Gary Cooper20 years, but now he can proudly add U.S. coin designer to his résumé.

When the four Apollo 11 50th Anniversary commemorative coins are issued in 2019, all will bear Cooper’s design as the common obverse. The design depicts a rendition of the first step taken on the moon on July 20, 1969, by astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Cooper has already been compensated $5,500 by the U.S. Mint for having his design selected from a public design competition — $500 for his participation in the competition’s second phase and a $5,000 bonus for having his design chosen as the winning design.

U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Joseph F. Menna will sculpt Cooper’s design for die production. That design will be paired with a legislatively mandated design executed and sculpted by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill. Cooper’s obverse design will be concave, while Hemphill’s reverse will be convex. Striking the pieces will employ the same technology introduced for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins.

Hemphill’s design, as required under Public Law 114-282, features a “close-up of the famous ‘Buzz Aldrin on the Moon’ photograph taken July 20, 1969, that shows just the visor and part of the helmet of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in which the visor has a mirrored finish and reflects the image of the United States flag and the lunar lander and the remainder of the helmet has a frosted finish.”

Cooper’s design was selected from a field of 18 finalist designs that was already pared down from an original 119 overall design submissions.

During an Oct. 10 telephone interview with Coin World, Cooper explained that in late October 2017, during the closing phase of the design competition, he was contacted by U.S. Mint officials and asked to execute two additional renderings of his original design submission, both with modifications. It is one of those revised versions that grabbed the attention of the juried panel, comprising three members each from the Commission of Fine Arts and Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and was selected as the winning design.

The original design exhibits a vertical footprint at center, with LIBERTY in an arc above, IN GOD / WE TRUST centered in two lines in the field left of the footprint and 2019 centered in the field to the right. In an arc below the footprint are four phases of the Moon separating the names of three space programs, MERCURY, GEMINI and APOLLO.

On the modified design selected for the common obverse for the gold half eagle, 1.5-inch .900 fine silver dollar, copper-nickel clad half dollar and 3-inch .999 fine silver dollar, the rendition of the footprint is rotated slightly clockwise. LIBERTY is at the 6 o’clock position below the footprint, 2019 in the bottom left field, and IN GOD / WE / TRUST in three lines at the bottom right field.

The four phases of the moon and names of the three space programs appear in an arc along the top border.

Cooper said he based his design on a famous NASA photograph depicting the footprint that was taken with a Hasselblad film camera. Cooper said a large portion of the bottom of the footprint was captured in darkness, pushing him to be creative with what was cloaked in darkness.

“The footprint sums up the whole [Apollo] program for me,” Cooper said.

Cooper considers it a distinguished honor for his design to be selected for coins commemorating a program that was an important part of American awareness while he was growing up. He hopes his design will translate well in coin form.

Cooper has explored his artistic talents professionally for more than four decades, turning to sculpting in 1998 after more than two decades in graphic and production design following his graduation in 1974 from the Kansas City Art Institute with a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic and industrial design.

The year 1998 also coincides with Cooper’s first attempt at coin design, with a proposed eagle in flight design submitted in the competition for the reverse of the Sacagawea dollar introduced in 1998. As part of a personal lobbying effort, Cooper had 1,000 postcards printed with his proposed dollar coin design and delivered copies to the Mint, members of the Dollar Coin Advisory Committee and members of Congress.

Cooper has applied several times to be selected as an artist for the U.S. Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program, but so far has not been able to crack the barrier.

A prolific designer and sculptor of medals for the state of Maine, Cooper holds memberships in American Medallic Sculpture Association, FIDEM (International Art Medal Federation, or Fédération Internationale de la Médaille d'Art) and Waterfall Arts, Belfast Maine.

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