Annunzio critical of coin designs: From the Memory Bank
- Published: Jul 10, 2015, 4 AM
On July 22, 1982, when President Reagan signed legislation authorizing commemorative coins honoring the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, House Banking Consumer Affairs and Coinage Subcommittee Chairman Frank D. Annunzio was hailed as a hero in the numismatic community.
He had outwitted and out-legislated foes in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate who had backed proposals for 29, then 25, and then 17 different Olympic coin designs to be marketed by the private sector.
He had persuaded a majority in the House to vote for his compromise, which authorized two silver dollars and one gold $10 coin with the U.S. Treasury in control of marketing, and the Senate had agreed to his compromise.
Annunzio barely had time for a victory lap before controversy over designs for the three coins dominated the news. During an Oct. 14 news conference, U.S. Treasurer Angela “Bay” Buchanan and Mint Director Donna Pope, flanked by Olympic officials, unveiled designs for the three coins.
While sculptor Robert Graham’s Olympic Gateway coin design featuring his headless nude male and female athletic torsos for the 1984 silver dollar received the most criticism, designs produced by Mint artists also came under fire.
Many felt Chief Sculptor-Engraver Elizabeth Jones’ Discus Thrower design for the 1983 silver dollar and Mint graphic artist James M. Peed’s sketch of male and female Olympic torch bearers for the 1984 gold $10 coin also needed modifications.
Annunzio was outspoken in his criticism of the gold $10 coin design. He characterized the torchbearers as “Dick and Jane.” The Commission of Fine Arts questioned their distinctly Caucasian features, noting that most of the U.S. athletes in the track and field events were African Americans.
Treasury Department officials pointed out that they needed to give buyers some idea of what the coins would look like before sending out order blanks and beginning pre-sales. They also noted that the coin designs already had the official nod from Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan. But Annunzio worried that the public’s reaction to the designs could be a harbinger of low sales.
The powerful subcommittee chairman declared that if it took returning to the floor of the House of Representatives to get better designs, he would.
Here are some more reminisces and inside stories from Beth Deisher.
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