When Congress authorized the nation’s first convex coins, it stated their reverses had to depict “a baseball similar to those used by Major League Baseball.”
So the U.S. Mint’s artists came up with six baseball designs, each bearing the required wording placed on the convex shape of a baseball.
But when members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee on March 11 looked at the designs that commemorate the National Baseball Hall of Fame, some were aghast.
What about the large “sweet spot” on the ball? asked Erik Jansen, a life-long coin collector and co-founder of a medical device company in Washington state.
And CCAC chairperson Gary Marks of Idaho had another rule for that most prominent area of the ball. It had to carry the wording “United States of America,” he said. Nothing more, nothing less, he said, would do for the set of coins that will celebrate the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
“It’s truly an American sport,” Marks told the committee. And the coins “are going to be spectacular.”
But alas, none of the six designs met both Jansen’s and Marks’ requirements.
So while the panel fretted, Don Everhart, one of the Mint’s most prolific sculptor-engravers, and Steve Antonucci, the Mint’s head of digital technology, whipped out a seventh design on the back of a briefing sheet. Their design, dubbed “HOF 02a” for “Hall of Fame,” quickly won the committee’s endorsement for the reverse.
Their design shows the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA filling the large “sweet spot” between the stitching. The words E PLURIBUS UNUM were placed in the lower half of the design, with the coin’s denomination.
Everhart’s drawing drew 17 of a possible 21 points under a voting scheme that allows each committee member to give up to three points for a design.
That was more than enough to secure the panel’s recommendation to Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. The new Treasury secretary will have the final word on what designs go on the baseball coins.
The panel had reviewed six designs, all variants of a baseball with the statutory inscriptions. Each of the main designs was presented in three versions, one for each of the denominations (only the denominational markings differed).
A common obverse for the three Hall of Fame coins — a gold $5 coin, silver dollar and copper-nickel clad half dollar — will be selected in a public competition to be held this spring. It is the first time in 20 years that the Mint has held such a contest, said April Stafford, the Mint’s manager of stakeholder relations for the agency.
Both Canada and France have issued convex coins, but it’s a new venture for the U.S. Mint. The gold and silver coins will each have a concave obverse and convex reverse.
The half dollars will have the conventional, or flat, shape, the committee was told.
Jansen said the set would be even more exciting if lawmakers could have allowed unlimited numbers of the half dollars to be produced. The legislation sets the coinage for that coin at “not more than 750,000.”
Mintages for the gold $5 coins is set at “not more than 50,000” and silver dollar coins at not more than 400,000.
Donald Scarinci, a New Jersey medals specialist and lawyer, said he would have gone further and added a fourth coin to the set, a circulating quarter dollar. That would have increased public awareness of the set and boosted the sales of the other coins even higher, he predicted.
Surcharges on the three authorized coins will go to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Each gold coin will carry a $35 surcharge, each silver dollar a $10 surcharge and each copper-nickel clad half dollar a $5 surcharge. Sales of all the coins would yield surcharges of approximately $9.5 million before the expenses of producing the coins are deducted.
The endorsement of the National Baseball Hall of Fame coin design was the highlight of a daylong meeting at the Mint headquarters in Washington.
The committee also endorsed designs for this year’s First Spouse bullion coins and a Raoul Wallenberg congressional gold medal, and laid plans for a silver commemorative dollar to mark next year’s 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
First Spouse gold coins
Although the committee rejected all of the designs proposed for the reverse of the gold coin honoring Edith Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson’s second wife, the panel expressed delight in the overall quality of the Mint’s designs.
“Something is happening at the Mint,” said Scarinci, who has been among the most vocal critics of the Mint’s artwork. “This is the best group of art to come out of the Mint in a long time.”
The rejection of the Edith Wilson artwork came because the committee said it did not believe the proposed reverse designs of her gold coin accurately portrayed her key role in shaping the Wilson presidency after the president suffered a stroke.
Some had described her as the nation’s “first woman president” but the CCAC said the two designs showing her with President Wilson did not hint at what power she may have had after his stroke.
The Mint promised to return with some revised designs at the committee’s April 19 meeting.
Although two Edith Wilson reverses drew only a total of seven points, the committee did enthusiastically endorse other designs in the First Spouse series. For the obverse of the Edith Wilson coin, the CCAC backed a facing design, which received 18 points.
For the Ida McKinley obverse, the committee endorsed a leftward facing profile but by a narrow margin. It received the minimum 13 points in the balloting. However, a reverse design showing McKinley’s hands crocheting proved popular. It drew 21 points and was endorsed for the reverse of her First Spouse gold coin.
Mrs. McKinley, wife of William McKinley, was limited in her White House role by “precarious health,” the Mint staff said. Despite her problems, she crocheted thousands of slippers that were auctioned for charity.
A perfect score of 24 was recorded for a reverse of the Edith Roosevelt coin. It celebrates her role overseeing a major remodeling of the White House in 1902. The design features a view of the south portico of the executive mansion, a large column with an architect’s compass and the inscription THE WHITE HOUSE RESTORED 1902 over a small image of a rose.
Also highly popular with the CCAC was a proposed obverse profile of Mrs. Roosevelt, which received 21 points. Described as the Roosevelt family’s favorite, it shows the first lady with a somewhat downcast head.
A reverse design for the Helen Taft coin showing a cluster of blooming cherry blossoms also won a perfect score of 24 and won praise for being “just what we’ve wanted.” It commemorates the 1912 planting of Japanese cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, an act that the CCAC said was Helen Taft’s most significant act as first lady to President William Howard Taft.
The recommended obverse for the Taft coin received 18 points. It depicts the first lady with a high-necked, ruffled collar.
A reverse for the coin to mark Ellen Wilson, President Wilson’s first wife, honors her work creating the White House Rose Garden. The design received 21 of a possible 24 points. It shows a blooming rose bush with the White House in the background.
For Ellen Wilson’s obverse, the CCAC backed a right-facing profile. It received 16 points.
Raoul Wallenberg medal
For a congressional gold medal to honor Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat credited with saving thousands of European Jews from the Holocaust, the panel endorsed an obverse that carries his image against a background of barbed wires. Panel members recommended the face shown on the Mint’s seventh design be placed on the overall design that was selected.
For the reverse, the recommended design shows the “Schutz-Pass,” which he handed to Jews, being given to six Jews as others were being herded into trains to be taken to concentration camps.
Civil Rights Act dollar
The committee began planning for the Civil Rights Act silver dollar with a strong request to the Mint that it let the artists do both the obverse and reverse in a package.
The current practice has been to submit the designs separately and have the CCAC and Commission of Fine Arts, the other panel tasked with reviewing the designs, join the designs. That practice has been condemned by Iowa banker Michael Olson as producing “Franken-coins,” likening the joining of diverse parts to the creation of a “Frankenstein” monster.
Officials from the United Negro College Fund appealed to the committee to have the student demonstrators who were instrumental in Civil Rights protests in the South depicted on the 2014 Civil Rights silver dollars.
Marks, the chairperson, called for allegorical images and cited sections of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches to inspire the artists.
“You don’t want an image of [President] Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act with Martin Luther King looking over his shoulder,” said historian Michael Ross of the University of Maryland.
“It’s an extremely broad story,” agreed sculptor Heidi Wastweet. “Photographs won’t work.”
“They won’t coin,” said Mike Moran, another collector on the CCAC.
Marks advised against long quotations on the coins. “If you want to read, go to a book,” he said. “Don’t go to a coin. I don’t want to see Dr. King’s speech on a coin.”
“We were extraordinarily encouraged by what we heard today,” said Robert Rucker of the College Fund.