US Coins

CCAC reviews American Legion coin designs

The March 13 debate over three commemorative coins to mark the American Legion’s centennial seemed almost doomed from the start.

Donald Scarinci, the senior member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, announced that he didn’t like any of the U.S. Mint’s proposed designs and wanted new ones.

April Stafford, director of design management at the Mint, urged the panel to “continue the process.”

For almost three hours the CCAC did just that at its March 13 meeting in Washington. 

Several members agreed with Scarinci’s dour view of the designs.

“Nothing came together,” said Erik Jansen, recalling his first impressions of the suggested designs for the nation’s largest veterans organization.

So it was somewhat surprising, after a prolonged discussion, when Scarinci pressed the American Legion representative to come up with six designs for their 2019 coin program.

After the panel endorsed those ideas, it was Scarinci who assured the Legion that it now had coins that it could proudly sell.

The New Jersey lawyer and medals specialist told them he would be among their customers, purchasing coins he had said a few minutes earlier that “collectors are not going to buy.”

Recommended designs

The set that the CCAC finally endorsed would give the Legion a number of designs but ones some of the committee members clearly did not embrace.

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If the CCAC’s recommendations are followed, the gold $5 coin would bear on its obverse an image of the Eiffel Tower to celebrate Paris where World War I soldiers laid plans for the American Legion. A giant “V” for victory would be on the obverse over the Paris landmark. 

The gold reverse recommended would feature a design that some CCAC members liked. It showed what the Mint called “a respectful presentation of a properly folded American flag” and carry the inscription ”For God and Country.” Later, though, Legion officials changed their mind and selected another design (see Commission of Fine Arts article for details). 

The CCAC’s choice for the obverse of the silver dollar would depict the Legion’s emblem surrounded by oak leaves and a lily on the obverse. 

The reverse would show crossed American and America Legion flags under the words “100 Years of Service.” Above the flags are simplified elements of the Arc de Triomphe. The CCAC recommended replacing “simplified elements of the Arc de Triomphe” from the design and replacing them with a fleur-de-lis, a flower that has long been a symbol of France.

The recommended obverse design for the copper-nickel clad half dollar would feature an image of a boy and a girl, the latter “proudly wearing her grandfather’s old American Legion hat,” giving the Pledge of Allegiance. Under the children, the obverse would include the wording “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” 

The reverse of the half dollar would continue the theme, showing a fluttering American flag “from the children’s point of view.” An inscription on the reverse would continue the wording from the obverse, appearing as  “. . . of the United States of America.” 

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All six of the CCAC’s recommendations drew at least 20 points under a voting plan that allows each member to cast up to three points for any favored design.

With nine members of the panel present and voting that meant the maximum vote any design could receive was 27 points.  

The silver dollar obverse design drew 26 points, the highest of any in the balloting.

The designs were reviewed by the Commission of Fine Arts two days after the CCAC.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will have the final say on which designs go on the coins.

Initial unhappiness

Much of the CCAC’s consideration of the coins’ designs was filled with the panel’s unhappiness with the design.

Verna Jones, executive director of the American Legion, conceded that some of the Legion officials were not overwhelmed by the proposed designs.

“We were not jumping up and down,” she said when they first saw the proposals.

One design, showing a veteran who had lost his legs in combat, “looks sad to me,” she said.

Other designs were not representative of the Legion’s current diversified membership, Jones said.  

“Someone will look at this coin and say we feel left out,” she said.

Scarinci is often the most outspoken member of the CCAC and has led previous moves to reject proposed designs.

Of late, however, he has been supportive of Mint proposals and has praised the quality of Mint designs.  

At the March 13 meeting, he was upset.  

“This is really artistically the worst designs I have seen here in five years,” he said, asking, “How did we go so fast?” and adding,“Something went wrong.”

He suggested at one point that the committee should just give the Legion “the designs it wants and wash our hands.”

Native American dollars

After the review of the American Legion coin designs, the Mint revealed the themes it plans for the Native American dollar reverses from 2021 to 2024.

The 2021 reverse is to feature the contributions of Native Americans to the military and the 2022 coin will honor Ely Samuel Parker, a Seneca lawyer who served as an aide to Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War. 

The 2023 coin will honor Charles Alexander Eastman, a Santee Dakota physician and celebrated writer, and the 2024 coin will commemorate the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which gave U.S. citizenship to thousands of Native Americans.

The obverse of the coins will continue to feature Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian guide who help the Lewis and Clark expedition explore the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. 

CCAC chair Mary Lannin expressed concern that the coin for Indian military service might overlap with recently issued medals for Native American code talkers.

Other committee members said they didn’t share that concern and suggested the code talker medals had given the Mint’s artists a good foundation for the coin designs.

Historian Herman Viola, a CCAC member who has been working on a Washington memorial to honor the contributions of Indians to the U.S. military, said Native Americans are “so excited about these coins.” 

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