US Coins

Commission of Fine Arts picks 2017 quarter dollar designs

When Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew decides what designs to pick for the reverses of the 2017 America the Beautiful quarter dollars he is going to have at least two distinct options.

The Commission of Fine Arts made that clear at its Oct. 15 meeting in Washington when it rejected recommendations the nation’s other coin advisory body, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, had reached a week earlier.

Only when it came to the U.S. Mint’s 14 proposed designs for Iowa’s Effigy Mounds National Monument did the CRA agree with the CCAC.

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Both panels said they want to see more designs that might make the large earthen shapes more discernible on the palette of a quarter dollar.

Landscape architect Elizabeth K. Meyer said she could understand why the mounds had proven difficult to translate into coins.

After Donald Everhart II, the lead U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver sought to assure the commission that the proposed designs would work, CFA Chairman Earl A. Powell said he would rather wait to see additional designs before voting.

Members of the commission made clear during their session that they couldn’t accept some of the designs on which CCAC members had lavished praise on during their Oct. 8 meeting.

“I’m not crazy about the turtle,” announced Powell as the commission rejected the CCAC’s much-praised spiny softshell turtle bobbing its neck toward an approaching kayaker on Missouri's Ozark National Scenic Riverways, part of the America the Beautiful coin set.

“It could be the Potomac River,” added the director of Washington’s National Gallery of Arts. 

“Could be any river,” added another member of the commission.

Instead of that design, the commission backed the design that the riverways staff had recommended, which shows Alley Mill, a steel roller mill built in 1894, and which the park described as a popular attraction.

An effort to get another view of the mill with deer in the foreground (07) secured only three votes from the commission and was ruled out.

Powell was not overly excited about placing the mill on a coin, describing it as “a generic type mill” and acknowledging that the commission was “backed into” adopting the park’s suggested design when the “flora and fauna design” he liked died.

Another departure from the CCAC’s reasoning came when the CFA endorsed a design showing a weary immigrant family of three awaiting resolution of their request to enter America on Ellis Island, a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

The CCAC had rejected all of the Mint’s designs for that quarter, citing arguments of a member from New Jersey who argued all the designs failed to capture the drama that thousands faced on the small island that is part of the state.

Architect Edward D. Dunson Jr., the newest member of the CFA, welcomed one of the Ellis Island designs. “That tells a story to me,” he said. “It’s the story of Ellis Island.”

Powell agreed the coin “tells a story” and the panel endorsed the design.

The commission also rejected the CCAC’s proposal for a reverse of a quarter to celebrate the George Rogers Clark National Historic Park in Indiana.

That park is the scene of a surprise raid in 1779 in which Americans captured a key British fort.

Meyer said she found the CCAC-backed image of Clark and other wading though high waters to attack the British Fort Sackville “a little intense.”

With that, the panel turned to a design that Powell said shows an obviously cold Clark standing inside the fort with an American flag flying above the letter “daring and bold.” 

Powell joked that it should read “daring and cold.”

The commission’s discussion of how to honor the District of Columbia’s Frederick Douglass National Historic Site covered the same argument entertained by the CCAC: whether the coin should celebrate the man or his home.

The CCAC had opted to honor the famed abolitionist with a design showing him as an orator, but the CFA, largely composed of architects, recommended a design that showed both the man and his Washington home.

“It’s about the site,” said CFA vice chairman Philip G. Freelon, after the panel back the design showing both.

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