US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for April 26, 2021: Washington's new face

Ninety years after her portrait of George Washington was selected, then rejected, for the 1932 Washington quarter dollar, her design will finally get its rightful place on the new American Women quarters.

Original images courtesy of the United States Mint and Heritage Auctions.

Ninety years ago, two of the three parties charged with selecting the designs of the quarter dollar to be released in 1932 selected for the obverse a stunning portrait by Laura Gardin Fraser. The third party, empowered by the U.S. Constitution, chose another artist’s design instead. Now, in 2022, the Washington quarter dollar will finally feature her 91-year-old design.

The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts in their respective April meetings selected a portrait of George Washington to debut in 2022 on the new American Women quarter dollars. For the Commission of Fine Arts, this was the second time its members recommended Fraser’s portrait for the upcoming quarter dollar. They were joined in 1931 by members of the George Washington Bicentennial Committee, who also preferred Fraser’s design from all of those submitted for review. Famously, though, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon instead selected a portrait by John Flanagan. That design has been used on the design ever since the debut of the Washington quarter dollar in 1932, though with some modifications over the years.

Why Mellon overrode the recommendations of the bicentennial commission and the CFA is unclear. Some suggest sexism as a cause — that Mellon did not want a woman’s design to appear on the coin — but evidence for that is lacking. By 1932, Fraser’s designs had already appeared on commemorative coinage, including on the Oregon Trail Memorial half dollar in conjunction with her husband, James Earle Fraser.

A lot of collectors will rejoice in the introduction of the Fraser portrait; it has long been a favorite of many, much more than the Flanagan portrait. While Flanagan’s portrait of Washington is strong and artistic, it lacks a certain charm when compared to Fraser’s rendition of the nation’s first president.

Also, it is especially fitting that an obverse design created by a talented woman artist appear on coins celebrating the talents and contributions of American women.

That just seems right.
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