US Coins

US Mint launches design review for Apollo 11 designs

A six-person jury, composed of members of the country’s two coin review panel, met in Washington Oct. 20 to endorse an obverse design for the four curved coins that will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing.

The jury’s recommendation to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is not expected to be announced for weeks. The secretary has the final word on what goes on the obverse of the 2019 set of four coins.

Neither the Commission of Fine Arts nor the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee voted on the 18 proposed designs after they were revealed at their respective meetings.

Behind the scenes of the WWI silver dollar”Designer abandoned original reverse design late in the process Also in our Oct. 30 issue, Mike Diamond presents an interesting question in his Collectors’ Clearinghouse column: How many errors can one coin have?

Members of the CFA, who met Oct. 19, appeared far more receptive to the designs than were CCAC members, who expressed dismay with the entries from a national competition ordered by Congress. Some said they feared the coins would not sell well despite the CCAC’s earlier high expectations for the set. Others on the panel were optimistic that the public would embrace the coins as strongly as they supported President John F. Kennedy’s ambitious plan to place Americans on the Moon.

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“This is the most important event in my lifetime,” said CCAC Chairperson Mary N. Lannin as she sought to assure skeptics on the committee that “the talented staff we have in Philadelphia can make it work.” 

The Philadelphia Mint is where the U.S. Mint’s sculptors, engravers and artists work.

Designs ‘can’t be sent back’

“We’re obliged to use one of these designs,” Lannin declared in the face of strong objections to the proposed designs. “We can’t send it back.”

Newly reconfirmed as head of the CCAC, Lannin pushed hard to get the panel to believe the designs could be improved.

“This not a train wreck that is going to happen,” coin collector Mike Moran of Colorado had complained. “This is train wreck that has already happened.”

In Moran’s opinion, “Art sells coins and this is not going to sell.”

“It’s a tragedy we’re ending up with this,” agreed Donald Scarinci, a New Jersey lawyer and medals specialist.

But Scarinci and sculptor Heidi Wastweet of Seattle may have opened the way for a compromise. Despite his pointed criticisms, Scarinci said a design of Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s footprint on the lunar surface “has potential,” while Wastweet applauded a design showing a Saturn rocket against the moon. 

“This is the one I would want to sculpt,” she said, bringing attention to a design that most on the panel had overlooked. The design also won some favorable comments from the CFA.

Those two designs picked up momentum after one of the CCAC members suggested that the legislation creating the coin set might allow for difference designs on the four coins in the set. 

The 2016 law calls for production of not more than 50,000 gold $5 coins, 400,000 silver dollars, 750,000 copper-nickel clad half dollars and 100,000 Proof 5-ounce coins also denominated as silver dollars.

It says the “common [concave] obverse of the coins” should have a “design emblematic of the United States space program leading up to the first manned Moon Landing.”

Mint lawyer Greg Weinman told Coin World after the CFA meeting that the law’s wording should rule out selecting two different designs for the four obverses. He conceded the law may allow for some changes because of the different sizes of the coins.

That may mean that the obverses for the four coins need not be absolutely identical, as several members of the panel suggested.

Ron Harrigal, the United States Mint’s manager of design and engraving, did also caution the CCAC that there were some potential coinability issues with the rocket design favored by sculptor Wastweet. 

CCAC member Thomas Uram, a Pennsylvania collector, who is also on the jury, sought to praise the 200 artists who had submitted portfolios in the contest.

“I’m not worried about it selling,” he said, noting the popularity of space items.

Scarinci suggested that one way to make certain the coins would sell would be to mix some metallic dust from a piece of the Apollo 11 spacecraft into the coins.

Uram suggested that the footprint be turned to a “two o’clock” position to give the coin a bit of motion.

He also showed off a euro coin featuring Neil Armstrong’s lunar footprint, as an example of how other countries have used the same image on their coinage.

“This is our footprint on the moon,” said Stevens-Sollman, indicating she had no qualms about using the same design. “This is an opportunity to do something special.” 

The footprint design, however, later drew an objection from CFA member Liza Gilbert, who complained she had seen it before and wanted something new for the coins. 

The legislation requires a common convex reverse based on a photograph of Buzz Aldrin in a space suit standing on the moon. A rendition of that design has already been endorsed by the two coin review panels, the CCAC and the Commission of Fine Arts. 

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