Squash that! Oh wait… that’s the design?

Reverse of the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin

Sometimes I wonder if the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and U.S. Commission of Fine Arts is actually paying attentiong to the designs they are selecting. While they have rejected some interesting designs, they seem to accept other designs without really thinking.

It looks like these two groups that are supposed to be the gatekeepers of the design of U.S. coinage did not fully think through their design selection for the Apollo 11 Commemorative Coin program.

When the line art images were sent out, the design did not immediately remind me of a bootprint on the surface of the moon. Actually, it reminded me of something that many of us have placed our bootprint on a little closer to the ground.

I understand that with the resignation of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the CCAC that this august body may be lacking the appropriate point of reference that Abdul-Jabbar and I have to make the tie between the bootprint and an insect that could probably survive on the moon (he was born Lew Alcindor in New York City). Then again, the CCAC is the same organization, albeit, with different members, that gave us some of the worst designs in modern coinage.

For the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, all the CCAC could come up with is a bootprint?

Credits

Call for Artist

On Monday, the U.S. Mint announced that on September 3, they will begin accepting applications for the Artistic Infusion Program. Judging by the last round of artwork submitted to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee to review for the new American Innovation $1 Coin, they need the help.

For those who did not read the stories, the U.S. Mint submitted a design for the obverse that is supposed to be “a likeness of the Statue of Liberty extending to the rim of the coin and large enough to provide a dramatic representation of Liberty,” similar to the reverse of the Presidential $1 coins. According to reports, the U.S. Mint claimed that they could not work on a better design because of time constraints.

Time constraints are a legitimate issue. The bill was signed into law on July 20, 2018, leaving the U.S. Mint less than six months until the program begins in 2019. However, that does not mean that the program has to begin on January 2. In fact, the law does not specify at what point during the year that the coins are to be produced.

They also could have anticipated their responsibility. Once the bill was passed by the Senate on June 20, it was only a matter of time that the difference between the House and Senate versions were resolved before being signed by the president. It was not a surprise. They had two months to come up with something prior to the CCAC meeting.

Although U.S. Mint Director David Ryder has not been on the job long, he has to take responsibility for not providing the leadership necessary to impress on the artists and whoever directed them not to try to take the easy way out. If they have not learned by now, most of the CCAC members take their jobs much more seriously than previous committees (this is a good thing) and are very outspoken in a very constructive manner.

One person that should respond to this call for artists is current CCAC member Heidi Wastweet. An accomplished medalist and sculptor, her term with the CCAC is about to expire. She is well qualified since her work is phenomenal! You can see for yourself on her website. Imagine what an artist with her talent and knowing what the CCAC is looking for can add to the U.S. Mint.

Having never met Ms. Wastweet, I am not in a position to try to talk her into applying. However, if you are acquainted with her, please let her know that not only would it be of great service to the U.S. Mint but that she has at least one endorsement—for whatever that is worth!

There are so many great medals on Heidi Wastweet’s site it is difficult to select one to highlight. But I always seem to focus on this one called a Zombuck.

Did someone say something about a square con?

NOTE: The title is NOT a typographical error. It is a commentary raised by the discussion, below.

With the flurry of legislative action last month, the only bill that I commented on was the American Innovation $1 Coin Act (Public Law No: 115-197) because it was the only one that is the law. The others were just introduced and may not be passed out of committee.

But that has not prevented speculation and discussion about the potential for these potential commemorative coins. Based on the email buzz, the two bills of interest are the Integration of Baseball Commemorative Coin Act (S. 3283 and H.R. 6469) and the Carson City Mint 150th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act (H.R. 6221).

Reverse design of the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative (Image courtesy of the U.S. Mint)

Regarding the Integration of Baseball Commemorative Coin Act, someone decided that the coins would be square and that has infested the numismatic media. This is not what the bill requires. In fact, the bill says that the “design on the common reverse of the coins minted under this Act shall depict a baseball diamond similar to those used by Major League Baseball.”

For those commentators who cannot read simple English, it says that the design “shall depict a baseball diamond.” Nowhere in that sentence does it say that the coins have to be shaped like the baseball diamond. A depiction and the shape of a coin are two different concepts.

Trying to understand where the idea that the coins would be square, a review of the official statement issued by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) as co-sponsors does not mention the shape of the coin.

What might have confused the issue was a report in The Hill that former Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs legend Andre “The Hawk” Dawson talked about the coin minted in the shape of home plate. While Dawson was a great ballplayer and earned his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he is not a member of Congress and, apparently, did not read the bill.

The commentary about the shape does not take into consideration what the bill actually says. Aside from talking about it like it will be the law, it does not take into consideration that the bill is now in committee with less than 90-days to go until the mid-term elections. Without turning this into a political analysis blog post, there will be contention regardless of the outcome of the election. With the late introduction of this bill and the current political environment, the likelihood of this bill passing both chambers before the end of the session is highly unlikely.

Carson City Mint (1866)

A correspondent asked “Wouldn’t it be cool if the Carson City commemorative coins were struck in Carson City?” It does not matter if it is a good idea or not unless Congress changes the law, specifically 31 U.S. Code § 5131 that defines where the branches of the U.S. Mint are located, Carson City is not authorized to strike coins. Unless Carson City is added to that list, even temporarily, the U.S. Mint cannot strike any coins in Carson City. Further, the building that was once a branch mint is no longer owned by the Federal Government. Ownership was transferred to the State of Nevada that runs it as part of the Nevada State Museum.

Even though the first press used in Carson City is located in the museum, it may not meet the specifications that are required of the U.S. Mint to strike modern commemorative coins. And both the press and building are not owned by the United State government, a fact that would make those who provide oversight of the U.S. Mint’s operations a bit nervous.

While these “what if” questions might make good parlour or message board discussions, allegedly responsible industry journalists and pundits should know better.

May 2018 Numismatic Legislation Review

Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
(Image courtesy of the National Parks Service)

Although it is not really a numismatic-related bill, the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park Redesignation Act appears to be on track for passage in the Senate.

Essentially, the bill redesignates the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ former home in New Hampshire, as the “Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.” The change is significant in that it changes the funding for the staffing and maintenance of the site. It also will keep the site accessible for tourism.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens is known as the artist who co-conspired with President Theodore Roosevelt in his “pet crime” to redesign United States coinage. Before his death in 1907, Saint-Gaudens provided the design for the $20 Double Eagle and $10 Eagle gold coinage.

Saint-Gaudens’ legacy did continue after his death by his students Adolph A. Weinman, designer of the Walking Liberty half-dollar and Mercury dime, and James Earle Fraser, designer of the Buffalo Nickel.

S. 2863: National Law Enforcement Museum Commemorative Coin Act
Sponsor: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Introduced: May 16, 2018
Read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. — May 16, 2018
This bill can be tracked at http://bit.ly/115-S2863.

H.R. 965: Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park Redesignation Act
Sponsor: Rep. Ann M. Kuster (D-NH)
Introduced: February 7, 2017
Summary: (Sec. 2) This bill redesignates the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, in New Hampshire, as the "Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park."
Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. — Feb 7, 2017
Placed on the Union Calendar, Calendar No. 197. — Aug 25, 2017
Reported (Amended) by the Committee on Natural Resources. H. Rept. 115-277. — Aug 25, 2017
Mr. Thompson (PA) moved to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended. — Oct 2, 2017
Considered under suspension of the rules. — Oct 2, 2017
DEBATE – The House proceeded with forty minutes of debate on H.R. 965. — Oct 2, 2017
At the conclusion of debate, the Yeas and Nays were demanded and ordered. Pursuant to the provisions of clause 8, rule XX, the Chair announced that further proceedings on the motion would be postponed. — Oct 2, 2017
Considered as unfinished business. — Oct 2, 2017
On motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: (2/3 required): 401 – 0 (Roll no. 545). — Oct 2, 2017
Motion to reconsider laid on the table Agreed to without objection. — Oct 2, 2017
Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. — Oct 3, 2017
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Ordered to be reported without amendment favorably. — May 17, 2018
This bill can be tracked at http://bit.ly/115-HR956.

Susie B still fools people today

A 1979-D Susan B Anthony dollar found in change that was mistaken for a quarter.

In last Sunday’s Weekly World Numismatic News I commented on a story that members of the Philippines legislature were upset that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines or BSP) issued coins that were similar look and feel but of different denominations. I related the story to the plight of the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

This week, I was involved in a real-life example of this confusion.

While getting ready to retire for the evening, I empty my pockets on my dresser and look to see if there is anything interesting. Since my only trip of the day was a local grocery store, I did not expect anything. As I looked at what I thought was 78-cents something did not look right. As it turned out, one of the quarters was not a quarter.

Mixed in with the change from my single transaction of the day was a 1979-D Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Not only did the cashier make the mistake, but when I accepted the change I did not catch the difference.

A real-life example as to the reason why the Susie B. was not a successful coin!

The Under-Appreciated Platinum Eagle Proofs

Over a week ago, the U.S. Mint announced that they will begin a three-year series of the American Platinum Eagles proof coins featuring designs inspired by the Declaration of Independence. After looking at the designs and the designs of past platinum proof coins, they may be one of the most under-appreciated series of coins produced by the U.S. Mint.

Since its introduction in 1997, the U.S. Mint has produced four series of proof coins with the reverse honoring different aspects of the nation. To see the list, see the “U.S. Coins by Type” page.

What distinguishes these coins are the well-executed reverse designs that few get to see or pay attention. It may be difficult for the average collector to consider collecting these coins because of the price of platinum has been either on par or higher than the price of gold. Also, platinum is not as well regarded as gold or silver as a precious metal causing it to be overlooked.

Since many of these coins did not sell in large quantities, many could be classified as modern rarities. But do not let the lack of supply dissuade you. Prices could be in the range of their bullion value plus a modest numismatic premium because the demand is also lower.

It is too bad these designs are confined to platinum coins. Unfortunately, the authorizing laws allow the U.S. Mint to do this with the platinum coins but not with silver. Since silver is more affordable for the average collector, maybe it is worth trying to ask Congress to change the law to allow these types of series for the American Silver Eagle proof coins.

Coin images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Breast Cancer coin design announced on NYC television show

Design of the 2018 Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Gold Coin was announced today on Fox 5 New York featuring interviews with New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), the sponsor of the authorizing legislation (Public Law 114-148) and Myra Biblowit, President of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the organization that will receive whatever is collected from the surcharges.

No additional details were provided including the name of the winning designer or whether the silver dollar and clad half-dollar will have the same design.

Here is the video segment from “Good Day New York:”

Still frame of the reverse design also from “Good Day New York:

Still frame of Breast Cancer Awareness commemorative coin reverse from Fox 5 NY

Summary of the Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Coin Program

  • Commemorative coins issued in 2018
  • Design, emblematic of the fight against breast cancer, selected from a juried competition with no less than $5,000 going to winning design
  • “The Secretary shall encourage three-dimensional designs to be submitted as part of the proposals”
  • 50,000 $5 “pink gold” coins with an alloy of at least 75-percent gold with a $35 surcharge
  • 400,000 one-ounce silver dollars made with not less than 90-percent silver with a $10 surcharge
  • 750,000 clad half-dollar coins with a $5 surcharge
  • Surcharges will be distributed to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of New York, to further breast cancer research funded by the Foundation.

Pink gold can be more commonly described as “rose gold.” Rose gold is an alloy of 75-percent gold with 20-percent copper and 5-percent silver. The color can be adjusted by changing the ratio of copper and silver.

All media courtesy of WNYW — Fox 5 NY.

LeRoy Transfield discusses designing WWI Commemorative

NOTE: I reached out to LeRoy Transfield, the winner of the design competition for the World War I Centennial Commemorative dollar coin to ask about his experience with the design competition. He sent me a copy of his story with permission to publish it here. The following is what he sent. I had additional questions. Those will be published tomorrow.

LeRoy Transfield

When I first heard about the world war one design competition by the United States Mint for a commemorative coin I was very excited. I was interested and inspired for many reasons. First off, ever since I was very little I was fascinated by war and war stories and comic books depicting war. The high light of my week was to watch the British Documentary World at War. Since then I still enjoy many aspects of history, not just war. But war is a big part of our world because the way that things are now came about from those wars.

Secondly, I was excited because I am a sculptor and love sculpture of all kinds. My specialty is sculpture in the round, figures, people. I have done very few low relief sculptures and no coins. Despite this, I enjoy looking at well-sculpted coins and even have a small coin collection of my own. My favorite American coin is the Standing Liberty quarter by Hermon MacNeil.

Thirdly I have done a number of war memorials for local towns in the area including the city I live in. During these experiences, I have gotten to know many veterans and people that fought in most of the major wars of the 20th century. Many of them including people I worked very closely with are now gone. But I often think of them and how their lives have touched mine.

Last, I was inspired by my own family. Both extended and immediate. I have been supported and helped over the years and always feel grateful for their support. Also, my Great Uncle on my mother’s side actually fought in World War One as part of the Maori Battalion. The Maori Battalion were part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to aid the allies. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand.

All this excitement and energy flowed through me when I first got the news that I was a finalist. I so wanted to create a great design! Even though I had seen many WW I movies already and new the history, I review many pictures, books, films and documentaries to focus on the American role in the war.

I also looked at great coins. Not so much as to get an idea for a design or copy them, but to dissect those good coins and figure out what made them so good compared to average coins and what rules helped them achieve such inspiring results. I wanted an original design but one that followed those lines of greatness.

I thought about the poem, In Flanders Fields and thought Poppies would be a good thing to put in there somewhere. I also thought of the armistice and how excited everyone was when the hour came. A peace that may well not have happened without American support.

With all these thoughts, I started drawing images. I drew for two weeks. Ideas and designs of mostly soldiers in different poses that could easily be accentuated in a relief coin design. After this I started making clay versions of my sketches and quickly realized the drawings were useless and didn’t help me see problems in the design once it was built up in clay.

After about 4 or 5 weeks I was hitting a wall. No really good design was standing out from the numerous changes and trials I had done. The mint offered a conference call to all 20 participants to go over any questions we might have. This was of great help. In the call, I asked, what is the most common mistake made by beginning coin designers. The person, I forgot his name, said the most common mistake was adding too much detail to the 8-inch mock-up because one has to keep in mind that the final will be only 1.5 inches and much of the detail will be lost. Even though I already knew this it sank in even more. The other impression I got from the call was that the mint is really leaving things open to the finalists and wants to see what we can come up with, and not worry a whole lot about whether the design is right for coining as they have sculptors would fix those problems. They just wanted to see what we could come up with.

The first thing I did was scrap the board I was working on. At 18 inches, it was way too big. I thought that in working larger than the required 8 inch casts to be submitted, I could make a good large design and boil it down to a really good 8-inch final. Instead, I went the opposite way and started to work smaller than the 8 inches to get a better feeling of a coin. I started sculpting on 4-inch wood discs. This really helped a lot. It made it way easier to make a quick design and

help me see if it was going to work. I finally came up with the soldier profile, collar up and a rifle slung over his shoulder. This was not the final design but a good starting point. As I had the soldier in profile worked up, I wanted to add to it but knew not what it needed. That night I had barbed wire going through my head. Soldiers charging barbed wire, wire in the dirt and finally somehow, wire on my relief sculpture. After dreaming about barbed wire, I went to the piece and add the two small strands of wire in opposition to the rifle and the soldier. The hands also seem a natural thing to add and just like that I had the design for the Obverse.

I was very demanding on myself and didn’t say, that’s it, that’s the one. What I said was that’s a good Obverse, now make another. Another one never came. I was running out of time so I decided then to make that my Obverse and put my thoughts into the reverse. I actually thought I had a good idea already, an eagle. It was going to be a diving eagle, in profile, with wings outstretched holding arrows and an olive branch. In the eagle’s beak would be a banner with the words e plurubus unum. In the background would be a map of Europe. I just knew it would look good. But when I fleshed it out it looked terrible!

I looked for another idea. It had to be as good as the soldier. The eagle didn’t work but I wanted to try a bird again and knew that carrier pigeons were used a lot in World War One so I decided to use a pigeon. I looked at many pigeons and pigeon photos and sculpted up something I thought looked ideal. This was good because the time for submitting was running out! I had only three days left.

With the pieces molded and cast to the 8 inch specifications I had the two designs. The soldier looked good. I had different thoughts about the pigeon. I sculpted the bird as best I could but the final reverse looked not near as good as the obverse. I was dumbfounded. I had to send the pigeon, time was up, I had no time to make another. But as I looked at the pigeon I became more and more alarmed to the point where my stomach ached to look at it. I was tired of the whole project.

I thought I should just send it and be done with it. But on more reflection, I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t send it!

Firstly, I thought of the embarrassment of the committee seeing this lousy pigeon. I wouldn’t be there, I reasoned, but that didn’t help. Sure, they might like the soldier, perhaps they will choose that and another reverse. Even so I just couldn’t send it. So, I did a thought conversation and said to myself if you don’t like it they make something else, in your style, that you do like. Even if the committee doesn’t like it at least you can be happy with what you send and no regrets. But then I would vacillate back to you have run out of time just send it and be done with the thing.

At that time, my daughter wanted to go on a 9-mile bike ride up Provo Canyon, a favorite summer activity and jump off a local bridge into the chilling Provo river. School was about to start so this would be one last activity with my daughter. The ride there took about an hour. In retrospect, this time away made all the difference in my final decision to send a different reverse. As I left and rode away from my work I had a greater perspective. I could see I had learnt a lot in the last 10 weeks about coin sculpting and may well be able to come up with a good design in two days. Halfway into my ride I convinced myself that the pigeon had to go and now, what was I going to do to replace it? As we got to the bridge I came back to the beginning, poppies. But poppies are a little uninteresting and not that good looking in relief coin sculpture. So, my next thoughts were how to make the poppies look better.

This was all going on while I was enjoying the summer weather and river water with my daughter. To jump into the river, one would climb up on a steel rail about 4.5 feet above the bridge, balance there and jump into the water 15 feet below. It was exhilarating. Standing on top of the rail is quite an inspiring thing. The beautiful canyon, trees, rocks, and water looked awesome. I often thought that on a stormy day a bolt of lightning could easily find its way to the person standing perched so high on the bridge. As I stood there I thought came to me of using the barbed wire again in contrast to the poppies. I’ve got it I said and jumped into water fridge water. I had it all now, in my mind.

All I needed to do was go home and put in down in clay. When I got home my wife to catch up with me on her day. We talked about the recent passing of my old sculpture teacher and some of the funny stories he would tell us students. All this time I was sculpting the poppies and the wire. In an hour, it was done. That’s it! I said. I was unsure if it was a winning design but it was a design I could put my name to and come what may, I wasn’t embarrassed.

The plaster casts made it to the US mint the very last day of the deadline.

Portrait of the LeRoy Transfield taken from the artist’s website.

U.S. Mint announces WWI Centennial Commemorative Design winner

Utah sculptor LeRoy Transfield, right, poses in his sculpting studio in Orem.

In a rare Monday holiday appearance by government workers, the U.S. Mint announced that they selected a design for the World War I American Veterans Centennial Commemorative Coin.

The winning design was submitted by LeRoy Transfield, a sculptor from Orem, Utah.

In an interview that appeared in the Desert News, Transfield said that he had two uncles that served as members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Native Contingent during World War I. This lead to his interest in learning about the history of the war.

For the obverse, Transfield titled it “Soldier’s Charge.” In the interview, Transfield said that he “didn’t want him to look like some model in an artist’s studio. I made his nose like it might’ve been broken. I wanted to give him a rugged looking face. … I wanted that feeling of combat”

Transfield said that the reverse was more difficult to for him to design. After several tried he came up with the “Poppies in the Wire”

Poppies are a fitting tribute since their use was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields.” The poem was written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian physician following the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier who died in battle. It was published in 1915 and first adopted by the American Legion to commemorate the American Soldiers killed in the war. It was later adopted by veterans groups within the British Empire including Canada.

Transfield is originally from New Zealand but moved to the United States to attend BYU-Hawaii. After graduating with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree, he moved with his wife to Orem where he operates a sculpting studio in his garage.

Based on the line drawing, it appears that this is going to be an excellent design when struck on a 40mm silver planchet. This is one time where it appears that the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts got it right in picking the design.

The World War I American Veterans Centennial Commemorative Coin will be issued in 2018. According to the law (Public Law 113-212) , the U.S. Mint is limited to selling no more than 350,000 silver dollars. Each coin will have a $10 surcharge (a maximum of $3.5 million) will be paid to the U.S. Foundation for the Commemoration of the World Wars to assist the World War I Centennial Commission in commemorating the centenary of World War I.

Given the texture in the both the soldier on the front and the poppies on the reverse, it will be interesting to see if the U.S. Mint comes up with an enhanced uncirculated version. It could be extraordinary!

Credits

  • Image of LeRoy Transfield in his studio courtesy of the Desert News.
  • Coin line art images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Finding error dies

Lincoln Cent Dies from the Denver Mint

In the hunt for something interesting, I stumbled across two listings on eBay for a two error dies from the Denver Mint being sold by noted error expert Fred Weinberg. These Lincoln cent dies are not dies with errors but dies with part of the design still visible.

Dies from the U.S. Mint makes for an interesting collectible. Standing about 2½ inches tall and about 1¼ inches across the base where it is loaded into the coining press, it is really an unremarkable piece of metal. Weighing 192 grams (about 6.8 ounces), the only distinguishing marks on the die is the serial number stamped on the base.

Before being discarded, workers at the U.S. Mint are supposed to completely grind off the design so that it cannot be used to strike counterfeit coins. Even though it is not cost effective to flood the U.S. economy with counterfeit Lincoln cents, the U.S. Mint does not want to take the chance someone will try. Once the design is removed from the die it can become a collectible.

Close-up images of the dies make the visible design look more dramatic than in person. After all, the images were likely taken with a macro lens on a die used to strike a coin 19.05 mm (0.750 inches) in diameter. Even so, the idea was fascinating enough for me to submit bids high enough to win both dies.

The first “error” die was used to strike the obverse of 1993-D Lincoln cents. This die is not completely filed down since it does show some of Lincoln’s hair. Although not a large area, there is enough of the incuse portion of the die’s section to be able to identify it as hair and providing a good guess as to where it would be on the coin. The sticker in the image was placed there by the seller. I decided to leave the sticker.

The other error die was used to strike the reverse of 1994-D Lincoln cents. In this case, the “error” is very subtle. There are two lines that would have been where the bottom two steps of the Lincoln Memorial would have been. Based on the placement, these would be to the center-right of the Lincoln statue in the monument. In the image, it is at the bottom of the “R.” I do not know why the “CR” is written on the die but I am not removing it, for now.

I do not know how Fred Weinberg finds these items but they are fascinating. The next time you go to a show you should check out his inventory. He finds some really interesting errors that have to be seen to be believed.
 

Looking down on the Lincoln Cent “error” dies. The 1994-D reverse die is on the left, The 1993-D obverse die is on the right.

Single images courtesy of Fred Weinberg & Co.

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