On Thursday, September 27, 2018, all 10 members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) convened to review U.S. coin and medal designs, including a portfolio of seven proposals for the Weir Farm National Historic Site quarter dollar to be released in 2020.
The coin will be the 52nd entry in the United States Mint’s 56-coin America the Beautiful program, which creates a quarter dollar and a five-ounce .999 fine silver coin for each state of the Union, plus the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. The quarters are minted for circulation as well as in several collectible formats (including Proofs and silver). The five-ounce silver coins are specially produced on the Philadelphia Mint’s massive Gräbener coinage press. Struck on large three-inch-diameter planchets, they are available in regular bullion format and in a Burnished (called Uncirculated by the Mint) finish.
Eight members of the CCAC attended the meeting in person at Mint headquarters on Ninth Street in Washington, D.C., and two called in telephonically. (One position on the 11-member committee currently is vacant.) Present were:
- Chair Mary N. Lannin, of New York City (in her last meeting as the committee’s chair, after which she’ll return to regular membership). Ms. Lannin is a specialist in ancient coinage and serves the American Numismatic Society on its panel overseeing the recently purchased historical archives of the Medallic Art Company.
- Donald Scarinci, of New York City, a noted collector and historian of U.S. and world art medals, chair of the J. Sanford Saltus Award committee of the American Numismatic Society, and a senior member of the international Coin of the Year design competition judging panel.
- Michael Moran, of Lexington, Kentucky, an award-winning numismatic author and biographer of President Theodore Roosevelt and American artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
- Thomas Uram, of Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania, a governor of the national American Numismatic Association and president of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatics.
- Erik Jansen, of Mercer Island, Washington, an engineer, businessman, and lifelong coin collector with a special interest in modern minting processes and techniques.
- Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, an internationally known sculptor and medalist, past president of the American Medallic Sculpture Association, and currently the U.S. delegate to the Federation Internationale de la Medaille.
- Herman Viola, of Falls Church, Virginia, a specialist in the history of the American West and the Civil War, curator emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, and a senior advisor to the National Museum of the American Indian.
- Dennis Tucker, of Atlanta, Georgia, a numismatic author, editor, lecturer, and columnist, and publisher at Whitman Publishing.
- (by phone) Mr. Robert W. Hoge, of New York City and Catalonia, Spain, curator emeritus of the American Numismatic Society (retired curator of North American coins and currency), and past curator of the Edward C. Rochette Money Museum of the American Numismatic Association.
- (by phone) Ms. Heidi Wastweet, of Albany, California, a leading American medalist and sculptor with more than 1,000 coins, medals, and tokens to her credit, member of FIDEM, and president of the American Medallic Sculpture Association.
The CCAC is a public committee mandated by Congress to advise the secretary of the Treasury on all coin and medal designs of the United States.
Weir Farm is a national historic site in Connecticut first developed by artist Julian Alden Weir as a place for artists to draw inspiration from the rural environment—an outdoor studio of sorts. The Mint’s director of design management, April Stafford, described Weir Farm:
Weir Farm National Historic Site is the finest remaining landscape of American Impressionism and provides a pristine setting where contemporary artists can connect to and paint in the same place that American masters painted at the turn of the 19th century. The park was home to Julien Alden Weir, a leading figure in American art and the development of American Impressionism. Designed and preserved by artists, the park is a singular crossroads of creativity, art and nature. Thousands of artists travel to the park every year to be inspired by the rare quality of painter’s light at Weir Farm and to paint and draw en plein air in the iconic and exquisite landscape. Here visitors find an experience that empowers and inspires them to connect with their personal creativity and enjoy the feeling of wellbeing that results from that discovery.
Our first meeting to discuss the Weir Farm coin designs was on June 12, 2018. In that analysis, we praised the creativity and innovation of several designs including CT-13, 14, and 14A. Lightly modified versions of those designs, plus four others, were on our docket for the September meeting.
The committee roundly discarded four of the resubmitted designs—CT-01, 04, 06, and 06A—this despite 06A being one of two preferences of representatives of Weir Farm (the second being 14A), as well as the choice of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (The CFA is the other committee that advises the Treasury secretary on coin and medal designs). Many CCAC members praised the four set-aside designs—but the praise was so faint that it spoke volumes to their lack of real enthusiasm.
Robert Hoge, who in June wished for a more interesting presentation in 06, said he was “satisfied” with Weir Farm’s preference of 06A; Heidi Wastweet observed its “straightforward, pleasant composition”; Donald Scarinci pronounced it “pedestrian”; Erik Jansen called it “safe and boring.” Jansen further emphasized his dislike of buildings in coinage designs, urging the Mint’s artists to stay away from mere “pictures on coins.”
That left the majority of our discussion to focus on designs 13, 14, and 14A.
In our June meeting we were all drawn to the “scene within a scene” motif in these three designs, and our Mint artist went back to the drawing board and incorporated several revisions that improved upon what we saw then. Our Weir Farm liaison, Superintendent Linda Cook, had expressed dissatisfaction with the full canopy of trees in the painting. She said, “We’re really not in the tree business. We’re constantly taking down trees to keep these views up. So to see the Weir House completely engulfed in trees doesn’t do anything for the resource as a recognizable location.”
The revised 13, 14, and 14A have the tree cover scaled back, so we can see much more of Weir House. These designs also include the words “National Park for the Arts,” which several committee members recommended, and which was also a request of Superintendent Cook.
These designs nicely avoid the formats that we, as a committee, discourage—we want to get away from dioramas, posed tableaux, or montages.
While 13, 14, and 14A are slightly staged, they benefit from the dramatic tension that comes with a scene of paused activity. We don’t see the artist at work, but we don’t need to. He, or she, has stepped away, out of our sight, or has stepped backward to look at the painting in context. Ideally, we look at this scene and we become the painter. I look at this coin, and those are my paint tubes, that’s my canvas; I’ve painted this beautiful scene en plein air, as artists do at Weir Farm.
Natural and manmade elements combine here. The easel, the canvas, and the painting are the human elements of the park. And of course, the background, the landscape, is the natural element. Weir House and Weir’s studio become both landscape and painting as we look at this “scene within a scene.” It’s really a remarkable construction for a coin design.
Any of these three designs would make a beautiful three-inch silver coin. Will they translate to the smaller one-inch diameter of a quarter dollar? I know the Mint’s program managers wouldn’t present them to the CCAC if they didn’t feel the Mint’s world-class sculptors and technical team were up to the task. We can confidently leave that challenge up to them, because we know they can do it.
Going into the meeting, my strongest preference was for design 14A, because it gives the greatest size to the painting.
But after hearing Mint design and engraving manager Ron Harrigal describe design 14 as the better option from a technical standpoint, that became my preferred choice. Committee member Thomas Uram also preferred 14 over 14A, saying it has better depth perspective than 14A, where the painting’s canvas “takes up too much space.”
Robert Hoge was impressed with all the options: “These are all rather pretty designs.” Heidi Wastweet said of 14A: “It would be a shame to pass up such a creative design.” Donald Scarinci was effusive in his praise: “14A is what we want to see in creativity,” he said, predicting that “It will look amazing in Proof, and even better in the three-inch size.” He sent kudos to the Mint’s artist. Erik Jansen quizzed Ron Harrigal on various technical aspects of polishing and frosting for the designs. Herman Viola gave his preference as 14A and, as I did, expressed his trust in the Mint’s engravers: “We’ll let the experts figure out how to make it work.” Jeanne Stevens-Sollman voiced some concern about the amount of detail that would be visible at the one-inch diameter of a quarter dollar. Michael Moran also warned against the temptation to think the Mint can fit “anything,” without limits, on a quarter.
Mary Lannin broke somewhat with other committee members with her preference of design 13, noting that it lines up the background and foreground more precisely, and has the legend NATIONAL PARK FOR THE ARTS eye-pleasingly centered.
Weir Farm superintendent Linda Cook telephoned in to the September meeting, as she had in June. She expressed the gratitude of the national historic site to the CCAC and the Mint, for insight and attention to the coin’s design—”something outside of what we normally do.”
After robust discussion came a round of voting, with each committee member assigning one, two, or three points to each of the seven design proposals. The results were as follows, ranked from high to low:
CT-14 29 points
CT-14A 28 points
CT-13 16 points
CT-06A 5 points
CT-06 4 points
CT-01 3 points
CT-04 1 points
Designs 14 and 14A received 29 and 28 points, respectively, out of a possible 30. Noting that 14A was actually one of the Weir Farm liaisons’ preferences, committee member Erik Jansen moved that 14A be the CCAC’s formal recommendation to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. This motion passed unanimously, and 14A became the committee’s recommendation.
The guidance of the CFA and the CCAC will now be reviewed by Secretary Mnuchin or a delegate in his office, and he will make the final decision on the coin’s design. It will likely be announced in late 2019 and coinage will begin in 2020. The Weir Farm coin will be the second of that year, following American Samoa, and being followed by the U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, and Kansas. The final coin of the program will be released in 2021, for Alabama’s Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.
My June 2018 reports on the CCAC’s recommendations for those coins can be found online at Mint News Blog:
- National Park of American Samoa
- Weir Farm National Historic Site (Connecticut)
- Salt River Bay National Historical Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)
- Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (Vermont)
- Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)
- Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)
Dennis Tucker is the numismatic specialist on the U.S. Treasury Department’s 11-member Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a life member of the American Numismatic Association and publisher at Whitman Publishing. For more information on the CCAC and its work, visit its website.