The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, a public group that advises the secretary of the Treasury on coinage and medal designs, met virtually on Tuesday, February 15, 2022. Its goal was to review a portfolio of designs for the United States Mint’s 2023 American Liberty 24-karat high-relief gold coin, and its accompanying .9999 fine silver medal.
This was the first meeting led by new chairman Dr. Lawrence Brown, who was appointed to the CCAC in 2019 as a member representative of the general public. It was also the first full meeting of Dr. Harcourt Fuller, a history professor at Georgia State University, who was sworn in last October.
The “American Liberty” coin-and-medal program that was under the committee’s microscope is a biennial one. It develops a gold coin with a modern depiction of Liberty on the obverse, and an American eagle on the reverse. The corresponding silver medal employs a modified version of the gold coin’s designs, with certain wording (such as the national motto, and the denomination) removed.
The general theme for the 2023 entry in the American Liberty program is “Liberty Through Perseverance.” The CCAC deliberated for about an hour and a half, first recommending an obverse design (from among 18 presented) and then selecting a reverse design (from a slate of 16).
The obverse that earned the committee’s recommendation was design 02. It shows a bristlecone pine gripping tightly to a rocky cliff. April Stafford, of the Mint’s Office of Design Management, described the tree, “a species native to California, Nevada, and Utah, thought to be the oldest living organisms on earth, living up to 5,000 years. Bristlecone pines grow in places where other plants cannot, and are often the species that is first to repopulate the land after cataclysmic changes such as a lava run or glacial runoff.”
Committee member Samuel Gill, representative of the general public, called the design “exquisite looking,” and said he was drawn to motifs that are compelling, beautiful, and impactful, and that show strength. The committee’s senior member, Donald Scarinci, spoke of the “American Liberty” program and its beginnings, several years ago, in the idea of an artistic series freed from classical symbolism—antiquated devices such as Phrygian caps, Union shields, and fasces, which are largely meaningless to today’s audiences—a series with new, modern symbols of Liberty. Robin Salmon, the committee’s specialist in medallic arts and sculpture, saw Obverse 02 as a continuation of the program’s 2021 Mustang or Bucking Bronco obverse, which was a notable move away from the traditional coinage depiction of Liberty as a classically robed woman. Dennis Tucker, the CCAC’s numismatic specialist, called Obverse 02 “a wonderful design,” “very simple at first glance, but the longer you study it, the more you appreciate the tenacity of that bristlecone pine gripping onto the cliff,” allowing the leaves and branches above to flourish. The Mint’s chief engraver, Joe Menna, addressed the sculptural aspect of the design, calling the gnarled trunk and the intertwined grip of the pine tree’s roots the portfolio’s most direct symbolic representation of perseverance.
Obverse 02 earned 21 of a possible 30 votes.
For the reverse design, two eagles each earned 17 of 30 possible points. Reverse 05 shows an American bald eagle soaring above mountainous terrain. Reverse 12 shows a young eagle standing on a rocky outcropping, looking over its shoulder. With these candidates tied, member Michael Moran moved to select Reverse 12 as the committee’s formal recommendation, and this was affirmed by a voice vote.
Other CCAC members who deliberated in the review, in addition to those mentioned above, were Dr. Dean Kotlowski, historian; Arthur Bernstein, representative of the general public; and Peter van Alfen, numismatic curator.
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which also makes recommendations to the Treasury secretary on coin and medal designs, will meet later in the week to review the same designs.
The ultimate decision—of what the 2023 American Liberty gold coin and silver medal will look like—rests with Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.